Tag Archives: Richmond

Olde Richmond’s Christmas of yesteryear … Miller & Rhoads holiday windows and Legendary Santa

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How I do miss the department stores of downtown Richmond from years past. The Nordstrom and Macy’s of the day were Miller & Rhoads and Thalhimer’s, multi-story buildings that faced Broad and Grace Streets and sold clothing, toys, household items, and more.

Every year at Christmas, those stores became magical as they transformed into winter wonderlands, destinations for thousands of Virginia residents who traveled to Richmond to look in awe at animated displays inside the huge plate-glass windows, and visited inside for shopping, dining, or to visit Santa.

It was an annual event as my mother would dress up my sister and me in our Christmas dresses that she had sewn, usually matching miniature versions of hers and usually velvet, bundled us in our coats, white furry muffs and hats, and off we would go along with our Aunt Ruth for a special day in downtown Richmond.

Once downtown, we joined the crowds standing on the sidewalk and watched awe-struck as the animated, moving soldiers, woodland bears, miniature trains, animated dolls, and busy elves in workshops moved and twirled. Each window had a different theme. The two stores would compete with one another for the most entertaining and elegant windows … and the public was the richer for it.

Entering the department stores was a holiday wonder because everything was so big … the ceilings, the bright lights, the Christmas decorations, the escalators that took us up, up, up to the floors above. My sister and I had two stops on our agenda: the toy department and Santa Land.

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Bach Welcomes Richmond Babies

St. Mary’s Hospital in Richmond has a lovely tradition of playing the first four measures of Johann S. Bach’s “Minuet in G Major” every time a baby is born. When it’s twins, it is played back-to-back so today, and today there were twins. Those 15 notes echoed through the hospital campus to alert everyone to a new little life.

 

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Olde Richmond’s Christmas of yesteryear … Miller & Rhoads holiday windows and Legendary Santa

By Lynn R. Mitchell

How I do miss the department stores of downtown Richmond from years past. The Nordstrom and Macy’s of the day were Miller & Rhoads and Thalhimer’s, multi-story buildings that faced Broad and Grace Streets and sold clothing, toys, household items, and more.

Every year at Christmas, those stores became magical as they transformed into winter wonderlands, destinations for thousands of Virginia residents who traveled to Richmond to look in awe at animated displays inside the huge plate-glass windows, and visited inside for shopping, dining, or to visit Santa.

It was an annual event as my mother would dress up my sister and me in our Christmas dresses that she had sewn, usually matching miniature versions of hers and usually velvet, bundled us in our coats, white furry muffs and hats, and off we would go along with our Aunt Ruth for a special day in downtown Richmond.

Once downtown, we joined the crowds standing on the sidewalk and watched awe-struck as the animated, moving soldiers, woodland bears, miniature trains, animated dolls, and busy elves in workshops moved and twirled. Each window had a different theme. The two stores would compete with one another for the most entertaining and elegant windows … and the public was the richer for it.

Entering the department stores was a holiday wonder because everything was so big … the ceilings, the bright lights, the Christmas decorations, the escalators that took us up, up, up to the floors above. My sister and I had two stops on our agenda: the toy department and Santa Land.

Miller & Rhoads had the “real” Santa, so real-looking that many of us grew up thinking he was the real deal. His whiskers were real, his Santa Land was perfect, his Snow Queen was one of the most beautiful ladies I had ever seen and, best of all, Santa remembered our names every year!

We would try to get there in time to see Santa come down the large chimney behind his chair. The noisy crowd would shush when the snow queen or elf would alert everyone that it was almost time for Santa so to listen for his sleigh bells. We would all strain our ears as we leaned in closer … and then ever so faintly, then growing louder, sleigh bells could be heard and we would all be wide-eyed as Santa dropped down the chimney and emerged with a huge, “Ho, ho, ho! Hello, boys and girls!” Oh my goodness … we were in the presence of the man who knew everything we had done, good and bad.

The line crawled because Santa took his time with each and every child, and he had a microphone so those in the weaving line were entertained by each conversation. Mothers fussed with their children’s appearances, brushing hair, smoothing down dresses, and a last plumping of hair bows.

When my sister and I were finally at the beginning of the line — anxious, excited, and a little scared all at the same time — and as Santa talked with the child currently on his knee, the Snow Queen would chat with us and ask our names. Unbeknownst to the kids, she had a microphone and Santa had an earpiece — we’re talking a long time ago — and when it was our turn and we walked across the stage to his chair, she would tell him our names.

