Santa Claus Land Sunday – 1946 Newspaper Articles

Happy Fourth of July! In addition to celebrating our nation’s independence today, we’re kicking off Santa Claus Land Sundays. From now until our 75th Birthday on August 3, we’ll do our best to share another piece of Santa Claus Land history.

This week, we’re starting off with an early report of America’s First Theme Park from just two months after it opened.

04 Oct 1946, Fri The Times-Mail (Bedford, Indiana)

It makes me smile to think of how expectations for theme parks and amusement parks have changed through the years. According to the article, Santa Claus Land consisted of a “Toy and gift shop and soda fountain,” along with a miniature train. The Mother Goose Land Trail and children’s park didn’t open until about a month after the park opened. The Santa Claus Land Railroad (also known as the “Mother Goose Land Train” or the “Freedom Train” was not quite ready for Guests yet but was in the works.  

In this article from the Indianapolis news from Christmas Day in 1946, the project was to be completed within the year. 

Toy Town growing full articleToy Town growing full article 25 Dec 1946, Wed The Indianapolis News (Indianapolis, Indiana) 

If you look closely, the caption says that part of the picture on the right was completed–that building became what is now Santa’s Merry Marketplace and Kringle’s Banquet Hall, where group events are held. 

Today, we have the best-ranked trio of wooden coasters in the world. The Voyage is ranked #2 in the world. Thunderbird is America’s First Launched Wing Coaster. Splashin’ Safari is the Water Coaster Capital of the World with Wildebeest – the #1 water park ride in the world for more than a decade, Mammoth – which holds the Guinness World Record for longest water coaster, and Cheetah Chase – The World’s First Launched Water Coaster. 

But it warms my heart to think that while our town has grown, and the name of the park has changed, and 75 years of progress have made the park bigger and more important than ever, I like to think of what’s the same. The Koch family is still here, operating the park a little more behind-the-scenes than previous generations, but we’re still pouring our hearts and passion into this place. 

Santa is still here–he may be virtual this season, but he’s still here.

And the magic is still here. From the wonder of the small town that believed in Christmas 75 years ago to today. The magic may be bigger, and different, but it’s here. 

And that’s a reason to celebrate. 


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Podcast Season 2 Episode 3: The One With America’s First Theme Park

We kick off Episode three of our second season with Lauren, Matt, and Leah reminiscing about Potato Patch.
Do you remember Potato Patch? 


Join the pod squad as we discuss everything from boysenberries to industry history. 

First things first, hands down, Lake Compounce was the very first American amusement park.
They opened exactly 100 years before we did. Happy 175th Anniversary, Lake Compounce!

We claim the title of First American Theme Park with Santa Claus Land opening in 1946.
Learn from the professionals the difference between theme and amusement parks. 

Please be sure to send us your feedback and questions by calling us at 812-937-4401 then dial 8081, or by emailing us at, or by reaching out to us on social media using the hashtag #HOWOPO.

Be sure to subscribe and leave a review on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music, YouTube, Facebook, etc. and tell all your friends. 


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All Downhill From Here

HoliDrone Captures first Cheetah Chase Fiberglass Lift Because we just placed the tallest slide pieces of Cheetah Chase! We’ve got to catch you up on what’s been happening in Splashin’ Safari.

It’s time for a Cheetah Chase Check In!

Our last check in showed the first footers taking shape and the fiberglass for the slide arriving. As you can see, we’ve made a lot of progress since then. Here’s what the construction site looked like yesterday morning before our crane arrived to begin lifting slide pieces into place.
Cheetah Chase Construction Site Overview

Cheetah Chase Construction Site overview from Bakuli

See that yellow piece sitting inside Bahari River on the right side of the photo? That’s the section you’ll be racing through as you crest the tallest hill on Cheetah Chase. It was on deck to be lifted into place first. The Communications and Marketing teams spread out to get pictures from all angles as that lift happened.

Even our HoliDrone was out to capture the big moment.

Site Overview with First Piece Being Lifted

Leah and Sabrina captured the lift from the top of Bakuli’s tower.

HoliDrone Captures first Cheetah Chase Fiberglass Lift

The HoliDrone was flying over Bahari River Island.

First Two Pieces of Cheetah Chase Being Connected

I got a lower angle near the Cabanas in front of Wildebeestro.

What’s up next in Cheetah Chase construction?

The flying saucer turns over Bahari River Island! If the construction schedule holds as planned, we’ll lift the first one into place tomorrow! Want a closer look into the process of building the World’s First Launched Water Coaster? Check out the latest installment of Hard Hat Chronicles: If you’d like to follow along with the Cheetah Chase construction progress in real time, be sure to check out our SplashCam! It’s been moved to a new location that’s perfect to get a bird’s eye view of what’s going on in Splashin’ Safari. Be sure to subscribe to the HoliBlog for more updates on Cheetah Chase and other off-season happenings!
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That “Harper Valley PTA” Girl!

Jeannie C. Riley ad

What in the world do Jeannie C. Riley and the song Harper Valley PTA have to do with Holiday World?

