The other day, I asked my mamma what happened to the Shillito Elves in Cincinnati. What? You don’t know about the Shillito Elves and Santa’s Workshop? Curses! I’ll tell ya all about it.
As a kid, going to Cincinnati to see Santa’s Workshop at the old Shillito’s department store was the shit! We started working on our letter’s to Santa right after Thanksgiving, then a couple of weeks later we would go to the big city and go and see the Elves make toys and commence to renderin’ in general mayhem in the North Pole. We walked through this huge Christmas display of little robotic elves working hard. At one point you would drop your letter in the mailbox and you would see it hit the conveyor belt and the elves would make sure it got into a postal bag. Then at the end, you had your chance to see Santa Claus. Hey, 3-4, 5 years old…this was a big deal.
The display came to life in 1979 and it featured over 130 elves. And the elves were not restricted to just the display itself. The elves were street level in the display windows. Throughout the eighties, the elves were the real deal. You would see the elves, then go over to CG&E to the train display, and then do all kinds of Christmassy (is that a word?) around Cincinnati.
Unfortunately, in 1997, the elves were packed up as the department store moved (at that point, it was Lazarus). What a disappointment that elves were no longer. How the hell could somebody rip this away from my childhood!? I guess it was a part of growing up. However….boom! A little research, and hot damn! I found the elves.
The elves were then purchased by two Boy Scouts troops and they set up the display. Sad to say at that point There were only 75 elves left, but they endured! The elves soon found themselves looking for a new home as they were almost shipped to Louisville. NOOOOO!!!! However, a Christmas miracle happened. A man by the name of Bill Spinnenweber purchased the display at auction, and the elves were saved from being exiled to Louisiville. In an interview with one of the elves (who remained nameless), he told me “The last place we wanted to go was Louisville, Kentucky. We were born in Cincinnati, and loved Kentucky Basketball. Cincinnati Basketball never did it for us. And we loved the Reds and Bengals. So it made no sense for us to go to Louisville.”
Spinnenweber set up the display for 7 years in Mariemont, Ohio. Two years ago, another Christmas miracle happened in which the elves found a new glorious home in Kentucky. Further comments from the nameless elf: “Obviously, we were thrilled that we were going to move to Kentucky and be in the Big Blue Nation. Cincinnati is our home, but we feel just as home with these news digs on Newport on the Levee and with the good folks of Kentucky. It could not have worked out any better.”
The displays were constructed by the original team with some new members to keep this great Cincinnati tradition alive for youngsters and families.
Below, here are some videos about the Shillito Elves, their great history, and their big move to Newport on the Levee.
For more info on the elves, http://thesantaworkshop.com/
Mr. Spinnenweber, I thank you for keeping this tradition alive.