Thursday, December 2, 2021

The Coca-Cola Santa Story

Santa's origin can be traced back to ancient Germanic folklore and the Norse god Odin. The modern character of Santa was embraced by America with the December 23, 1823 publication of Clement Clarke Moore's 56 line poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas," better known as "Twas the Night Before Christmas." Here is Moore's description of the jolly fatman:
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a pedler just opening his pack.
His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself
Bavarian immigrant Thomas Nast became America's first political cartoonist. He is responsible for creating the American image of Santa Claus on January 3, 1863, for the illustrated magazine Harper's Weekly. In an wooden engraving named "Santa Claus in Camp," the mythic figure is presenting gifts to Union soldiers during the Civil War while wearing a costume patterned with patriotic stars and stripes. Santa manipulates a Jefferson Davis toy [effigy] dancing on the end of a string.

In 1881, Nast created the first of many Santa images based on the description in Clement's narrative poem. These illustrations were without the political and military context of his earlier work. With thirty-three Santa illustrations to his credit, Nast immortalized the figure of Santa Claus we are familiar with today.

Muskegon born Michigan artist Haddon Sundblom painted the iconic image we now recognize as the modern Santa Claus, for the Coca-Cola company from 1931 until 1964. His friend was the original model for his Santa paintings. It is believed Sundblom made $1,000 for his first commission, good money during the Depression era.
Haddon Sundblom at work.
Sundblom's Santa images have appeared in Coke's print advertising, store displays, billboards, posters, calendars, and on television commercials. He helped make Santa the most recognizable and successful pitchman in advertising history. For more information, click on the link.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

West Dearborn's Muirhead's Department Store

Mrs. Alberta Muirhead

If you grew up in Downriver Detroit in the 1950s or 1960s, after the Hudson's Thanksgiving Day parade on Woodward Avenue, you had your heart set on a visit to Santa's igloo at Muirhead's on Michigan Avenue in West Dearborn. Baby Boomers have precious memories of riding the rails in Santa's sleigh with their parents and siblings to get their photo taken with Santa Claus. Over the years, several men have donned the red suit and white beard. Early on, Mr. Muirhead played the role, but succeeding Santas were Bob Oxley and Tim Pryce. There may have been others.

In 1946, John Muirhead married Alberta Jamieson, and they opened a neighborhood department store featuring women's clothing and a toy department. Dearborn resident Jon Jahr explained that his father drew up the blueprints for the original Muirhead's building which was on three levels.

"The basement was the storeroom, shopping was on the street level, and the Muirheads lived on the second level. As their business grew, they expanded the footprint of the building, and in the early sixties, they built a new building around the old building, replacing the street facade for a modern, upscale look." By then, John and Alberta lived in their own home, creating more sales space on the second level.

Mrs. Muirhead - 1971

Lynn Richards Tobin worked at Muirhead's in 1961 and 1962. She remembers, "Mr. Muirhead was in his early sixties. Mrs. Muirhead was younger, maybe in her forties.... She always wore the cash register key around her neck. She took care of their customers and oversaw sales on the main floor. Mr. Muirhead spent most of his time on the second floor in the stockroom and oversaw employees to make sure everyone was working and not goofing off.

"The main floor was girls and teen clothing in front and children's clothing in the back. A customer service center was in the middle of the sales floor where shoppers would take returns and ask questions. There was a cash register station near the front door and one near the parking lot exit in back. An elevator and a stairwell led to the second floor where the stockroom and business offices were. Dolls were sold upstairs including the exclusive Madame Alexander dolls. Another stairwell on the ground floor led to the toy department in the basement which featured bicycles."

My family in 1957. I'm sitting next to my mother.

During the Christmas season, Santa's igloo sleigh ride in the basement was the big attraction. As far as I have been able to determine, the sleigh was manually pushed back and forth on a rail track. Jon Jahr remembers seeing the sleigh in the Muirhead's warehouse in the early 1970s. Jahr asked Mr. Muirhead if he might bring the sleigh out just for Christmas photos, but he was done with it by then. I wonder if the sleigh is somewhere in Dearborn waiting to be rediscovered.

