Mister Bingle 2020 still goes “jingle jangle jingle!
The “Big Bingle” on the front of Maison Blanche on Canal Street. (Edward Branley photo)
Mister Bingle 2020
We’ve done a lot of things on Mr. Bingle, the most visible icon of Christmas in New Orleans, but not a podcast ep! Mister Bingle-2020 looks to change that, as we talk about the little snow elf.
Emile Alline, MB Display Director, received awards for his work, as described in this 1953 newspaper article.
The idea of Mister Bingle began with a trip to Chicago. In 1947, Mr. Emile Alline managed the display department at Maison Blanche Department Store on Canal Street. The “Greatest Store South” opened at 901 Canal Street in 1897. Fifty years later, the store survived two World Wars. Alline was an important part of advertising and promoting the store in the post-WWII boom. Alline took the train up to Chicago to see what stores along that city’s famed “Miracle Mile” were up to for the Christmas season. He took note of many things, particularly the signature character, “Uncle Mistletoe,” at Marshall Fields.
Alline decided Maison Blanche needed a Christmas character. He came home from that Chicago run and got to work. Rather than a paternal, big, Santa-like character, Alline sketched a more child-like figure. His concept began with a small snowman. The snowman received wings of holly and a big red nose. An upside-down ice cream cone became his hat.
While it would be Alline’s job to bring his preliminary concept to life, it wasn’t his decision to go forward. He pitched the character to Herbert Shwartz, the President of Maison Blanche. Shwartz liked the concept, naming the snow-elf, “Mister Bingle.” His initials became “MB.”
Sketches and Ad Campaigns
1947 newspaper ad introducing Mr. Bingle
Mister Bingle had the green light for his red nose. Alline went to work with the store’s art department to standardize the character. Bingle found his way into the daily ads in local newspapers. A back story on the snow-elf’s origin was created. New Orleans got a new Christmas story.
The artists of a department store’s Art and/or Display department were some of the most creative people in town. These are the folks that come up with ideas that make memories, like Phil Preddy’s six-foot letters, making lighted messages on the front of Krauss. A decade later, Walt Disney looked for these creatives, to be his “Imagineers.” Mister Bingle 2020 continues to inspire people with talent and drive.
Mr. Bingle goes 3-D
After the 1947 holiday season, MB desired a larger presence for their snow-elf. Alline planned to include Bingle in the store’s window displays. He commissioned a fifteen-inch Bingle doll. The prototype looked great. So, doll Bingles appeared in the windows.
While those display Bingles met different fates over the years, Mister Bingle 2020 includes the original prototype. Emile Alline’s daughters preserved the prototype doll. According to their Facebook pages, the daughters alternate Christmas “custody” of the prototype. Bingle celebrates with both branches of the family.
The Puppets and Oscar Isentrout
Oscar Isentrout, performing with Mr. Bingle at a charity event in 1984.
The folks who worked at the Canal Street store were quite familiar with businesses behind them in the French Quarter. While Bourbon Street was not as tawdry as it is for Mister Bingle 2020, the street had interesting night clubs. Several Bourbon Street clubs offered burlesque shows, interspersed with Jazz and vaudeville acts. i can just imagine Emile Alline, or one of his team mentioning a puppeteer who worked those clubs, maybe with a “or so I’m told” added to the story.
So, Alline connected with a puppeteer, Edward Harmon Isentrout. Isentrout went by “Oscar” professionally. Oscar Isentrout performed with several marionettes as an act in-between the dancers.
The creatives jumped on the idea for Bingle. Oscar referred them to a German puppet-maker, who built two Bingle puppets. Oscar became the eyes, hands, and most importantly, the voice of Mr. Bingle when those puppets took stage.
While the window displays worked on Canal Street, the “Greatest Store South” grew. Maison Blanche offered three locations for shoppers in the 1948 holiday season. The first store off Canal was at the corner of S. Carrollton Avenue, Tulane Avenue, and Airline Highway. Then came the company’s Gentilly store, on Gentilly Road, just off of Elysian Fields Avenue.
These two new stores meant Bingle hit the road. One of the puppets Oscar used stayed at the main store. The other puppet traveled to the other stores, as well as other venues for short shows.