“Well, hello, Gail and Lynn!” he would boom out as we approached his chair after our long wait in line. We were always in awe. “He remembered our names!” I would say to my mother afterwards and that, in and of itself, was the main reason I believed he was he real Santa. Who else would know our names!

It was always a wonderful experience and we have photos from those years sitting on Santa’s lap and passing along our Christmas wishes.

A visit with Santa was followed by lunch with him in the Miller & Rhoads Tea Room on the 5th floor. Santa’s table was set up on the stage and, as moms and children from across Virginia ate, long-time Richmond entertainer Eddie Weaver would play Christmas carols on the piano. The Snow Queen and elves would sit at Santa’s table, and Santa — again wired for all to hear — would ho-ho-ho and talk with the children sitting at tables with their parents in the packed dining room. Afterward, everyone got a piece of Rudolph’s cake. Santa would always explain that Rudolph made it himself, mixing it with his paws (he demonstrated as he talked), and it never occurred to me to wonder if Rudolph has washed those paws before mixing up that cake.

The memories are rich of those years but they are the memories of a child so a few years ago I asked my mother to fill in those memories with her own. They are in the next post.

I took my own children to visit the “real” Santa before Miller & Rhoads ceased to exist. The photos are priceless, showing them sitting on the knee of the same Santa I visited as a child.

Christmas in Olde Richmond … it provided wonderful childhood memories.

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Mom shares her memories of taking my sisters and me to visit the “real” Santa throughout the years in downtown Richmond….

Mom’s memories of the Miller & Rhoads Christmas windows and the “real” Santa

By Eula Lucy

[Editor’s note: My previous post was a remembrance as a child of the Christmas windows of downtown Richmond in years past and visits to Miller & Rhoads to see Santa. A few Christmases ago I asked my mother to fill in the memories for me and this is what she wrote.]

The “real Santa” was at Miller & Rhoads and their 7th floor was Santa Land. Do you remember that the line of children moved up and waited for Santa by the Snow Queen who sat to Santa’s right? She greeted every boy and girl and chatted with them – and always asked each one his or her name. Santa had an earpiece on and as a child was leaving him, the Snow Queen would say the next child’s name and tell each one to go over and talk with Santa … so the name of each child was passed on to Santa by her.

He would hold his arms out and say something like, “Ho, ho, ho, if it isn’t Lynn & Gail!” The children could not believe Santa remembered all of their names! Even the parents were enamored with how well it all was done. That was one of the things that made Miller & Rhoads’ Santa so special and no other store could ever compete with it. The expressions on the faces of the children when Santa called out their names was priceless and even we parents were thrilled.

After we visited with Santa, we went to the Tea Room on the 5th floor and stood in another long line to be able to eat lunch with Santa and the Snow Queen (and elves). They had a special table up on the runway that the models used for their fashion shows — so all of the children could see them while they were eating.

The children could hardly eat for waiting on Santa. Then, everyone had a piece of Rudolph’s cake for dessert. All the while, Eddie Weaver was playing Christmas songs on the organ. It was a very festive time and they always had crowds of people. Ruth [my mother’s sister who passed away in 1997; she never had children of her own] and I looked forward to going to see Santa every year, just as much as any child. We went before you all were born and watched the children talking with Santa.

Ruth loved Christmas as much as I did and and she never missed a single time going with us. It really was a special occasion for all of us. Ruth always bought the pictures of you all with Santa because they were so expensive we could never have bought them. Besides, you had to pay for them at the time, without seeing them, and they mailed them to you so you never knew what they would look like.

Ruth also paid for us all to have lunch in the Tea Room. If she was talking with someone in the lines near us and they asked the ages of her children, she would tell them – without batting an eye – so they thought you all belonged to her. She used to say she appreciated it when I let her claim you all because it made her feel like a mother, too.

The “Legendary Santa” from 1957 to 1966 was Hansford Rowe II, who graduated from John Marshall High School with Cal. He later married Ales Rowe, who graduated from Thomas Dale High School a year later with me. They had two sons, Hansford III, called “Hanny” and Blake. I just talked with Ales to be sure I have my facts right before I answered your email.

She said Blake was 6 or 7 when he figured out that his dad was Santa. They were standing in the line and could hear Hansford talking to the children when Blake told Ales, “I believe Santa is Daddy because it sounds like his voice.” Ales told him all children thought Santa sounded like their fathers. Later, when they were closer, Blake had her lean down and told her he was sure it was Daddy. She admitted it was but told him not to say a word. When he got up to Hansford and was sitting on his lap, Hansford (who, of course, did not know that Blake had figured it all out) asked him what kind of boy he had been that year and Blake said, “PERFECT!”

