Oldest Santa Discovered After Factory Burns

In the heart of Akron, Ohio, archeologists have unearthed what they believe to be America's oldest toy Santa. Host Liane Hansen talks with Michael Cohill of the Akron Marble Museum about the discovery.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

In the heart of Akron, Ohio, archaeologists have unearthed what they believe to be America's oldest toy Santa. Michael Cohill has been helping with the excavation. He's a toy expert and the director of the American Toy Marble Museum. He joins us from the studios of member station WKSU in Kent, Ohio. Welcome to the program.

Mr. MICHAEL COHILL (Toy Expert, Director, American Toy Marble Museum): Good morning.

HANSEN: Tell us what you know about this tiny toy Santa's origins.

Mr. COHILL: He was manufactured at American Marble and Toy Manufacturing Company in the early 1890s. That company mass produced the world's first toys.

HANSEN: So, what does this little Santa look like?

Mr. COHILL: It's about two-and-a-half inches tall, made of stoneware. He's wearing a blue coat with a blue striped hood, white beard. And it looks very different than what the Santa Claus we all know and love today.

HANSEN: Right. So, where did you find it?

Mr. COHILL: Oh, he was buried, buried deep. The factory that started in 1884, 20 years later had a massive fire and burnt to the ground. That next morning after the fire, every little boy in town was down at the marble factory stuffing their pockets full of marbles. The mayor sent the police department down to keep the boys away - until they learned that the owner was no longer in town.

So, the mayor went to city council, explained the situation. They declared the site a nuisance, and they couldn't have children rummaging around the burned-out remains of an old factory. And they so the appropriated money and they buried the site. They buried millions of marbles and half as many of the little penny toys - the blue Santa being one of the penny toys. And he remained there until we dug him up.

HANSEN: Is there any chance that this blue Santa might be reproduced?

Mr. COHILL: Oh, well, actually, as part of the research, we had to figure out how they made it. What was the world's first mass production methods? And so it looks like forensic manufacturing. It took a long time to figure it out, but we have, and we are manufacturing them, reproducing them exactly the same way that they were made back then.

HANSEN: Michael Cohill is the director of the American Toy Marble Museum in Akron, Ohio, and he joined us from member station WKSU in Kent, Ohio. Thank you and happy holidays.

Mr. COHILL: Thank you very much.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Do you believe in Santa Claus and the stories you've been told? Does Santa really dress in red and live up where it's cold?

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