It’s that time of year. People in all our Old School Shirts cities are celebrating the holidays. Nothing lasts forever, of course, and while there are still lots of great things to do in cities across the nation, there are some traditions that are no longer. Here is a sampling from some of our favorite towns. Did we miss any? Let us know in the comments.
Mr. Jingeling is perhaps the most beloved icon of Christmas seasons past in Cleveland. “The Keeper of the Keys” to Santa’s workshop, he was based at the old Halle’s department store in downtown. During the holiday season, he would also make appearances on the Captain Penny Show on Channel 5.
They first appeared in Shillito’s flagship downtown location at 7th and Race sometime in the mid-1950s. For a generation, they entertained holiday shoppers as over 131 figures appeared in nearly 40 different holiday scenes, seven of those in the store’s front windows. In 1979, a new set of elves was created to freshen up the display and make it even livelier. After Shillito’s was merged with sibling chain Rike’s by parent company Lazurus in 1982, the elves found themselves out of work, at least for a few years.
In the 90s, they reappeared, though on a scaled-back level, in their old digs at 7th & Race in what was by then the Lazarus department store (the Shillito's-Rike's name having been scrapped in 1986 by the Columbus-based retailer). The cavernous store, at some 450,000 square feet, had plenty of spare space to dedicate to the elves, and so for a few holiday seasons, they were back at work sorting Santa’s mail, building toys, and tracking his annual flight.
In 1997, Lazarus moved to Fountain Place at 5th and Vine but had only a quarter of the space it had at the historic 7th and Race building. The elves and all their gear were sold to a Boy Scout troop from Dent that same year. They periodically come out of storage and have been set up in various locations over the years but not consistently.
Riding the Pink Pig is still on in Atlanta, but not like it was back in the day. It debuted in 1953 at Rich’s Department Store downtown and was originally a monorail that ran through the store’s toy department.
Rich’s downtown location closed in 1991, and the chain was absorbed by Macy’s in 2005. The new owners inherited the Pink Pig. Macy's resurrected it at various locations in the ATL before finally giving it a permanent home at Lenox Square. However, instead of a monorail, the train follows a traditional small-gauge track.
The holiday season starts in Philadelphia with the Gimbels Thanksgiving Day parade. Though there is no longer a Gimbels (it was absorbed by Macy’s years ago), the parade lives on, sponsored by a national donut concern.
Back in the day, Market Street was a glow. Gimbels on 9th Street and Lit Brothers on 8th Street went all out with their light displays. The holiday season still wraps up, in normal times, with the Mummers New Years Parade.
Metro Detroiters once flocked to the rotunda of the Ford Motor Company to enjoy an expansive Christmas display called Chrismas Fantasy.
After the Chicago Century of Progress Exposition ended in 1934, Ford brought back its central Rotunda building from that event and placed it in suburban Dearborn to serve as a visitor center and starting point for Rouge Plant tours. However, its biggest draw between 1953 and 1961 was the annual Christmas Fantasy display which, in its nine-year run, drew over six million people. Sadly, the Rotunda burned down in November 1962.
Not directly connected to Christmas, per se, children’s TV host JP Patches the clown had an annual TV special during the holidays. His show aired from 1958 to 1981, and he continued to make public appearances long after he left the airwaves.
The character is also listed as one of Krusty the Clown's birthday buddies on The Simpsons episode “Radio Bart.” Simpsons creator Matt Groening is said to have drawn (as it were) a lot of inspiration from his former home in the Pacific Northwest (he grew up in Portland) when creating certain parts of the Simpsons’ universe. JP Patches and Portland-based clown Rusty Nails are considered to be the top inspirations for Krusty the Clown.
Downtown Minneapolis hosted something called the Holidazzle Parade during the holiday season for many years. It featured a lot of lighted floats. The event was rebranded as a little Euro-style festival and is now held in a nearby park.
Also, like in other cities, department store displays were big in the Twin Cities, with Dayton's (forerunner of Target) leading the way. In neighboring St. Paul, kids used to visit Santa via a train ride at the historic Union Depot.
Like Philadelphia, Pittsburgh department stores welcomed shoppers with fabulous light displays. Kaufmann's was probably the most popular. Their display debuted each year on Light-Up Night, which is still a thing, though Kaufamann’s is no longer. It too was gobbled up by Macy’s.