Television audiences grew across the country in the 1950s. New Orleans was no stranger to this. Maison Blanche expanded their ad strategy to include TV ads. Oscar’s traveling puppet show went to television, specifically, WDSU (Channel 6). Oscar performed live commercials during the station’s morning cartoon/children’s programming. Oscar passed away in 1985, but Mr. Bingle lived on, particularly in animation.
Where are the puppets now?
Mr. Bingle and Oscar, Hebrew Rest Cemetery. (Dominic Massa photo)
The two Bingle puppets are still with us. One of those puppets came into the possession of Jeffery Kent after Oscar passed away. The puppet was severely damaged by Hurricane Katrina. Mr. Bingle was a flood victim. The worst of the damage was rust-related. The puppet’s metal frame rusted, and the orange color bled out into the fabric. Kent painstakingly restored Mr. Bingle to his original condition. Since local TV weatherman Bob Breck encouraged Kent to take on the project, Mr. Breck re-introduced Mr. Bingle to New Orleans on his show.
What of the other puppet? At the time I wrote my book, Maison Blanche Department Stores, a friend told me a story. He said the second puppet, the one that remained at Canal Street, was still around. According to the story, an individual took possession of the puppet when Dillard’s acquired MB. This tale is similar to the story of the “Holmes Clock.” At D. H. Holmes, a pair of customers feared that Dillard’s would not take the tradition of “meet me under the clock” seriously. So, they removed the clock, returning it to the location when the building was converted into a hotel. I’m told that the caretaker of the second puppet doesn’t want to be identified (my friend wouldn’t give up the name), but the puppet will re-appear when that individual passes away.
The Big Bingle
A large-form Mr. Bingle first appeared on the front of MB Canal Street in the 1950s. That first “big Bingle” vanished in the 1960s.
Ad in the Times-Picayune, 6-Nov-1953, for the arrival of Santa and Mr. Bingle, via American Airlines.
The store did a number of “big” promotions for Mr. Bingle in the 1950s and 1960s. MB partnered with Eastern Airlines several years, to “fly in” Santa and Bingle. They presented a motorcade/parade. One year, Mr. Bingle arrived at Canal Street, a Bingle doll “landing” on top of the building via helicopter.
By the 1980s, “big Bingle” returned to the front of Canal. The store commissioned a large, fiberglass Bingle for all to enjoy. When Dillard’s acquired MB in 1998, they also acquired Bingle. Dillard’s displayed the big Bingle on the side of their Lakeside store (the former D. H. Holmes Lakeside) in 1999. It’s unclear why the tradition failed, but Dillard’s put Big Bingle into storage.
Big Bingle made appearances in downtown Christmas parades. Carnival krewes, such as Metairie’s Krewe of Caesar, put papier mache Bingles on floats, celebrating New Orleans icons.
“Big Bingle” is a mainstay of City Park’s annual “Celebration in the Oaks” (Louis Maistros photo)
Dillard’s finally donated Big Bingle to New Orleans City Park in 2005. Now, he’s an annual feature of Celebration in the Oaks.
I’ve presented this talk to several groups in the last year or so. With everyone holed up because of Covid-19, I did the talk yesterday (19-March) via Zoom. It’s a bit long, because I was sorting out the use of Zoom, so you’ll need to fast-forward through the first 20 minutes of the talk to get to its actual beginning.
Also, TIL: it’s too long for YouTube. I’ll edit out that first portion and get it up there over the weekend. If you’d like to view it now, the link will let you download the MP4 version.
Royal Street Photo Breakdown on this week’s podcast!
100-200 Blocks of Royal Street, 1916.
Royal Street Photo Breakdown
Derby Gisclair shared a neat photo from 1916 earlier this week on social media. The photographer stands in the middle of the 100 block of Royal Street, looking down into the 200 block. As I was looking through some other photos, I came across a 1956 photo of Royal, where that photographer stood almost in the same place. Time for a Royal Street Photo Breakdown!
At the top of the page is the 1916 photo, with Solari’s on the left, an electric sign for Fabacher’s Restaurant hanging over the street, then the Commercial Hotel and Union Bank on the right.
