Mount Albion will add interpretive panel about Santa School founder

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 20 September 2015 at 12:00 am

Photo courtesy of Orleans County History Department

ALBION – Albion students have raised money and designed an interpretive panel about one of the community’s most famous residents, the late Charles Howard, who founded the first Santa Claus School.

This photo from about about 60 years ago shows Howard as Santa at Christmas Park, which he developed in Albion at Phipps Road.

Albion students are working with Takeform Architectural Graphics in Medina on the panel, which will share highlights of Howard’s life as a farmer, toymaker and later as the famous Santa who appeared in the Macy’s Thaksgiving Day parades.

Howard ran the school from 1937 until his death in 1966 at age 69. Howard started the school in Albion at the corner of Phipps Road and Route 31. He developed 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.

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.

Howard is buried in Mount Albion not too far from the gazebo at the west entrance of the historic cemetery. Howard is buried on a knoll and his grave is difficult for many people to find.

The panel will be installed in the grass by the corner of the cemetery by the knoll.

The panel may be ready in time to be dedicated as part of the Oct. 3 Ghost Walk, where Albion students portray famous people in the cemetery. This year’s Ghost Walk will conclude with a stop by Howard’s grave.

Photo 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.

Students used proceeds from last year’s Ghost Walk to pay for the interpretive panel. Sue Starkweather Miller, one of the Ghost Walk coordinators, would like to see more panels at the cemetery.

“We would love to turn it into a museum without walls,” she said about adding many more panels.

She didn’t want to share a rendering of the panel publicly until it is unveiled. She said it will be black and white with text and photos, with a silver background. Those are the traditional Victorian mourning colors, she said.

Retired County Historian Bill Lattin helped students with the design of the panel.

Albion hosted about 250 professional Santas during a convention in April. That convention has spearheaded other efforts to honor Howard in his hometown.

The Albion Betterment Committee is working on a welcome sign that notes Albion is the hometown of a world renown Santa who started the first Santa School. The Betterment Committee also is pushing to have a bronze statue of Howard as Santa in front of the Hoag Library near the side walk on Main Street.

The Betterment Committee is working with Brigden Memorials in Albion on a design for that project and would like to have the money raised so it could be installed by the end of 2016, the 50th anniversary of Howard’s death.