The Grammy Award winner’s connection is with Santa Claus Land, actually; she performed her hit Harper Valley PTA in concert here on Sunday, June 11, 1978.

That’s 41 years ago!

This ad is from our archives

Jeanie C. Riley "That Harper Valley PTA Girl" ad

Something else in that folder … an article that ran in “Santa’s Country” weekly newspaper. In it, Ms. Riley is quoted as saying, “I’ve never seen anything like [Santa Claus Land]. I didn’t know there was a place where kids could go to sit on Santa’s lap and talk to him.”

Her husband, Mickey, chimed in: “This place could really grow into something big. The countryside around here is beautiful. I love it. And the hospitality is unbelievable.”
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Memories of coaster names

1995 Brochure cover

We call it The Name Game here.

Whenever we have something new, it needs a name.

Over the years, we’ve spent untold hours coming up with themed names for attractions, restaurants, shops, and games.

When our friends at CoasterRadio podcast asked me to call in to talk about how we came up with our coaster names, the memories started swirling. (Please keep in mind these are my memories; other memories’ mileage may vary.)

To illustrate a few of my stories, let’s start off with the ride simply called Roller Coaster:

Children's Roller Coaster

When I shared this photo with Duane from (check out the site if you don’t already have this great roller-coaster resource bookmarked), he determined it was a Little Dipper coaster made by the Allan Herschell Company.

By the way, that was a posed photo with Santa Claus while the coaster was not in operation.

Someday I’ll take the time to figure out when that coaster graced the grounds at Santa Claus Land and for how long.

Here are a few seconds of the coaster from a film shot in the late 1960s:

While talking about naming The Raven, we discussed our 1995 brochure cover photo.

Notice anything different about the train?

1995 Brochure cover

When we chatted about naming Thunderbird, our 66 Days at Sea teaser campaign was mentioned.

More memories …

66 Days at Sea

Before we finish up here, I’d like to share the link to CoasterRadio’s “The Greatest Roller Coaster Name of All Time” poll. There are some outstanding names in the running (including our Raven and Voyage). Please take a look!
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Happy Birthday, Santa Jim!

Santa Claus

He was born on February 18, 1894.

Santa Jim.

Santa Claus

Countless children whispered in Santa’s ear over his decades wearing the red suit here at Santa Claus Land.

The story of how Jim (a great grandfather of our fourth-generation park owners) became Santa will quite possibly bring a tear to your eye.

And here he is in 1954, in a Chrysler commercial! (Be sure to turn up the sound for the full effect.)

Click over here for more Santa Jim stories, photos and videos from over the years.

Do you have a Santa Jim memory? Please post it below in the Comments section.
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#FlashbackFriday: 1955 Chrysler Commercial

Chrysler commercial

It’s #FlashbackFriday again and we found an amazing piece of Santa Claus Land history to share with you.

This is the “Chrysler TV Caravan,” with a commercial touting their 1955 “hundred-million-dollar gift” – a new Chrysler!

Don’t miss Santa Jim waving at the end. (He’s one of our 4th generation owners’ great-grandfathers.)

Of course, this is usually his vehicle of choice:

Santa Jim at the Chateau

In this photo, Santa and his sleigh are in front of his family’s Chateau restaurant in nearby Mariah Hill. A more modern version is still there.

Do you enjoy seeing these flashbacks from our archives? What else would you like to see? Be sure and post your ideas below.
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#FlashbackFriday to 1984

Santa Claus Land logo

Does anyone scrapbook the old-fashioned way any more? It used to be such a thing that the noun became a verb.

Nowadays, the digital form of scrapbooking is so handy, with the ability to share old photos with virtually anyone worldwide.

Throughout our 73-year history, there’s always been someone taking photos. They’re tucked away in file folders, like glorious Easter Eggs waiting to be discovered.

This one, for example, is just perfect for #FlashbackFriday:

Aerial shot of Holiday World in 1984

Although there’s no date on the back of this aerial photo, we’re pretty sure it was taken during the winter/spring of 1984.

How did we come up with that year?

The most telling hint is Frightful Falls. It appears to be under construction (it opened in 1984). It doesn’t look like the lift hill or the station is built yet.

The ring of beautiful evergreens in the bottom right corner of the photo encircles the roller coaster that was named:

  • Blitzen, through 1983
  • Firecracker, starting in 1984 until it was retired from Holiday World in 1998

Do you enjoy peeking back into our history?

If so, here’s a Park Timeline that includes the years that various attractions were added, plus other fun facts about our history.

Last weekend, we posted this Santa Claus Land commercial on our Facebook page, asking for guesses about which year it aired:

Here’s how we figured out that the year was 1977:

  • It promotes Santa Claus Land, meaning it was 1983 or earlier
  • The map shows I-64, which opened in our area in the fall of 1976
  • The featured dad in the commercial was our Entertainment Director at the time; Dave confirmed on our Santa Claus Land page on Facebook that 1977 sounded about right (he also confirmed that he was wearing a pair of exceptionally en vogue Sansabelt Slacks)

We’ll occasionally dip into the vault and release other archival footage, photos, and articles at #FlashbackFriday posts here. Would you like to receive HoliBlog notices – along with news releases and sweepstakes – by email? Sign up here and you can choose whether to receive the emails weekly or the same day the blog posts are published. Thank you!

