By Ethan Duran
On Dec. 2, 200 people attended the A Very Merry Milwaukee Picture With Santa Event at the Milwaukee County Historical Society on Old World 3rd Street. Kids could take pictures with Mr. and Mrs. Claus and explored the “Milwaukee Holiday Treasures and Traditions” exhibit. The free event featured coloring stations, photographs and artifacts on Billy the Brownie, Milwaukee’s holiday mascot in the 1950s.
Above the Historical Society lobby were large illuminated letters that read “LOVE SANTA” hung overhead. Christmas decorations were set up on the second-floor balcony railing and snaked around the pillars that lined both sides of the building. Against the walls of the Historical Society were exhibits set up featuring old posters and photographs of Christmas in Milwaukee during the 1930s and 1940s.
The man in the red suit and the beard that day was Steve Schaffer, the assistant archivist for the Historical Society. He has been dressing as Santa Claus for the event for the past four years, ever since the event was reintroduced after a decade-long hiatus. For that day, Schaffer was in charge of entertaining the children. During normal days, he works with genealogists, students and curious individuals who want to research topics on Milwaukee County.
“Our director, Mame McCully, decided to bring back an old tradition that was a visit with Santa,” Schaffer said. “I volunteered to [be Santa Claus], and I did such a good job that I got the Santa job every year.”
Mame McCully has been the Executive Director for the Milwaukee County Historical Society since 2014. “Milwaukee has always had a really rich history of celebrating Christmas,” said McCully. “I wanted a place that wasn’t a retail center, that was beautiful, and you could just come and celebrate.”
McCully said that the Historical Society kept the event free, so anyone could come and be part of the Milwaukee tradition and enjoy it. The Historical Society plans to continue the traditional event for coming years and to keep it free to the public.