Skip to main content

Chicago's Christmas Characters

Marshall Field & Company's State Street store decorated for the Christmas Holiday. Postcard publisher is unknown. 

        The Christmas characters known as the Cinnamon Bear, Uncle Mistletoe, and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer can all be traced back to Chicago department stores. 

The Cinnamon Bear radio program first aired in the weeks leading up to Christmas in 1937. The program was produced in Hollywood and aired around the country but was sponsored by Wieboldt’s department store in Chicago and the Oregon-based department store Lipman-Wolfe and Co. Wieboldt’s sold stuffed Cinnamon Bear toys for $2.98 a piece and gave out Cinnamon Bear buttons to children who visited the store to see Santa Claus.

               Cinnamon Bear’s official name was Paddy O’Cinnamon, and he spoke with an Irish brogue. The show consisted of 26 15-minutes episodes and told the story of how the bear helps lead a pair of twins to Maybe Land to search for a silver star. Cinnamon Bear also had a short run as a TV show in 1951, with twins Judy and Jim being played by child actors alongside a Cinnamon Bear hand puppet. The illustrated book The Cinnamon Bear in the Adventure of the Silver Star was published in 2007, and the story was also remade into a podcast released by Audible this year.

W.A. Wieboldt & Company Department Store on Milwaukee Ave. and Paulina St. in Chicago. Postcard publisher in unknown.  

Meanwhile, Chicago-based department store Montgomery Ward had been publishing books to give out for free to children visiting the store during the holiday season. In 1939, a catalog writer at the store by the name of Robert L. May submitted a manuscript about an outcast reindeer with a red nose who grows up to become a hero when he leads Santa’s sleigh. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer became that year’s book giveaway. The story was a hit, and Montgomery Ward gave away over two million copies of the book that year.

               Almost a decade after the book was first published, Montgomery Ward gave May the rights to the story. May collaborated with his brother-in-law Johnny Mark, a professional composer, to write a song to go along with the book. The song was picked up by Gene Autry and became a chart-topping hit in 1949. In 1964, the stop-motion animated special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer aired on TV, and it has become one of the longest-running Christmas TV specials in history.

Montgomery Ward & Company once had the largest department store building in the country; it was located on the Chicago River. Postcard publisher is unknown. 

To compete with Wieboldt's and Montgomery Ward, Marshall Field’s created the Uncle Mistletoe character to lift spirits and encourage sales during the Christmas season. Uncle Mistletoe was a jolly-looking, white-haired man with a black top hat, red coat, and a pair of wings which he would use to fly around the world to teach children about the importance of kindness. Uncle Mistletoe was first featured in the Marshall Field’s Christmas window display in 1946, and in 1948 the character Aunt Holly was created to accompany Uncle Mistletoe on his adventures. The pair became a merchandising bonanza, and Marshall Field’s sold Uncle Mistletoe and Aunt Holly toys, books, ornaments, and other products.

               While the Cinnamon Bear, Uncle Mistletoe, and Aunt Holly never came to enjoy the widespread fame of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, all of these characters were known to bring joy to both children and adults at Christmastime. 

Written by Emily Ruzich

Sources: 

Robin Amer, “In ‘Uncle Mistletoe, TV ephemera from Marshall Field’s golden age,” WBEZ (March 10, 2012), www.wbez.org/stories/in-uncle-mistletoe-tv-ephemera-from-marshall-fields-golden-age/ee872264-51d4-4dbe-9b75-082ec953a8ef.  

“The History of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” NPR Morning Edition (Dec. 25, 2015), www.npr.org/2015/12/25/461005670/the-history-of-rudolph-the-red-nosed-reindeer.

Leslie Goddard, “For Generations of Chicagoans, Marshall Field’s Meant Business, and Christmas,” Smithsonian (Dec. 19, 2016), www.smithsonianmag.com/history/ generations-chicagoans-marshall-fields-meant-businessand-christmas-180961499/.

Michelle Delgado, “The Magical Animation of ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,’” Smithsonian (Dec. 23, 2019), www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/magical-animation-rudolph-red-nosed-reindeer-180973841/.                         

Cinnamon Bear website, www.cinnamonbear.org.

Wikipedia, “The Cinnamon Bear,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cinnamon_Bear.

Wikipedia, “Wieboldt’s,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wieboldt%27s.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Going to Graceland

Graceland Cemetery is also known for its beautiful landscape and magnificent trees. Postcard printed by V.O. Hammon of Chicago. Situated at Irving Park Rd. and Clark St. near Wrigley Field is Graceland Cemetery, a scenic 119-acre burial ground and arboretum where many of Chicago’s elite have been laid to rest. The cemetery was established in 1860 by lawyer Thomas Bryan and designed by landscape architects H.W.S. Cleveland, Ossian Simonds, and William Le Baron Jenney, who is also known for designing the first skyscraper. Graceland became famous as the “Cemetery of Architects.” Along with its three designers, other prominent architects who are buried in Graceland include Louis Sullivan, who designed the Carson Pirie Scott building; Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who designed Chicago’s Federal Center; and Fazlur Khan, who designed the Sears Tower and John Hancock Center. The grave of architect Daniel Burnham, who was chief of construction for the 1893 Columbian Exposition, lies on a small, wo

Lost Souls on Chicago's Forgotten Suicide Bridge

On this postcard, the bridge is called Suicide Bridge instead of its official name High Bridge. Postcard publication is unknown.  A tall pedestrian bridge that was built over the Lincoln Park Lagoon in 1894 was later dubbed “Suicide Bridge” after the structure became a popular place for people to take their own lives . It is believed that about 100 people jumped off of the bridge during its 25 years. Located south of Fullerton and east of Lincoln Park Zoo near Webster Avenue (originally called Asylum Place), High Bridge allowed pedestrians to cross from Lincoln Park to the lakefront. At 75 feet--or four stories--tall, the bridge was built high enough to allow sailboats to pass underneath. It was so high that people standing on the bridge on a clear day could see as far as the stockyards, Jackson Park, and the steel mills.   High Bridge was featured in a chase scene in the 1916 film Cousin Jim . The stuntman hired to jump off the bridge refused to do it because he thought

Burlesque Dancer Sally Rand Took the Chicago World's Fair by Storm

Sally Rand danced at the Streets of Paris exhibit. Postcard printed by Curt Teich & Co, Chicago. Sally Rand was never supposed to perform her iconic “fan dance” at the 1933 Century of Progress World’s Fair in Chicago. The dancer’s requests to perform inside the Streets of Paris exhibit had been turned down several times. But Rand decided to take matters into her own hands by riding into a pre-opening party on the fairgrounds, uninvited, on a white horse wearing nothing but a velvet cape. The crowd loved it. Rand was arrested but released the next day, when she promptly accepted an offer to perform as the headliner in the Café de la Paix’s floor show for $90 per week. While her dancing broke boundaries and city decency ordinances at the time, her legacy was born and Rand made her cultural mark on the world. According to The 1933 Chicago World’s Fair by Cheryl Ganz, 29-year-old Sally Rand had previously worked as an acrobatic circus performer and film stuntwoman. She had also alread