John died in 1983 at the age of eighty-three. Alberta operated the store by herself with the help of a dedicated band of loyal employees for seven more years. Then, she closed the popular store after forty-three years in business. Competition from shopping malls and Crowley's on Michigan Avenue off Outer Drive in particular cut into her business.

Alberta's story did not end with the closing of her boutique department store. Mrs. Muirhead--as most people called her--became a model for philanthrophy. She believed in giving back to the Dearborn community who had supported her and her husband John, making their business a success. Alberta devoted her later life to Dearborn and its people.

Alberta Muirhead parlayed her charismatic personality and charitable spirit to become Dearborn's biggest benefactor and philantropist since the Ford family. For starters, she donated her three-level building to the Oakwood Health Care Foundation for their data-processing center.

An avid believer in public education, Alberta became the namesake for Dearborn's Teacher of the Year award established in 1997. She supported both Henry Ford Community College and Rochester College giving generously to their scholarship funds to help needy and struggling students. Dearborn Public Schools awards an annual scholarship in her name.

In 2007, Alberta Muirhead established the Oakwood Healthcare Foundation with a $500,000 gift to support nursing education and advanced nursing degrees for Oakwood Healthcare employees. Many a nurse owes a debt of gratitude to the generosity of Mrs. Muirhead. Her support was not limited to people. Alberta was a supporter of the Dearborn Animal Shelter and received their Big Heart Award in 2006.

After the death of her husband, Alberta and Russ Gibb--of Grande Ballroom fame and Dearborn High School teacher--became friends. How and when they met is unclear, but Gibb was a deejay at WKNR-FM which was next door to the department store. They became lifelong friends and companions for nearly thirty years until Alberta's death on January 14, 2011 at the age of ninety-one. "Alberta put so many people through college," Gibb said. "She was a great, generous lady and I loved her dearly."

Ford Rotunda Christmas Memories

Friday, November 19, 2021

White Castle Rules!

One of my guilty pleasures when flying into Detroit is stopping at the White Castle on Telegraph Road and Northline. My favorite item is the #2 combo--two double-cheese burgers and fries with a medium soft drink. The family-owned chain services the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic states, so most of the country is unaware of this delectable taste treat.

White Castle slider
Their signature product consists of a thin square of 100% ground beef with five steam holes punched into it. The patty is cooked on a bed of diced onions and topped with a steamed hamburger bun, dressed with dill pickles, mustard and ketchup, and served up in a cardboard sleeve. One food critic called it "French onion soup on a bun." To be honest, either you love them or you hate them.

Walter A. Anderson began his restaurant career working at food stands in Wichita, Kansas. In 1916, he bought an obsolete streetcar and converted it into a diner. He had opened two more diners by the time he met businessman Edgar Wolds "Billy" Ingram and co-founded the first White Castle restaurant on an original investment of $700 in 1921.

White Castle #1
Since the publication of The Jungle by Upton Sinclair in 1906 exposing the unsanitary practices of the meat packing industry in Chicago, Americans were reluctant to eat ground beef. Aware of this, the White Castle founders sought to change the public's perception by stressing cleanliness in their restaurants and high quality ingredients.

Their earliest buildings had white enameled brick exteriors and enameled steel counters. By the 1930s, the chain's restaurants were built with prefabricated white-porcelain enameled steel exteriors and outfitted with stainless steel counters. Buildings were designed so customers could see their food being prepared by employees who had to conform to a strict dress code. White Castle produced the first disposable paper hats, napkins, and cardboard sleeves to package their product.

Short-order cook Walter Anderson is credited with the invention of the hamburger bun and the assembly-line kitchen which replaced experienced cooks with employees who could operate the griddle with minimal training. Chain-wide standardization assured the same product and service at all their locations. Often imitated but never duplicated, numerous earlier competitors were unable to match White Castle's success.

The fast-food industry we take for granted today was unknown in America before the White Castle chain. Anderson and Ingram gave rise to the fast-food phenomenon. There was no infrastructure to support their business expansion, so Anderson and Ingram established centralized bakeries, meat suppliers, branded paper manufacturing, and warehouses to supply their system's needs.

