When times were simpler, and kids still believed in Santa Claus, a magical new type of theme park began to pop up around the United States. In the 1950s and 1960s, Santa set up little sub-stations all over America. Once inside, kids could see Santa’s Reindeer, meet his elves, and touch a real “north pole” (or for unimaginative grown ups-a pipe covered in frozen water). The real treat usually came in a visit to see the man himself, Santa Claus! Little parks everywhere popped up to honor the Jolly Old Elf, and celebrate the non-secular Christmas traditions that most American families were beginning to partake in after WWII.
Today we’re paying tribute to one of the many wonderful Santa Claus parks that still dot the American landscape. This one is in…well, North Pole, NY! Santa’s Workshop is one of the oldest continually operating amusement parks in the United States, but you wouldn’t know it to look at it. This well maintained treasure looks like it could have been built within the last 10 years, but it actually opened in 1949. The park was designed by Arto Monaco between 1947 and 1949, and if you are paying attention out there in Kiddieland, Monaco’s is a name to know-He worked on over a dozen parks primarily in and around the Adirondack Mountains, including the Enchanted Forest in Old Forge, Storyland in NH, and his own Land of Make Believe which eventually closed in 1979 after repeated flooding.
Santa’s Workshop’s primary draw is its shows, featuring familiar characters like Little Bo Peep, Alice in Wonderland and two red-haired rag dolls named Sam & Sandy (Not to be confused with Raggedy Ann & Andy©™®); as well as homegrown Characters like “Rowdy The Rascal Reindeer”, “Miranda Mouse” and “Chris Moose”! The high point of my day was seeing Miranda Mouse perform over a 1971 track of Lynn Anderson’s Ding A Ling the Christmas Bell. (with Rowdy’s rendition of the 1968 Buck Owens’ hit “Christmas Shopping” a close second!) The park currently features 8 different shows daily.
Check out this 1988 commercial featuring some earlier incarnations of these characters.
In addition to the shows, the park has a reindeer barn where you can feed Santa’s real reindeer; along with a variety of appropriately themed rides, like the Candy Cane Express, The Peppermint Swing, and the Christmas Tree Ride (where you get to sit inside a giant Christmas ornament and spin around a huge tree!) The most breathtaking is the Christmas Carousel, with gorgeous original 1940s deer that have flirty eyelashes and jingle bell saddles place of the usual boring horses. Naturally the carousel plays Calliope Christmas tunes in place of the usual carousel music. We’ve seen a few other Reindeer carousels in our travel, but non as sweet as this one.
One of our favorite things is that this park doesn’t hide its history. Although everything is modern and clean enough for even the most germ-phobic modern parents, the park houses a small history museum called “Santa Claus Memory Lane”. Inside you will find 65 years worth of vintage park merchandise, signage, and costumes. I could have spent hours in here looking around the cases! I’m lucky it was not a gift shop or I’d have come home broke and needing a second room!
Regardless of your religious affiliations, or feelings on the Holiday season, there is no denying that these parks are just good old fashioned fun. They’re a part of our cultural history and we’re thrilled that a few of them still exist in the modern world. Have you ever visited Santa’s Workshop? If not, we highly recommend that you get yourself to the North Pole (New York, that is!) and take in this treasure!