Franck-Bertacci Studios photo of the 100-200 blocks of Royal Street, 1956.
Fast forward to 1956. Solari’s is still on the left. The Commercial Hotel is now the Monteleone Hotel. Fabacher’s Restaurant, which was the hotel restaurant for the Commercial, is long closed. Walgreen’s drug store replaced the bank building in the late 1940s. That drug store remains today.
In the 1916 photo, streetcar tracks and the overhead wiring are visible. The Desire streetcar line ran inbound on Royal Street. The streetcars turned right onto Canal Street. They ran up one block, then turned right again. They ran down Bourbon Street for the French Quarter portion of the outbound run. We’ve talked about the Desire line before, and how it was the main connector for the Quarter.
Buses replaced streetcars on Desire in 1948. So, by the 1956 photo, the tracks and wires are long gone. The maroon-and-cream NOPSI buses serviced Desire.
NewOrleansPast.com – January 15th
NOPSI 817, operating in Belt Service in the 1940s.
Our pick of the week from NewOrleansPast.com (Facebook page, Today in New Orleans History) is Ms. Campanella’s entry for January 15th. The Tulane streetcar line rolled for the first time on 15-January-1871. Mules pulled the streetcars then. The line switched to electric streetcars in the 1890s. Tulane operated in “belt service” with the St. Charles line from 1900 to 1951. Listen to our podcast episode on “Riding the Belt” for more details on that.
NOPSI converted the West End streetcar line to diesel buses on 15-January, 1950, as part of the trend away from electric street rail operations. West End operated as steam train service until the 1890s. After that, electric streetcars ran out to the lakefront, along the east bank of the New Basin Canal. NOPSI retired streetcars on West End in 1950. The line ran until the 1960s, when it became the Canal-Lakeshore line.
Economical Supermarket, on Elysian Fields and Gentilly, in the 1950s. (Zuppardo’s photo)
Zuppardo’s Family Supermarket – My grocery
I’ve been going to Zuppardo’s Supermarket, either the old store on Elysian Fields and Gentilly, or the Metairie store at Veterans and Transcontinental, since I was a kid. That’s going back to the days when the Gentilly neighborhood had an incredible number of groceries and supermarkets.
Replica of Anthony Leo Zuppardo’s banana cart from the early 1900s at the new Zuppardo’s Family Supermarket. (Edward Branley photo)
Peter Zuppardo came to New Orleans from Sicily in 1895. He took a job in the wholesale banana business. His son, Anthony Leo, saw an opportunity with over-ripe bananas. Anthony took those bananas around in a donkey cart. By 1930, the Zuppardo’s parked a truck at Gentilly Road at Elysian Fields. At that time, Elysian Fields Avenue was just a dirt road. The Pontchartrain Railroad closed in 1931, and Elysian Fields wasn’t paved until the end of the decade.
The Zuppardo’s bought the lot on that corner, establishing a permanent presence. The fruit truck expanded into a store in 1937. Those were the waning days of the city’s public market system. That system gave way to private stores after the war. The family made a good decision, as the neighborhood grew. After World War II, Gentilly’s population exploded, as men returning from the war looked to start their own families.Those strong ties helped Zuppardo’s Family Supermarket in later years, in their expansion to Metairie.
Bell Supermarkets newspaper ad from the 1950s (courtesy NOLA.com)
Economical became part of the Bell supermarket co-op. The idea was for independent grocers to join together to better advertise their stores. This was important, because John Schwegmann’s “giant” supermarkets became incredibly popular in the 1950s. Stores such as Economical, Dorignac’s uptown, and Pap’s in the Ninth Ward all sported the Bell logo.
Economical continued its popularity into the 1960s. That was my first personal experience with the store. My momma grew up in Gentilly, on Lavender Street, just off of Franklin Avenue. She and her grandmother made groceries at Economical. Even though my parents moved out to #themetrys when they came back from Boston in 1960, we’d still go out to see my grandma regularly, and I’d tag along for grocery runs.