Podcast: The one with the Griswolds

Taylor Bybee

Once we move to our “Now Open Weekends” schedule,  references to “the Moose Out Front” abound.

… because just about everyone has seen National Lampoon’s Vacation at least once.

And, believe it or not, this vehicle was actually parked in our lot a few years ago (during the 30th-anniversary summer of the film’s release).

Griswolds' Car

And so, we sadly have to reenact that scene at least once or twice every August.

This year, at least the uncomfortable conversation was able to be handled on social media with this particular (new) member of the Griswold family:

Taylor Bybee

We hope you enjoy Coaster Studio‘s Taylor Bybee’s story:

As we move into our Amusings segment, we hear about young Sawyer’s first rides at his family’s park.

Here’s the favorite snap from the day

Sawyer likes the camera

Those two incredibly cute Facebook shares with young performers? #SoundUp

Both in-park:

… and at home (the privacy setting allowed a share but not an embed, so you can watch the video here on our Facebook page).

"Magic In Me"

From two cute little girls to … The Hammer:

The Hammer

The Hammer is flanked by VP Eric to the left and Sales Director Dave to the right.

Our mail-order catalog from back in our early Santa Claus Land days is so much fun to read:

Santa Claus Land catalog

Thinking about joining us for Rock the World? It’s coming up on August 25!

In our #HoWoPo Feedback segment, there was quite the discussion about our Gluten-Free Funnel Cake:

Gluten-Free Funnel Cake

Speaking of treats, here’s Katelyn’s tweet:


Looks like a couple of ACEers, fresh off a ride on The Raven:

Three Men & A Holidog:

Here’s the link to that Indianapolis Star article about our TripAdvisor ranking.

We all just loved this tweet:

Two ways to cool off with a frozen treat

Thumbs up to this group of engineers-to-be:

The Coaster Crew made us laugh once more:


We don’t often post photos from our 25 Degrees of Separation game, but we had to make an exception with Cousin Jeff and LaurenAnna:

HoliWood Nights at Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari     LaurenAnna

Both parks are open weekends – come see us soon!

A king, a queen, and a clown

Billy and Ruth's Toy Headquarters promo

In the Communications Office space, we have a sizable storage room that houses our publicity archives.

This storage room used to be the park’s dark room. (Back when photos were taken using large cameras and black-and-white film, they were developed … in a “dark room.”)

We don’t have to tell you how photography has changed over the years, and especially the past decade or so. (You’ve seen what our HoliDrone has captured over the season, right?)

… but still, there’s something rather mysterious about digging through our archives and discovering a black-and-white photo like this:

Billy and Ruth's Toy Headquarters promo

We recognize Santa, of course. That’s Santa Jim. This photo was taken on October 18, 1959, in the room at Santa Claus Land where Santa visited with countless children over the decades.

Upon further research, we discovered that this photo was the culmination of a “Billy & Ruth Day” promotion. Children from all over entered this promotion for a chance to win a 26″ Deluxe Bicycle by drawing a picture of Santa Claus.

Who’s that clown on the left?

That’s Peppo the Clown, from WEHT-TV in Evansville. A 2014 article from the Evansville Courier & Press reveals Peppo was actually Chicagoan Ulysses A. Carlini, Sr. Mr. Carlini endured the 30-minute application of clown makeup each Saturday morning because he knew the kiddos watching from home enjoyed his show.

The children who won the promotion were “King Billy” David Risinger, 11, and “Queen Ruth” Gloria Majors, 10, both of Evansville. In addition to winning bicycles, they were guests on Peppo’s TV show.

Here’s a quote from that week’s “Bish Thompson” Saturday Special column in the Evansville Press: Throughout the day there’ll be events of bugeyed interest to the small fry. If they’ve been yammering to go to Santa Claus, looks like tomorrow will be the day for it.

But wait! There were second-place winners, too:

Billy and Ruth's Toy Headquarters promotion

That’s Reed Sugg, 6, from Morganfield, Kentucky, holding his Lionel Train Set prize and Becky Holbrook, 11, from Owensboro, Kentucky, with a 36″ doll. (They don’t look quite as happy as King Billy and Queen Ruth, though, do they?)

And who’s that peeking through the window behind the two fellows? And, for that matter, who were Billy and Ruth? (Google keeps trying to convince me their last name was Graham, but I know that’s not right!) Billy and Ruth Steltz’s father owned the company in Philadelphia that provided catalogs to a series of hardware stores across the land. One of those publications, starting in 1929, was “Happy Hours with Billy and Ruth,” a magazine-like toy catalog sprinkled with children’s stories, poems, and even connect-the-dots puzzles.

We hope you enjoy these stories as we occasionally lose ourselves in our history. Please post a comment if there’s any topic you’d like us to explore, either here on the HoliBlog or on our podcast.