Christmas Memories of Department Stores
Bill Quick

Indiana Historical Society : Item Viewer

 Santa Claus Express Owning InstitutionIndiana Historical Society Item IDM0616_BOX44_FOLDER4_SANTA_EXPRESS DescriptionDuring the 1950s, downtown stores, such as L.S. Ayres and Blocks, were the primary destination for Indianapolis shoppers. The stores were especially popular during the holiday season, offering elaborate window displays, visits from Santa, and toylands for wishful children. A visit to L.S. Ayres was a holiday tradition for many. In 1958, the store introduced the Santa Claus Express, an electric train that transported children through the store on their way to Santa. SubjectChristmas
Amusement rides
L.S. Ayres and Company
DateCa. 1958 Time Period1950s (1950-1959)
Geographic LocationIndiana–Marion County–Indianapolis

I grew up in Indiana during the 1950s, and one of my happiest memories of those days is of the trips we took every year down to Indianapolis to see the Christmas displays at L.S. Ayers, Naptown’s equivalent of Macy’s.

In those days every major city had its own local department store.  In Muncie, it was the Ball Department Store, five floors tall, with the only escalators in town.  It also had pneumatic tubes running everywhere that zipped cash and checks (nobody had credit cards in those days) back and forth.  The toy department was in the basement.  It doubled in size around the holidays, and I can still see the chrome plastic sheen of the Mattel Fanner Fifty cowboy pistol that I wanted more than anything in the world when I was eight years old:

I got it, too.  It wasn’t until later that I began to lust after things like chemistry sets, with which I learned how to blow up things.

In my late teens I took a part time job at Ball’s, working in the Santa Shop on the top floor.  Santa was jolly enough, given that he took a break every half hour or so to nip at the silver flask he kept off stage in his lunch box.  He told me it was colder than shit out there on that sleigh-chair they had him sitting in.

Any Christmas gifts you recall particularly lusting after?  Did you get them?

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Bill Quick

About Bill Quick

I am a small-l libertarian. My primary concern is to increase individual liberty as much as possible in the face of statist efforts to restrict it from both the right and the left. If I had to sum up my beliefs as concisely as possible, I would say, "Stay out of my wallet and my bedroom," "your liberty stops at my nose," and "don't tread on me." I will believe that things are taking a turn for the better in America when married gays are able to, and do, maintain large arsenals of automatic weapons, and tax collectors are, and do, not.


Christmas Memories of Department Stores — 5 Comments

  1. The snaps are unbelievably cool. How can tech possibly compare to that train? What kid would rather punch a touchscreen when he could be running a three-track Lionel set with a steel-bodied Erie Lackawanna locomotive?

    Growing up in Vegas in the 50s, a set of cap pistols with holsters was de riguer, along with real cowboy boots, a size 4 Stetson and a cowboy shirt with mother-of-pearl snap buttons and braided stitching.

    • Yeah, I didn’t get into the cowboy clothes stuff until I moved to Denver, where cowboy boots were as common as tenny sneaks and hiking boots.

      I even worked for a while at Miller International, a big western wear outfit, in the home office. I was driving a gigantic white 1960 Coupe de Ville at the time.

  2. A genuine, for-reals Daisy Red Ryder lever-action saddle-ring carbine, the B-B-shootin’ ne plus ultra of my childhood -

    And I got it, too! The central prize of my Christmas, the year we moved to the farm – brand-spankin’ new, replete with a rawhide thong strung through the saddle-ring and a rawhide laced-on “boot” on the stock’s butt-end, and a complete boxed set with the “Official Red Ryder Handbook” – full of all sorts of wondrous items of woodscraft and derring-do. I was truly the envy of all my peers (or at least so I believed…) – and, until permitted the usage of my Dad’s single-shot Savage bolt action .22 a couple of years later, that Daisy was my near-constant companion on and around the farm, and a deadly scourge to those nasty, dirty, nest-stealing and crap-on-everything Starlings that frequently plagued our farmstead.

    When I tore off the wrapping paper, and opened that box, I came pretty close to passing out from the sheer, giddy joy of it all…

    (I’ve still got it, too – it’s about worn out, of course, and the box and the rawhide boot and thong “went West” a long time ago – but, over 50 years later, it’s still around, and it still shoots!

    Some memories you never lose, no matter what…)

      • Well, if you find it – don’t let on. Just hide it away real careful-like, and prize it in private – your current Area Of Residence having, as you well know, a certain pervasive mid-grade hostility to having such artifacts remaining in the possession of mere mortals.

        Extra Collector Points, if it still has any of those Shootin’ Shells with it when/if you unearth it.

        Remember those little, round sticky-back caps you used to “load/reload” the Shootin’ Shells with?

        Good times, good times…

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