I found myself in a Christmas shop on Decatur St. in the Quarter last October. My son in-law and I were wandering around when we came across a sizable display we didn’t recognize. There were books, ornaments, plush toys, coloring books etc. of a snowman in a flying pose. We joked about ‘Frosty on steroids’ as we tried to figure out what this was. There were a lot of items with this theme so, it must have meant something. As we joked a store employee passed behind us and in a somewhat indignant tone informed us “That’s Mr. Bingle”.
In this way I was introduced to the lore of Mr. Bingle, Christmas Icon.
Who or what is Mr. Bingle? Well, as the story goes, Mr. Bingle was an ordinary snowman who, upon Santa’s magical touch, sprung to life serves as Santa’s sidekick.
Dressed in an ice cream cone hat, striped mittens, a red ribbon bow tie and brandishing a candy cane wand, Mr. Bingle is often pictured in the Superman-like pose flying along born up by the holly leaf wings given to him by Santa.
A Department Store Christmas Creation
Mr. Bingle’s true origin reaches back to the late 40’s when he was the holiday mascot of the Maison Blanche department store in New Orleans.
Mr. Bingle wasn’t the first character created to support commercials pursuits (I’m looking at you, Rudolf the Red Nose Reindeer!) but, he has endured long after the store that created him has passed into memory. Indeed, as with the previously mentioned crimson-nosed caribou, Mr. Bingle has into Christmas lore and tradition totally separated from his marketing origins.
Mr. Bingle was featured as a massive figure decorating the front of the Maison Blanche store. He was featured in holiday puppet shows at the store and as he gained popularity he even starred in his own TV show and radio commercials.
Eventually competitive pressures had Maison Blanche acquired by Mercatile stores, then later, the Dillards chain.
These acquisitions lead to the adoption of Mr. Bingle as a regional holiday figure and was featured in stores as far away as Memphis, Tennessee.
Mr. Bingle, Symbol of Recovery
The original wire and papier mache figure that graced the front of Maison Blanche finally succumbed to years of exposure to the weather. It was retired to a warehouse and the battered form even survived destruction in Hurricane Katrina when the warehouse district where the no longer used display was housed was flooded. Mr. Bingle was spared. He became a symbol of persistence, survival and rebirth. A public campaign was mounted to raise funds to refurbish the figure and in 2008 was Mr. Bingle was again displayed in public. Today, he is displayed in the yearly Christmas display in City Park called the ‘Celebration in the Oaks’.
So there is the story of Mr. Bingle. Even as the former Maison Blanch department store building on Canal St. has been renovated into a hotel, Mr. Bingle continues to be a Christmas holiday icon and tradition.
Happy Holidays !