“As we continue to expand our Thanksgiving section, we look for ways to tie into that theme,” said Matt Eckert, president of Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari. “Knowing the Mayflower was at sea for 66 days gave us the idea to count down the days until we announce our expansion for 2015.”
To participate in the 66-day countdown, go to Holiday World’s website at www.holidayworld.com for a microsite called 66DaysAtSea.com. A new journal entry will appear each day as a mother aboard the Mayflower recounts her family’s voyage to the New World in the year 1620.
On the 67th day, which falls on July 24, Holiday World will reveal its secret 2015 attraction.
“We’re mixing our park’s themes for this announcement,” Eckert said, “as it will fall on ‘Christmas Eve in July.’ Our announcement will coincide with the start of a construction phase that would undoubtedly give away any part of the secret that still existed.”
Speculation already has been buzzing that the 2015 attraction will be a roller coaster. New this year is the Mayflower swinging ship ride plus Friday Night Fireworks, which will begin June 13.
“I cannot confirm nor deny that this project includes a roller coaster,” Eckert said. “But I can confirm that this is by far the largest expansion project in our seven-decade history.”
HISTORY OF HOLIDAY WORLD
How Holiday World was created in this small Hoosier town also seems like an unlikely surprise itself. Prior to World War II, Evansville industrialist Louis J. Koch planned to create the park as a retirement project. He was always troubled by the fact that the tiny town of Santa Claus was visited by children around the country who were ultimately disappointed when they found out that Santa was not there to visit with them.
With nine children of his own, Koch loved children, holidays and celebrations. The war forced Koch to wait until 1946 to open his dream park. Known as Santa Claus Land, the attraction originally contained a toy shop, toy displays, themed children’s rides, a restaurant and, of course, Santa Claus.
Over the decades, Santa Claus Land grew and flourished. Halloween and the Fourth of July sections were added in 1984 and the name was changed to Holiday World. In 1993, Splashin’ Safari Water Park was created, covering more than 30 acres with wave pools, rivers, family raft rides, water slides and much more.
Thanksgiving became the newest holiday to be honored in 2006. Larger rides were added, including the popular Raven wooden roller coaster in 1995 and The Legend wooden roller coaster in 2000. That same year, Holiday World became the first park in the world to provide free, unlimited soft drinks. The park also offers free sunscreen, free parking and free use of inner tubes and life jackets. In all, Holiday World features more than 100 acres of rides, shows, dining, games and gift shops.
SANTA JOINS HOLIDAY WORLD
Then along came another part of the legend. A man named Jim Yellig began what would become a beloved tradition. Ripley’s “Believe It Or Not” featured a segment on the Santa Claus Post Office and the result was a flood of visitors and mail addressed simply to “Santa Claus.”
To add some holiday cheer in the 1930s, Yellig began visiting the Santa Claus Post Office in his Santa costume to entertain the children and tourists who stopped by to visit. Born in 1895 in nearby Mariah Hill, Yellig’s career as Santa Claus began when he was in the Navy. In 1914, his ship pulled into port in New York so the crew could celebrate Christmas.
Yellig and his shipmates decided to throw a Christmas party for the poor and underprivileged children who lived in Brooklyn Navy Yard. The sailors pitched in a dollar a piece for gifts for the children. Since Yellig once told his shipmates that he lived in a small town near Santa Claus, he was naturally elected to play St. Nick at the party. Yellig looked at the happy youngsters and made a pledge – if he made it through the war and returned home, he would try to keep bringing the joy of Christmas to youngsters as Santa Claus.
Living in the town of Santa Claus made it easy for Yellig to keep that promise. In his volunteer role at the post office, Yellig also pitched in to help answer some of the mail that was pouring in. It soon became a full-time project for Yellig, his wife and the Santa Claus American Legion. Yellig also found the perfect niche when Santa Claus Land opened. He was hired to become the park’s first Santa Claus – a role he enjoyed until his death in 1984.
His daughter, Patricia Yellig Koch, recalls that her father didn’t just “play” Santa Claus. When he put on the suit, he was Santa Claus.
Which brings us to the magical tale of Pat Koch’s marriage. Notice that last name? The daughter of Santa Claus at Holiday World married the son of the Holiday World owner. And Pat Koch is carrying on the traditions of both her father and her father in law.
Pat Koch has said that the Koch family will continue their loving touch at Holiday World, Lake Rudolph and other places in Santa Claus. As her grandchildren get older, Pat says, she can see them taking roles in the family business.
For more information: Visit www.holidayworld.com or call toll free (877) 463-2645.