Miller & Rhoads: “Where Christmas is a Legend”
The holiday season is characterized by tradition and often times these traditions have been routine with our families for years and years. For many Richmond families, one of these timeless holiday traditions is visiting the Miller and Rhoads Legendary Santa, or fondly known by many as The Real Santa.
My first job in high school was working for Legendary Santa as an elf. I experienced firsthand how invested families from Richmond (and beyond) are in the tradition of Miller and Rhoads and Legendary Santa. For many, visiting this Santa goes back three or four generations. It was never surprising when visitors would come in from other states, dressed in their best, just to visit and take the annual Santa photo. Over the years, as families have grown with additional generations, the tradition continues.
“The Miller and Rhoads Santa with his flowing white hair and red velvet, fur-trimmed suit, established a Santa Claus standard, which no other has ever reached.” -Louise Lipscomb, Memories of Miller & Rhoads, Style Weekly, September 1986
Thinking back to my fond memories of visiting “the Real Santa”, along with my memories of working with him for many years, I was interested in what the VHS had in the collection about this timeless Richmond (& Virginian) tradition. I found a multitude of books and magazine articles that have been published chronicling the impact and nostalgia that surrounds the once department store giant, Miller and Rhoads. I was surprised by some of the information and statistics that I found.
Legendary Santa opened to the public in the late 1930s. In 1942 alone, it is estimated that Santa saw 15,000 children. Santa photos actually did not exist in the beginning, there was an artist on site who would sketch children visiting with Santa, and sell these sketches for $1. These sketches led to photographs being taken. During the Christmas of 1987, Legendary Santa saw a total of 120,000 people between Thanksgiving and Christmas (Thrower, Miller & Rhoads Legendary Santa). With statistics like these, it is no surprise that Legendary Santa is such a deep rooted tradition for Richmonders and beyond.
“At Christmastime, in addition to seeing the models and hearing Eddie Weaver play carols, we had to watch Santa Claus eat lunch in the tearoom.” -Style Weekly, September 16, 1986
If you enjoyed reading about the days of old department stores, then you will love our new exhibit that opened on December 19th, Looking Good: Fashion in Virginia, 1930-1970. See items from the bygone days of shopping in Virginia at department stores like Miller & Rhoads, Thalhimers and Montaldo’s, including the original Tearoom sign from Miller & Rhoads.
Interested in learning more about Miller & Rhoads? Visit the Virginia Historical Society Pusey Museum Shop for books and other related items.
Julie Sjostrom is a Visitor Services Associate at the Virginia Historical Society.