Expansion and Re-location
Aerial view of Elysian Fields and Gentilly, 1961. Hebrew Rest Cemetery is middle-left. Cor Jesu High is across from the cemetery. Economical Supermarket is to the right edge, below Gentilly Blvd. (NOPL photo)
The Bell supermarkets expanded and re-located as population shifted. The Papania’s opened a “Pap’s” store on Mirabeau and St. Anthony in Gentilly. Dorignac’s and Zuppardo’s opened stores on Veterans Blvd. in Metairie. Dorignac’s built a store in the 700 block of Vets, near Martin Behrman, while the Zuppardo’s opened their Metairie location at Vets and Transcontinental. My family lived closer to Dorignac’s and Schwegmann’s in the late 1960s, so we shopped there.
I renewed my acquaintance with Economical when started at Brother Martin High School, just up Elysian Fields from the supermarket, in 1971. While we mostly stopped at the local convenience store, d’Mart, we occasionally walked down to Economical for things, particularly when d’Mart employees got annoyed with all of the students coming in. I met one of the current owners, Joey Zuppardo at that time. Joey was Class of 1973, I was 1976, so he was a senior when I was a freshman. (For a full run-down of the Zuppardo family tree, check this 2018 Ann Maloney article on the new supermarket in the Picayune.)
UNO and Redeemer Days
I took many a trip down to Economical with my Lambda Chi Alpha brothers from our house on Elysian Fields near Robert E. Lee in the late 1970s. Even though Ferrara’s was just a two-block walk, the prices were much better for guys on tight budgets, working their way through UNO. After I graduated in 1980, I taught at Redeemer High School on Crescent Street, near St. Frances Xavier Cabrini church. Even though Pap’s was closer to the half-double we rented at the time, I found myself heading back down to Gentilly Boulevard for various items.
Life in St. Ann Parish and Zuppardo’s Supermarket
Scenes from the original store on Vets and Transcontinental (courtesy Zuppardo’s)
In 1986, we moved out to #themetrys, near Clearview and Veterans. While my daddy had soured on Dorignac’s over the years and shopped at Schwegmann’s, Zuppardo’s Family Supermarket at Transcontinental was so close, it became our grocery. My boys grew up coming with me to Zuppardo’s all the time. As they got older, cashiers would ask after them. I’d show photos of them as Brother Martin students and they’d sigh at how time passed. That little boy who pushed a Little Tykes shopping cart, loading it up with things important to him (cookies and fruit roll-ups) is now a Naval officer and submariner.
I’m not sure when they dropped the “Economical” from the name, becoming “Zuppardo’s Family Supermarket.” The original store closed in 2005, as Katrina left the store and all of Gentilly in pretty bad shape. To this day, my wife still says “Economical,” which I attribute to her growing up in Lake Oaks and transferring from the Broad bus line to Elysian Fields, on her way home from Dominican.
The New Zuppardo’s Family Supermarket
Two Saturdays ago, Zuppardo’s Family Supermarket closed. They knocked a hole into the side of the old store and moved everything into the new one. I’ve been an almost-daily grocery shopper for years. When your store is as close (about a mile) as Zuppardo’s is to us, it’s easy to blow off extended menu planning. Most of my “test kitchen” ideas start at Zuppardo’s Supermarket. The new store opened last Wednesday. Those four days drove me crazy, as I ended up at three different supermarkets to get things we usually pick up at Zuppardo’s!
Connecting New Orleans to Florida via the Gulf Wind
Combined Piedmont Limited /Pan-American/Gulf Wind train backing into Union Passenger Terminal, 1964 (photographer unknown)
From 1949 to 1971, the Louisville and Nashville operated passenger service from New Orleans to Jacksonville, Florida, via their Gulf Wind train. While the service sounded like a classic “name train,” it was actually the combination of several trains approaching New Orleans from points north.
Louisville and Nashville passenger service
Postcard of the Louisville and Nashville’s Pan-American, from the 1920s.
L&N operated from 1850 to 1982. The railroad operated freight service from the 1880s. L&N built a passenger terminal in New Orleans in 1902. So, that station stood where at the foot of Canal Street. The Aquarium of the Americas presently occupies the space.
L&N provided passenger service from New Orleans to Cincinnati, New York City, and Jacksonville, FL, while the Crescent Limited and the Piedmont Limited ran to New York.
