Thousands of people flock to New Orleans this time of year to see the city all done up and ready for the season's pageantry. From Réveillon dinners to the stunning Roosevelt Hotel, Christmas traditions in New Orleans are unlike any other. Fetes start early, and culminate on Christmas Eve with towering bonfires ablaze on the levees. One New Orleans Christmas tradition, however, is particularly unique: Mr. Bingle. Since 1948, a little white snow fairy named Mr. Bingle has been a magical part of the Holiday Season for children and adults in New Orleans and throughout the South.
Created by Mr. Emile Alline, a window decorator at the former Maison Blanche Department Store on Canal Street, Mr. Bingle came to life as a miniature snowman with an upside-down ice cream cone for a hat, holly-leaf wings on his back, a red ribbon and bells around his neck, red-striped mittens on his little hands, cherries for eyes and a licorice smile.
Alline also dreamed of hosting elaborate puppet shows with the doll. He recruited Edwin H. “Oscar” Isentrout, whose puppets were well-known at Bourbon Street burlesque shows. With Isentrout providing movement and a squeaky voice for the character, Mr. Bingle truly came to life, and quickly became a beloved New Orleans icon.
Each year at Christmas time, Maison Blanche would erect a giant paper mache mannequin in front of the store, and Isentrout would perform four shows a day in the stores third floor toy department. In the early 1950's, with televisions in nearly every household, Mr. Bingle began a daily 15-minute show that aired each weekday just before the evening news. The show would open up with his signature jingle:
“Jingle, Jangle, Jingle, here comes Mr. Bingle…
with another message from Kris Kringle.
Time to launch the Christmas Season,
Maison Blanche makes Christmas pleasin.’
Gifts galore for you to see,
each a gem from… MB.”
As the Maison Blanche chain spread, so, too, did Mr. Bingle’s popularity, at one time reaching as far as Tennessee and Florida. Mr. Bingle has even made an appearance at the White House as well as at the 1989 Citrus Bowl in Florida.
The Dillard’s Department Store chain bought Maison Blanche in 1998 and closed the Canal Street store shortly thereafter. When it became clear that Dillard's wasn’t going to use Mr. Bingle for public display, New Orleans City Park and its volunteer organization Friends of City Park lobbied Dillard’s to donate the statue to the park. Since 2000, Mr. Bingle has been as part of Celebration in the Oaks, a hugely popular holiday event in City Park.
There is an entire generation that might only know Mr. Bingle as another display in Celebration in the Oaks. However, to older New Orleanians, he still represents that downtown Christmas magic.