Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Elizabeth W. Babcock

This past weekend we went out to Albion, New York to film some segments for the documentary “They Wore The Red Suit” that we have been working on during this past year. Albion is the home to the late Charles W. Howard, the famous Santa known as the “Dean of Santa Clauses.” Howard's story is generally known to the Santa Claus Community and that was the main reason we were in Albion.

But there is another individual that played a very important and unique role in the Howard story, Albion, and in my own search for information on being Santa. And that person is Elizabeth W. Babcock.

My introduction to Elizabeth came from research on Charles W. Howard. My introduction to Charles W. Howard came from advice from Jim Yellig, the “Real Santa Claus from Santa Claus.” I met Jim through a series of letters, phone calls, and trips to Santa Claus in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Jim was kind enough to encourage me as a Santa and to realistically pursue my dream of being a true year-round Santa like he was. Jim never mentioned a “Charles W. Howard” to me in our conversations, but he did encourage me to research Santa as much as I could. When Jim passed away in 1984, I began to research more about him and discovered Charles W. Howard. In an odd way, Jim gave me the gift of Charlie.

After a couple of years compiling information on both Howard and Yellig, I came across a story about the lady who continued the making the Howard type Santa Claus Suit. Her name was Elizabeth W. Babcock. Elizabeth had purchased the suit company from Christmas Park in 1965, one year prior to Howard’s death in 1966.

I first talked to Elizabeth in March of 1986 by phone and immediately wanted to know more about her and of course…Charles W. Howard. Within a month I was sitting in Elizabeth’s home on Phipps Road in Albion, just a stone’s throw from the Christmas Park property. She was very kind and cordial as we talked about my dreams of being Santa. I showed her my scrapbook and she was amazed that such a young man would want to pursue such a vocation. I informed her that I already was employed by a photo company and that the upcoming summer I would be Santa at Santa’s Village theme park in Dundee, Illinois. She smiled. Somehow I think she knew I was going to be around this Santa thing for a long time to come.

I left Elizabeth’s house that day with a rabbit suit and a yak beard set. I also ordered two fake fur suits for my upcoming summer at Santa’s Village. Elizabeth said she would send them out in a few days, but I said I would be back to pick them up. She was taken back a bit. It is not like Chicago and Albion, NY are close together. She asked why make the trip again. I simply stated I wanted to learn more about Charles W. Howard.

Within a month I was sitting in Elizabeth’s home once again, but this time there was someone with her. It was Gale Bergeman, the daughter of Charles W. Howard himself! Elizabeth arranged for me to meet her and Gale had brought her father’s personal scrapbooks to view. As I sat between these two ladies looking at the documentation of Howard’s career, I felt as if I had just been given a great gift…which I had. That day I also got to see Howard’s home and the remnants of Christmas Park for the first time.

Over the years I got to know Elizabeth and Gale better, but it was Elizabeth who took on a new role as a mentor to me in many ways. She never played Santa, but she knew exactly who Santa is and how he should dress.

For over thirty years, Elizabeth Babcock made Santa Claus Suits that were worthy of the Howard name. Before she took over the suit business Elizabeth worked at Christmas Park for many years in many roles. When the suit business became available, she was the perfect person to keep the tradition going. Elizabeth knew business, book keeping, customer service, and most importantly…she could sew. She never strayed from the original concepts of the suit and was loyal to the Howard philosophy to the end of her life.

Elizabeth W. Babcock passed away in 2006 at the age of 92. She left behind her own legacy of integrity and quality for the sake of keeping Santa looking like he should. There are many people whom have helped me make my dreams come true and Elizabeth W. Babcock is right up there with Yellig, Howard, and Don Goers.

Elizabeth made the finest Santa Claus Suits in the world. She used the finest materials. She sewed them to specification to keep the high standard. But the component she added that was the most important to the suit was…Elizabeth W. Babcock’s Santa Claus Suits were made with love. Thanks Elizabeth.

Twenty five years after I sat between Elizabeth W. Babcock and Gale Bergeman, I sat between the daughters of each of them. To the left of me is Laurie Hatch, the daughter of Elizabeth and to the right is Jane Holland, the daughter of Gale.
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