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Twenty-Five Days of December -- Day Twenty-Two


AC Benus

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It's a subject of inexhaustible interest to me, and it seems every time I turn around, I learn new, incredible things about the people who made up this incredible organization. Only today -- about an hour ago, in fact -- I learned that Famous-Barr was the first department store in the nation (the world, I guess!) to offer Black Santas in Santaland so families could choose inclusion in their kids' pictures with the Old Man. And this was in the 1960s. The 1960s!!!

It's honestly enough to bring a tear to my eye, and incredible to know that this was launched at a time when stores like Marshall Field's in Chicago and Macy's in New York were still not even hiring African Americans, and barely even letting them in the doors.

So, in celebration of the amazing folks who made Famous so wonderful for all, here are some recent photos uploaded to the store's Facebook page by Terry Lay, and a catalog cover from my personal collection.

 

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1971 Famous-Barr Christmas gift catalog

 

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1971 Famous-Barr holiday windows and entry on 7th Street

 

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1971 Famous-Barr holiday window

 

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1971 Famous-Barr third floor decorations. All the main floors -- as this was the principal ladies' apparel department -- were decorated to this extent

 

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1971 Famous-Barr holiday gift shop 01. I believe this was on the 8th floor. The central cabinet (here painted red) I recognize as one of the many, many pieces of display millwork originally produced for the store's opening in the Railroad Exchange building in 1913. I have seen the originals, and they were all stained a delicate shade of olive green -- the store's original accent color, which appeared in floor tiling, on boxes, accent paint, you name it

 

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1971 Famous-Barr holiday gift shop 01, 8th floor I believe

 

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1973 Famous-Barr Santaland bears 01. The store hosted three, live bear cubs for the kids to see in Santaland in 1973. It was the first time Famous and bears became associated for the holiday season, but the theme became a regular feature later on

 

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1973 Famous-Barr Santaland bears 02

 

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1973 Famous-Barr holiday window. See the giant bear in the background? There were also many teddy bears in all the displays that year

 

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1977 Famous-Barr entry to Santaland. Paddington Bear was the store's holiday theme for both 1976 and 1977

 

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1977 Famous-Barr Paddington Bear themed Santaland

 

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1978 Famous-Barr Santaland under construction. The store featured Mickey Mouse for the holiday season of 1978. It was the character's 50th birthday, and Famous went all out! The Santa seen in Mickey's lap holding a birthday cake is life-sized

 

 

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Edited by AC Benus

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I sighed.  I remember retail displays like these at Christmas in towns both large and small - but these are amazing in scale and detail. No wonder FB hosted droves of shoppers.  Now, in the age of the internet and generative AI, I doubt we shall ever see their like again.  Still, perhaps there is one benefit is seeing these pictures - they remind me there is still time to improve and add to my the decorations in my own home!

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If there was going to be a store to have a black Santa, it makes sense that it would be in an inner-city with a large black population, such as Chicago.  I'm glad the kids there had a Santa they could identify with.  

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