Hansford Rowe II became an actor and played at Barksdale Theatre, Virginia Museum Theatre, Swift Creek Mill, etc., before going to New York where he had some off-Broadway parts. He later went to California, and Cal and I have seen him in several movies. He is bald headed, not terribly tall, and usually played the part of the butler. Son, Hanny, also was in New York with his father because he wanted to be an actor, too. When Hansford stopped playing the Santa part at Miller & Rhoads, his older brother Dan took over as the Legendary Santa and he STILL does it – at the Children’s Museum in Richmond.

Miller & Rhoads had the most beautiful windows at Christmas, and Thalhimers was next. Other shops along the streets decorated their windows but they never came close to the two big stores. On the Grace Street side of the stores, people would spend hours on a nice day standing at the windows and walking up and down the streets.

Christmas music was piped out onto the streets around M&R and Thalhimers. Some of the windows were full of animated people and things, especially M&R’s windows. Their big window at the corner of 6th and Grace, which faced both streets, always had Santa’s workshop and it was beautiful. It truly looked like the North Pole and was a beehive of activity. There was so much to see and so such continuous activity one could stand there for an hour. Elves were making things, painting, carrying, etc. … all kinds of things going on and continuous movement.

It was absolutely fascinating because at that time, not many people had seen that sort of thing. M&R’s window facing 5th Street and Grace Street was full of trains and that, too, was wonderful! We loved watching all of those trains going in every direction – and I still love trains.

Downtown Richmond was beautiful in those days and was absolutely fantastic at Christimas time! Before you all came along, Ruth and I would dress up, with our hats and gloves, and go downtown on Saturdays. We would spend the whole day shopping and lunch, then would head home about 4 o’clock. Those were fun times and I have such wonderful memories of them and of times after you three came along when we would all go with Ruth to do things and see the sights. We are all so fortunate to have had her in our lives. We did not have much money but those were the best years of my life!

The importance of family comes out in our remembrances. Thanks, Mom, for the memories.

Update: One of Santa’s Snow Queens for 20 years has written a book about her experience in Santaland … Christmas at Miller & Rhoads: Memoirs of a Snow Queen.

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Tim Martin wins Commonwealth’s Attorney in Augusta County

Timothy Martin, Republican candidate for Commonwealth's Attorney photographed on Monday 3/16/15. Photo by Pat Jarrett

Photo by Pat Jarrett

By Lynn R. Mitchell

Sitting across the lunch table from Tim Martin in Staunton earlier this year, I asked why he was challenging long-time incumbent Commonwealth’s Attorney Lee Ervin instead of waiting perhaps one more term when Ervin would possibly retire.

Martin looked at me with a steady stare and replied, “Why not now?”

Why not, indeed. Working as a deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney in Staunton after moving from Richmond to Augusta County in 2013, Martin, 39, easily defeated Ervin on Tuesday with 62 percent of the vote.

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Land O’ Lakes chooses RVA’s Martin Agency

Martin Agency logoBy Lynn R. Mitchell

The Martin Agency has done it again, landing a nationwide account to add to their portfolio of other high profile clients over the years. This time it’s Land O’ Lakes, maker of butter and other dairy products as well as Kozy Shack puddings.

After spending more than 80 years with one ad agency, Minnesota-based Land O’ Lakes, founded in 1921, decided to aim toward a younger consumer by going with the Martin Agency. They are known for national brands and memorable ads (see RVA’s Martin Agency … still cool after all these years) including the Geico  “Hump Day” camel (“Know what day it is?”).

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My mom’s birthday … celebrating a life of achievement

By Lynn R. Mitchell

[Editor’s note: Today is my mother’s birthday so, as we prepare to celebrate, here is a look back at her birthday celebration three years ago….]

Sunday afternoon was a gathering of our family at my sister’s house in Midlothian to celebrate that special day with my mom who was the youngest of ten children, born during the Great Depression, and attended high school during World War II. The sole survivor of her siblings, she reached a milestone birthday surrounded by her husband, children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and other family members.In a festive atmosphere of balloons and crepe paper, photos were displayed around the house from years past, and that included Mom’s high school diploma from Thomas Dale High School in Chesterfield County.

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UCI Road World Championships to take place in Richmond September 19-27

CyclingBy Lynn R. Mitchell

It has been the chatter of Richmond for several years as the city and surrounding areas prepared for a world-class cycling event. Now it’s only 51 days away.

