Macy’s Parade catapulted Albion Santa into a star

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 28 November 2013 at 12:00 am

Photos courtesy of the Santa Claus Oath Foundation – Charlie Howard portrays Santa in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. He served in the role from 1948 to 1965.

Albion’s own world-famous jolly old elf Charlie Howard got his big break on this day in 1948, the first year he portrayed Father Christmas to cap off Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.

In 1937, Charles Howard opened a school in Albion for Santas at the corner of Phipps Road and Route 31. Howard started the school after noticing many Santas didn’t have training, and didn’t always interact with children well or meet a standard for dress. He established decorum for Santas and his Santa Claus suits became popular.

The school, now in Midland, Mich., still bears Howard’s name. He ran it until his death in 1966.

The 1948 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was a huge day for Howard. The parade for the first time was televised nationally and in color for those that had color TV sets. There was also an opening for Santa and Macy’s asked Howard to fill the role. They wanted the man who trained Santas to be part of their parade.

He would do it every year until 1965 and Macy’s took pride in having Howard in the parade. The company would have him play Santa at their stores in New York City and Kansas City.

This was the last time Macy’s went public with the name of the Santa in the parade. Everyone since has been anonymous, said Phil Wenz, a Santa historian. He has portrayed Santa in Illinois and the Midwest for about three decades. In 2010 he joined Howard in the inaugural Santa “Hall of Fame.” (Click here to see it.)

Wenz said Howard had a flare for publicity and entrepreneurship. The Macy’s Parade turned Howard into a national star.