New Orleans – Florida Express
L&N operated service to Jacksonville via the New Orleans-Florida Express, from 1925 to 1949. The railroad used “heavyweight” equipment for this train. The train offered overnight sleeper service. The trip lasted about eighteen hours. In the 1940s, railroads replaced older equipment on busy/popular trains. They substituted “streamlined” cars for the heaver steel ones. Therefore, to modernize, L&N upgraded their New Orleans to Florida service. L&N also operated the New Orleans-Florida Limited, as day service from Jacksonville, west to New Orleans. They discontinued this service in 1949.
SCL E-8 of the type used on the Gulf Wind
L&N re-branded the New Orleans-Florida Express in 1949. So, they gave the train the name, Gulf Wind. The new train operated “streamliner” cars. The new service offered modern dining cars, Pullman sleepers, and rounded-end observation cars. The timetable of the Gulf Wind matched up with the Silver Meteor. That train operated from New York City to Miami. It arrived at Jacksonville mid-afternoon. Passengers heading west across the Florida Panhandle changed to Gulf Wind.
Gulf Wind was diesel-powered. L&N and Seaboard Coast operated the route jointly. So, SCL engines pulled the train from Jacksonville to Chattahoochee. L&N power picked it up there, pulling the train into New Orleans.
The train’s ridership declined in the early 1960s. To maintain profitability, L&N combined service. Several routes approaching New Orleans joined together. L&N combined Gulf Wind with the Piedmont Limited, outbound from New Orleans. The train split up in Flomaton, Alabama. Gulf Wind continued into Florida. So, Piedmont headed north to Cincinnati. On the return run, Gulf Wind combined with the Pan-American, coming down from Cincinnati at Flomaton.
New Orleans Stations
The Gulf Wind operated from the L&N’s Canal Street station, from 1949 to 1954. The city demolished the station in 1954. Therefore, service re-located to Union Passenger Terminal. This also meant a slight change in the route. When departing from Canal Street, the train left on L&N tracks. It traveled to the Gulf Coast between Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Borgne via the Rigolets Pass. After 1954, trains departed from UPT. They left the city via the Southern Railway’s Back Belt. The route to Mississippi was over the Southern bridge across the lake.
Gulf Wind ended operation in 1971. Amtrak decided to discontinue passenger service when they took over that year. Amtrak revived the New Orleans-to-Florida service in the early 1980s, but dropped it after a couple of years. The company extended Sunset Limited service from New Orleans to Jacksonville. That service was discontinued in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
This week’s pic for “Today in New Orleans” on NOLA History Guy Podcast 29-June-2019
Canal Street, 7-June-1960
NOLA History Guy Podcast 29-June-2019
A Lakeview flashback for the NewOrleansPast.com pick this week, along with a photo unpack for NOLA History Guy Podcast 29-June-2019. Also, a brief farewell to the Times-Picayune.
Menu from Lenfant’s on Canal Blvd, 1940s.
John L. Lenfant began his career as a barber in the Marigny. Campanella’s entry for 25-June marks Lenfant’s application to open a bar and grocery at 2001 N. Rampart. Gotta love New Orleans, Lenfant wanted to combine a bar and a grocery. A charming cottage occupies 2001 N. Rampart (corner Touro) now.
Inside Lenfant’s in the 1940s. (courtesy NOLA.com)
John Lenfant opened a variety of businesses in the Marigny, Bywater, and Gentilly. John passed before he could open his restaurant on Canal Boulevard. The sons completed the project. It is by far the best-remembered Lenfant’s business
Lenfant’s on Canal Blvd. opened in 1941. The restaurant offered mostly seafood, in dining room styled as “Streamline Moderne.”This style is similar to Art Deco.
In addition to dining in the restaurant, folks could park in the shell lot outside. Car hops would come out and take orders.
Lenfant’s expanded in the 1950s. They opened the “Boulevard Room” next to the restaurant. This expanded Lenfant’s event and catering possibilities. I grew up hearing lots of stories from folks who went to dances at the Boulevard Room in the 1950s. Over time, the ownership of the ballroom and the restaurant separated.