In 1933, Anderson sold his half of the business to Billy Ingram. The following year, the company moved its corporate offices to Columbus, Ohio, the center of their distribution area. Ingram's business savvy is credited for the popularity of the hamburger in America.

Since the beginning, White Castle has been privately owned, and none of its restaurants are franchised. Founder Billy Ingram retired in 1958 as CEO, followed by his son E.W. Ingram Jr, and then his grandson E.W. Ingram III. In December 2015, Ingram III stepped down and his daughter Lisa Ingram became the fourth CEO of the company.

The Ingram family's refusal to franchise or take on debt throughout the company's existence has kept the chain relatively small with only about 420 outlets--all in the United States. By comparison, McDonald's has 36,000 outlets worldwide with 14,000 of those in the United States. In recent years, White Castle has been selling sliders at supermarkets nationwide.

On January 27, 2015, White Castle opened its first outlet in the western United States at the Casino Royale Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip--the chain's first expansion into a different state in fifty-six years. On its first day of business, the restaurant had to close for two hours to restock their depleted supplies. In its first twelve hours of operation, the store sold 4,000 sliders per hour. It appears that I'm not the only one who enjoys this guilty pleasure.

Delray, Detroit and O-So Pop:

Saturday, November 6, 2021

Ypsilanti's Hutchinson House Built with S&H Green Stamp Fortune

In 1896, Thomas A. Sperry and Shelley Byron Hutchinson went into the S&H Green Stamp business together. The New York Times business section described this newly formed company "the first independent trading stamp company to distribute stamps and books to merchants."

Not much is known about Mr. Sperry. He was an Easterner. His home was destroyed by fire in 1912, with damages estimated to be $150,000. He was an avid art collector and a number of valuable paintings went up in flames. A year later, Sperry contracted ptomaine poisoning on a return ocean cruise from Europe. When he returned to the United States, he was so ill he couldn't travel to his home in Cranford, New Jersey. He was forty-nine years old when he died.

Sperry's brother, William Miller Sperry, inherited his brother's business interests and gained control of the company. In 1921, Shelley Hutchinson sued the estate of Thomas A. Sperry alleging that Sperry defrauded him of his full share of dividends to the tune of $5,000,000. Secret funds were diverted from company funds to Sperry. Hutchinson won the suit. The founders' family successors sold the franchise in 1981.

Much more in known about Shelley Hutchinson. His grandparents were among the first settlers in Ypsilanti, Michigan, still little more than a frontier outpost. Shelley's father Stephen Hutchinson married Loretta Jaycox on November 26, 1862. Shelley was born two years later in a log cabin in Superior Township on October 19, 1864. From 1874 until 1894, the Hutchinsons lived in a four room wood frame house at 509 N. River Street, across the street from the Champlain mansion. As a kid, he attended the Union School through the eighth grade--a typical education for a nineteenth-century boy.

Shelley was ambitious and intelligent. While working at a family shoe business with his father and brother in Battle Creek, Michigan, in the 1880s, he conjured up the idea for a trading stamp business he could promote to merchants as a customer retention program. On a small scale, the idea was promising, so a regional headquarters was established in Jackson, Michigan, chosen for its central location between the state's eastern and western borders.

Three years later, Hutchinson met Sperry in New York--an Easterner with money and business connections. Soon after they went into business, stamp redemption centers sprung up in many of Michigan's major cities. With early success, the promotion was expanded eventually growing into a nationwide coast-to-coast business concern. Sperry and Hutchinson made money hand over fist.

Shelley Hutchinson met Clara Unsinger, who was a stenographer in the company. Clara was the granddaughter of an Ypsilanti deacon. They were married on April 27, 1894. By the turn of the century, Hutchinson had amassed enough money to build his dream house. He considered building in New York, but his father urged him to build in Ypsilanti to be reunited with family and friends.

Feeling a boyhood affinity for the area, Hutchinson decided to build his thirty-room Richardsonian Revival mansion across the street from where he grew up--the site of the deteriorating Champlain mansion on the corner of North River and East Forest streets. Construction began in 1902 and was completed in 1904. Hutchinson called his mansion Casa Loma--Spanish for house on the hill. The site was believed to be Ypsilanti's highest point--on the east side anyway. He moved in with his wife, three children, parents, and brothers and sisters.

