Monday, November 17, 2014

Archie the Snowman and Akron's Other Christmas Attractions in 2014

Archie the Talking Snowman at Chapel Hill Mall--probably the 1980s.  Photo used with permission from Tommy Uplinger at the Official Archie the Snowman fan page on Facebook.

Archie the Snowman and Akron's Other Christmas Attractions in 2014
by Joanna Wilson

Nothing like our first snow storm of the season to remind us of the upcoming holidays.  While every city has its own holiday traditions, Akron is known for its love of its own homegrown Christmas traditions.  Many of you know that I'm a book author--my latest project is A is for Akron, co-authored by Karen Starr, which came out last March.  My next book is about Akron's own Archie the Talking Snowman and our city's long history of Christmas attractions. That book will be released in the spring of 2015.  So let me share a little bit about what a rich cultural history we have available for our families in Akron this upcoming holiday season.

The most exciting news is everyone's favorite Archie the Snowman returns to Chapel Hill Mall this year.  The twenty foot snowman was created for the mall in 1968 where he stood for 36 consecutive years.  Over the years, thousands of children conversed with the talking snowman, offering him holiday greetings and sharing how they like to spend the holidays--while they shopped at the mall and visited with Santa Claus too.  The tradition of Archie the Snowman was stopped between 2004-2011.  A popular movement to bring back Archie got traction and the city of Akron hosted our frozen friend at Lock 3 during the holidays of 2012 and 2013.  I wrote about Archie the Snowman's return to Akron for Akron Empire in 2012--click HERE to see that post again.  In a twist of fate, Archie will spend the 2014 Christmas season back at Chapel Hill Mall.  The mall is hosting a kick-off event to welcome Archie home--Saturday, Nov. 22nd, noon until 2pm.  After the event, Archie will remain in the mall's center through the holidays.  Be sure to follow Chapel Hill Mall on Facebook for more information about Archie the Snowman this year.

Archie at Lock in 2012.  Left to right: Tommy Uplinger, Raúl Umaña, and David Burkett--three of the people who helped bring Archie back to Akron's children.  Photo used with permission.

Although Archie has left Lock 3, there is still quite a bit of holiday fun to be enjoyed downtown.  Two of the windows in the Polsky Building (now owned by the University of Akron) are being decorated for visitors.  There was a time--for decades, in fact--when the two department stores Polsky's and ONeil's in downtown Akron offered up amazing and eye-catching animated window displays to attract visitors.  Children pressed their faces against the frosty window glass to take in the splendor of the all-new holiday displays each year.  That tradition was interrupted by changes in consumer habits when our culture came to prefer shopping at suburban malls and plazas over the downtown department stores.  Although the stores Polsky's and ONeil's have been closed for years, we can still enjoy a touch of that Akron tradition.  Two displays--Alice in Wonderland and the Wizard of Oz--which are a collection of animated figures originally owned by the ONeil's store (from the 1980s) will be in the Polsky Building storefront windows after Thanksgiving day this year.  These displays are put together by Lawrence and Cynthia Nixon, the same couple who have been keeping the tradition of our decorated holiday windows since the closing of the downtown department stores.

The Ice Princess display now at Lock 3--originally owned by ONeil's for their storefront windows. Photo courtesy of Jeanne Jordan at Lock 3.

Downtown hosts more of the ONeil's store window displays at Lock 3.  In the basement of the former ONeil's building (at Lock 3), you can walk through a large attraction comprised of several sets of the old animated window displays.  This year you can see a scene from Peter Pan, the Ice Princess and her Prince, a collection of Mother Goose storybook characters, Santa Claus' Workshop, and more.  Yes--all of these vintage animated displays were originally ONeil's store displays used in their windows and the Santa's Winter Wonderland experience inside the store.  Also on display this year at Lock 3 is the giant-sized Raggedy Ann doll that used to be the talking Raggedy Ann attraction at ONeils during the 1970s and 80s.  Come down to Lock 3 this year with your children or grandchildren and witness a part of Akron's Christmas history.

Peter Pan, his friends, and Captain Hook in another scene once owned by the ONeil's department store--on display this year at Lock 3. Photo courtesy of Jeanne Jordan at Lock 3.

In addition to the walk-through displays, families can also enjoy several activities downtown at Lock 3.  There is an ice skating rink, a toboggan run, and new this year--an indoor miniature golf course.  Check out the Lock 3 website for the full schedule and hours.  Ice skating has already started--but the Holiday Tree Lighting Ceremony is Friday, Nov. 28 and the annual Welcome Santa Parade is Saturday Nov. 29th.

The gorgeous Nativity display at Cornerstone Church.

If you're interested in another Akron Christmas tradition, then don't overlook this one-of-a-kind opportunity.  Cornerstone Church in south Akron (578 Killian Rd. 44319) now owns the life-size Nativity display that stood for years atop ONeil's downtown store marquee.  Starting on Thanksgiving day, the church stages the sacred display each year for everyone to enjoy.  For all the changes we've seen in Akron over the decades, isn't it heartening to see that some traditions remain? 

To keep up with news about my upcoming book on Archie the Snowman and Akron's long history of Christmas attractions, please follow the 1701 Press facebook page and website

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