For the first time in 30 years, the  nine-day Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) Road World Championships cycling event will be held in the United States and, even better, it will take place in Richmond from September 19-27, 2015. Cyclists from around the world will converge on Virginia’s capital city for this annual competition that will feature the best cycling has to offer including 12 Championship races for Elite Men and Women.

As described on the website, “It is a rare opportunity for the athletes to compete for their country, just as they do during the Olympic Games. Athletes compete in three different disciplines including the traditional Road Race, the Individual Time Trial and the recently introduced Team Time Trial. World Champions are crowned in each discipline.”

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Part 2: Commemorating the Fall of Richmond 150 years later

By Lynn R. Mitchell

??????????Photo of Governor Terry McAuliffe (D) and family sits on the entry table to the Executive Mansion in RVA.

See also Part 1: Commemorating the Fall of Richmond 150 years later.

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RVA’s 30th Annual Grand Illumination is Friday

Richmond James CenterBy Lynn R. Mitchell

A holiday tradition continues. Experience the magic of the holiday season as tens of thousands of twinkly lights illuminate the night sky along the banks of the James River in historic Downtown Richmond during their 30th Annual Grand Illumination.

The James Center Christmas tree and reindeer will be lighted along with downtown office buildings that will brighten the skyline in a festive atmosphere that includes entertainment with special appearances by Snow Bear, the Sugar Plum Fairy, and Santa. Don’t miss the fun as Richmond opens the holiday season.

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How safe is your favorite shopping mall in RVA?

Stony Point Fashion ParkBy Lynn R. Mitchell

Ever wonder how safe the malls are where you shop? Those from out of town who may make the drive to Richmond to shop the larger retail areas are not necessarily tuned into RVA crime statistics so here’s a list of the most popular malls in the capital city, and where they rank on the crime meter beginning with Stony Point Fashion Park, ranked the safest:

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Sen. John Watkins won’t seek re-election in 2015

By Lynn R. Mitchell

State Senator John Watkins has announced he will not seek another term (see Powhatan senator Watkins won’t run again in 2015):

State Sen. John Watkins – the moderate Powhatan Republican who played key roles in landmark legislation covering transportation and stabilizing the Virginia Retirement System, but saw his overture to privately expand Medicaid succumb to partisan arm-twisting – will retire from the Virginia Senate when his term ends in 2015.

His planned departure could create an opening in the upcoming 2015 legislative elections for Democrats, who in two previous election cycles have won his district, which includes parts of Chesterfield, Richmond and Powhatan.

He’s one of the longest serving senators in the Virginia legislature. It will be interesting to see the juggle of who will step forward for that seat that represents the area where my parents live in Midlothian.

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Reeves is new Majority Whip for Virginia State Senate

By Lynn R. Mitchell

It was announced by Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment, Jr. (R-James City) during the annual Senate Finance Committee in Staunton this past weekend that Senator Bryce Reeves (R-Spotsylvania) was named Senate Majority Whip for the Senate of Virginia.

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‘Dining with the Daltons’ and ‘Virginia Hospitality’ still favorites at my house

??????????By Lynn R. Mitchell

Call me old school all you want but I like a hard copy recipe when cooking in the kitchen. While perusing my cookbook selection, I pulled two well-used ones from the shelf, leafing through the pages for recipes as my eyes scanned for just the right one, then closing the books to find the dog-eared pages and opening to those. At some point I mentally acknowledged these two cookbooks were Virginia through and through, as am I.

 

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“Dining with the Daltons” was published by Mrs. John Dalton — Eddy — while her husband was Virginia Governor from 1978-82, is personally inscribed by her, and includes a collection of her favorite recipes. In it you can find Mrs. Dalton’s Virginia Apple Cake. There’s even a recipe from Mamie Vest for “Mamie’s Walnut Pumpkin Pie” with the added note from Mrs. Dalton, “Mamie Vest has won prizes with her recipes. She has worked on most of John’s campaigns.” I didn’t know Mrs. Vest in those days when I was fresh out of high school and working in Richmond but these days she and I are Facebook friends which proves it certainly is a small world. Both recipes are very seasonal for this time of year in Virginia — pumpkins and apples.

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RVA: A day of urban hiking on James River’s Belle Isle

By Lynn R. Mitchell

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It was an overcast, somewhat cooler but muggy day in Richmond last Sunday as we headed to Belle Isle located in the James River. Seven of us — my husband and our two adult children along with my sister, her husband, and daughter — parked and began our trek across the footbridge located under the Lee Bridge. We were not alone. Bicyclists and hikers of all ages were crossing the bridge to enjoy this urban wilderness in downtown RVA.

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