See the link below for more views of the house.

Building his mansion on Ypsilanti's east side was a social mistake for the wealthy millionaire. The Huron River was the town's dividing line. The east side was the working class neighborhood, and the west side was primarily for the wealthy and social elite. Hutchinson was never accepted into Ypsilanti high society because he was "new money" and shunned the "old money" denizens. He and his wife Clara rode around town in a fine phaeton carriage with matching horses. The newly rich pair wore only the finest clothes, and the "Stamp King" wore a silk top hat. During the height of his success, Hutchinson bought diamonds by the pocketful from Tiffany's in New York.

In an early undated Ypsilanti Daily Press article, the reporter wrote a "rags to riches" story about Hutchinson. Quoting merchant A.A. Bedell, "Hutchinson was always immaculate in dress, dark haired and handsome. One day, he stood in (my shoe store in Depot Town) and a shaft of light struck his diamonds, a glittering array. He had half-caret diamonds in each cuff link and wore two diamond rings, one of three carets and one between seven and eight. His shirt stud had a three and a half-caret stone." People said when Hutchinson walked in the sunshine, he sparkled.

But the domestic situation at Casa Loma was less than stellar. The Detroit News reported on July 3, 1906, that Mrs. Hutchinson deserted "the mansion on the hill" in anger taking her three children with her to live with neighbors across the street at 629 N. River Street. Clara had had it with her Hutchinson in laws and complained to the reporter that she was forced from her home penniless--except for some diamonds she left with. Hutchinson's father and sister publicly claimed they wished Clara would return to manage the place. As for her husband, Shelley retreated and went south for his health. The domestic situation was intolerable for him too.

As the story goes, Shelley had been gravely ill and entrusted his wife with his diamonds. Upon recovery, he asked for them back. Clara refused saying he gave them to her. She hid the diamonds away, but while she was sleeping one night, her husband found her hiding place. Shelley locked the diamonds in a tin box and placed them in his roll-top desk in his locked home office. Two could play at that game. Clara took her husband's key and unlocked the office door. After a brief search, she found the tin box and opened it with a can opener. Then she left the mansion taking her children.

The Ypsilanti Daily Press reported on January 14, 1910, that a divorce was granted giving Clara custody of the three children, $9,000 cash paid out over five years, and her husband's diamonds. She sold the largest one to a neighbor and the rest to a diamond broker in Detroit. In 1912, Hutchinson's mansion was sold at public auction to the Ypsilanti Savings Bank to satisfy an unpaid mortgage and back taxes. The home is now used for a commercial property and houses several businesses.

In an Ypsilanti Press interview in 1955, the ninety-one-year-old Hutchinson was living in New York. He was quoted as saying, "Some of the people (in Ypsilanti) were jealous of me because of the big house, but they had no reason to be. I was good to everybody." Shelley Hutchinson returned to Ypsilanti one last time time in 1961 for burial in a family plot at Highland Cemetery--several blocks north of his mansion. He was ninety-seven.

Most people in Ypsilanti are familiar with the outside of the Hutchinson House but have never seen the interior. Check out this link to see just how extravagant it is.

For more detailed information about the Hutchinson family, read Janice Anschuetz's article "River Street Neighbor's Gossip and the Hutchinson Marriage," which appeared in the Ypsilanti Historical Society's September 27, 2010, newsletter Ypsilanti Gleanings.

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

S&H Green Stamps--Emblem of a Bygone Age

Sperry and Hutchinson Company were the originators of S&H Green Stamps--as much an American cultural icon as anything. The company began offering redemption stamps to American retailers in 1896. Stores bought the stamps and offered them as bonuses based on the dollar amount of the purchase. S&H Green Stamps was the earliest retail customer loyalty program selling and distributing stamps and books to merchants. With a unidirectional cash flow, this shoppers' incentive made its originators multi-millionaires.

Stamps were issued in denominations of 1, 10, and 50 points. Stamp pages were perforated with glue on the reverse side to mount in twenty-four page collector booklets. Each booklet contained 1,200 points. Reward gifts were based on the number of filled books required to obtain the object. Green Stamps had no real cash value.

