For nearly all of his adult life, Jim Yellig was known as “Santa” at Santa Claus Land (now Holiday World) in Santa Claus, IN and in parades and appearances around the country including television’s What’s My Line and To Tell the Truth and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Santa Jim’s daughter, Pat Koch, opened the Santa Claus Museum in 2006 to celebrate all things Santa. A year later, she and the museum staff began an effort to create an exhibit to honor her father and his contribution to the world of Santa. The Weber Group was commissioned to design and build the new exhibit which features a life-size recreation of Santa Jim, dressed in his original Santa suit, yak fur beard, and trademark holly leaf belt buckle. It also includes the original oil on canvas 15 foot wide by 9 foot tall mural from 1959 commissioned by the park by California artist Lee Sorenson. The permanent exhibit’s opening is timed to celebrate Santa Claus’s annual festival which will be held December 12 and 13, 2008.
About the Exhibit
Jim Yellig was Santa. Not just because he was photographed thousands of times with children on his knee, or because he rode in more than 30 New York Thanksgiving Day Parades, or because he and Santas Elves answered nearly 10, 000 letters a year from children who wrote to Santa, but because he truly embodied the spirit of what the jolly old elf means to the world.
Born in 1894 and raised in Mariah Hill, a town about four miles from Santa Claus, Jim lived with his wife, Isabelle, and children Ray and Pat. He was Santa at Santa Claus Land from 1946 until the time of his death at age 90 but was Santa long before that. His unusual work made him a famous man and he was featured in a number of national magazines, including “The Saturday Evening Post, ” and interviewed on network television. He once appeared on television’s “What’s My Line” and was featured as Santa in holiday parades — usually with his sleigh and reindeer — all over the nation. “Happiness, ” he said, “is what it’s all about. I make kids happy.” The smiles on children’s faces when they looked into his bright eyes and bearded face was his reward. When asked what made him such a good Santa, he replied, “It’s in here, ” touching his heart.
Pat Koch recalls a time when one of her children, asked, “Mom, is Grandpa Santa Claus?” She replied, “Do you think your Grandpa is Santa Claus?” Her child pondered, “Santa’s hands look like Grandpa’s.” My Dad had very distinctive hands, ” said Pat, “very large hands, with thick fingers.”
Frieda Foertsch, now in her late-90s, a longtime park employee, sewed many of his suits, including the one on exhibit with real rabbit-hair fur trim. She remembers making two pairs of pants for each outfit. “That way if one of the little children who sat on his lap had an accident, he’d have a pair to change into, ” she recalled.
As time went by, Jim began to refer to himself as Old Santa; and to his wife Isabelle as Mrs. Claus. From many years ago when a letter arrived in this country from places far away, addressed simply to “Santa, U.S.A., ” it came directly to him.
Jim wore the suit on display, along with his yak-fur beard, trademark boots and holly leaf belt, and a supply of three or four pairs of pants in a single season. The bright red pants were worn at the knees by captivated youngsters who looked up into Santa Jim’s bright smiling eyes to utter the secret of what they wanted for Christmas.
More About Jim Yellig the Man
Jim Yellig served in the United States Navy prior to and during World War I. While aboard the U.S.S. New York in 1914, Yellig started the calling for which he would become world-famous. While docked in Brooklyn, New York, the crew of the ship decided that they would like to do throw a Christmas party for the underprivileged children of the area. Since Jim was from the Santa Claus area, he was selected to be the jolly old elf. Yellig was so touched by the children’s happiness that he prayed, “If you get me through this war, Lord, I will forever be Santa Claus.”
Yellig stayed in the Navy after World War I for a short time, serving more than 17 years. After leaving the service, Yellig married his childhood sweetheart, settled in Chicago briefly, and worked for Commonwealth Edison. He returned to Mariah Hill in 1930 to open a restaurant. During this time Yellig would drive the short distance over to Santa Claus and talk with his old friend, postmaster James Martin. Over the years, Martin had begun answering the letters children had mailed to Santa Claus; he soon enlisted Jim’s help. In 1935 Yellig organized the Santa Claus American Legion Post to act as Santa’s helpers. He also started to dress the part of Santa Claus and became a fixture in and around the town of Santa Claus.
Yellig appeared at Santa’s Candy Castle and Santa Claus Town in the late 1930s and continued to answer letters from children who wrote to Santa. As an active Legionnaire, Yellig appeared in American Legion Christmas parades in New York City, Miami, Los Angeles and Philadelphia. In 1946, Yellig became the resident Santa at Santa Claus Land, the world’s first theme park.
At Santa Claus Land, Yellig was the main attraction. He was in costume more than 300 days a year and his deep voice and hearty “Ho! Ho! Ho!” is remembered fondly by all who met him. He wrote a book in the late 1940s called, “It’s Fun to be A Real Santa Claus.” Yellig was featured on numerous radio and television programs, from “What’s My Line” to “Good Morning America”; he also appeared in many print ads.
Yellig spent 38 years at Santa Claus Land. Even into his late 80s, Yellig would drive over to Santa Claus Land from his home in Mariah Hill to spend four to five days a week visiting and greeting children of all ages. Even in the months prior to his passing at the age of 90 on July 23, 1984, Yellig was still Santa at the park and continued to answer letters from children. Without a doubt, no Santa before or since has visited so many children in person as Jim Yellig. To many generations he is simply…Santa Claus.
About Weber Group
A design, build, and specialty fabrication company Weber Group creates unique concepts for the world of design, construction and specialty fabrication services. We bring the creativity of resort amenity design and planning to any living or work environment. With 25 years experience, we’ve worked in a multitude of industries including commercial and corporate campus design and build, hotels, mixed use and retail development, multi-family housing, zoos, museums, amusement and water parks, and holiday events. If you can think it, Weber can build it.
Contact: Please contact Penny Peavler with questions at 502-263-9631 or email@example.com.
More information: Visit www.webergroupinc.com and click on our blog to learn more and visit www.santaclausmuseum.org to learn more about the museum.
More from Holiday World:
World’s Tallest Water Ride coming to Holiday World
‘USA Today’ names Holiday World a ‘Cheap Trick’
Holiday World to “Twitter” this Season
and Holiday World’s president, Will Koch, blogs on Bemusement