|The Holiday World story|
|The history of the "world's first theme park."|
Giant St. Nicks abound in the Yule-happy hamlet of Santa Claus, IN. The town hall is decked out like this year-round. Across the street, customers can shop at the Ho Ho Ho Video Rental store or Holiday Foods in the Kris Kringle Shopping Mall.
Holiday World originally drew its inspiration from the whimsically named town in which it is located, Santa Claus. A bit of history mixed with a dash of lore is in order: The town's founders wanted to call the southern Indiana hamlet, "Santa Fe," but postal authorities determined the name was already taken. On Christmas Eve, 1852, citizens gathered to choose a name for their community. Legend has it that the door of the meeting hall blew open and a certain red-suited gent appeared.
Once word got out about the town with the magical name, visitors began making December pilgrimages, but were disappointed to find little more than a general store, a post office, and a handful of homes. Third-generation Holiday World president Will Koch said his grandfather had "this kind of crazy idea to build Santa Claus Land" in the 1940s.
Opened in 1946, Koch says that Santa Claus Land was the "first theme park in the world." (It certainly pre-dated Disneyland, but arguments could be made that other "theme" parks, going back to the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition or even Denmark's Tivoli Gardens, built in 1843, preceded Santa Claus Land.)
At first, the park was open year-round and its highest attendance was recorded during the Christmas season. Santa's toyshop, a Bavarian village, and personal audiences with the triple-ho legend were among the original highlights. The Freedom Train, one of the initial attractions, remains to this day.
During the 60s and 70s, the Koch family added more traditional amusement park rides. In 1984, they changed the name of the park to "Holiday World" and introduced sections themed to the Fourth of July and Halloween. In recent years, the Kochs have added more signature attractions including two highly acclaimed wooden roller coasters, Raven and The Legend, and an entire water park area, Splashin' Safari.
Ironically, the park discontinued year-round operation in the early 70s and has been closed during the Christmas season ever since. Koch says the proliferation of malls and mall Santas made a Christmas-time visit to Holiday World less special and post-summer attendance dropped significantly. Despite its Halloween theme and the recent explosion of haunted house attractions, the park isn't even open past Columbus Day. For tourists who visit the town of Santa Claus around Christmas, it's like déjà vu all over again. "Unfortunately, there isn't a lot for them to do," Koch acknowledges.
Photo: (C) 2002 Arthur LevineHoliday World Overview