S&H Green Stamps could be obtained at supermarkets, department stores, and gas stations. Completed booklets were redeemed at one of 800 distribution centers located around the country. Most popular in the early 1960s, S&H boasted that its reward catalog was the largest publication in the United States. They issued three times more stamps than did the United States Postal Service.

Economic recessions in the 1970s reduced sales and decreased the value of the rewards. Shoppers began to see the stamps as not worth the trouble, and stores started to drop the program. In 1981, the founders' successors sold the business.

Green Stamps entered the realm of pop art iconography when Andy Warhol used a three step silkscreen process to print a 23"x22.75" canvas in 1962. Three years later, he used offset lithography to print the classic green stamp images on forty-nine 7'x7' panels to act as wallpaper within a gallery exhibit at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in Philadelphia. A single panel recently sold at auction for $6,250.

S&H Green Stamp founder

To have my Fornology posts sent to you automatically, subscribe at the top of the right hand sidebar.

Friday, October 29, 2021

Detroit's Shock Theater

In 1957, Universal Pictures syndicated a television package of fifty-two classic horror movies released by Screen Gems called Shock Theatre. The package included the original Dracula, Frankenstein, Mummy, and Wolfman movies. Shock Theatre premiered with Lugosi's Dracula in Detroit on WXYZ channel seven at 11:30 pm on February 7, 1958.

Each syndicated television market had their own host. Detroit had one of the first horror movie personalities in the country. The show was hosted by Mr. X--Tom "Doc" Dougall--a classically trained actor who taught English at the Detroit Institute of Technology and moonlighted as a vampire on Friday nights. Unlike later horror movie hosts who would spoof their roles or riff on the movies they showed, Dougall was grimly serious and set a solemn tone for what was to follow. What most people don't know about Professor Dougall is that he co-wrote several Lone Ranger and Green Hornet scripts for WXYZ radio.

The opening of the show was memorable, but I was only nine years old when I started staying up every Friday night to see the classic monsters and mad-scientists--The Invisible Man comes to mind. This is how I remember the opening:

The show's marquee card came up with ominous organ music and a crack of thunder in the background. Replete in vampire garb with cape, Mr. X walked slowly on screen holding a huge open book announcing the night's feature in a scary voice. Next, he would say, "Before we release the forces of evil, insulate yourself against them." With a sense of impending doom, Mr. X continued, "Lock your doors, close your windows, and dim your lights. Prepare for Shock." The camera came in for an extreme close-up of Mr. X's face, more lightening and thunder effects, and finally his gaunt face morphed into a skull. Then the film credits would roll.

There was something positively unholy about the show which made it an instant success with my generation of ghoulish Detroit Baby Boomers. The show's ominous organ music set the mood for the audience. The piece was listed only as #7 on a recording of Video Moods licensed for commercial television and not available to the public.

No video link to Detroit's Shock Theatre's opening has surfaced, but the above newspaper ad for the show gives an idea of the facial dissolve special effect. If anyone knows where I can find a link, Gmail me so I can add it to this post. Thanks.

Detroit's Baby Boomer Kid Show Hosts:

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

The Elusive Purple Gang Audio Now Available

Rich Miller
At last, the audio of my latest true crime book The Elusive Purple Gang: Detroit's Kosher Nostra is available from Amazon,, and iTunes. I wanted a professional voice artist, recording on professional recording equipment. My publisher Wheatmark Inc. recommended Rich Miller and arranged for him to make a demo recording of my first chapter. I liked it.

I met with Rich in Tucson, Arizona, and discovered he has an acting background ranging from Shakespeare to modern theater like Damn Yankees and August: Osage County. He has worked in theatrical sound design and done voice over work in television commercials.

Now, Rich operates his own recording studio and acts out stories in front of a microphone. He is the creator and host of a podcast named The Audiobook Speakeasy aimed at narrators, offering them content from audio coaches, sound engineers, casting directors, and contract specialists. 

I chose Rich to narrate The Elusive Purple Gang because I wanted someone who could read my book in a conversational tone to make the storytelling more engaging for the listener. Rich's subtle voice characterizations make listening a pleasure.

Elusive Purple Gang Audio Link 

Rich Voice Productions