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Nov 30

Johnson County Museum’s holiday exhibit examines mall Santa tradition

Posted on November 30, 2022 at 12:30 PM by Becky Burnside

By David Markham

The handmade chair where tens of thousands of visitors of all ages met Santa Claus for more than 20 years at a local mall is the centerpiece of the Johnson County Museum’s 2022 holiday exhibit.

“Memories of Meeting Santa” is the name of this exhibit, which features the chair used by Santa at the former Metcalf South Shopping Center from the 1970s through the early 1990s.

Having photos taken with Santa was a holiday tradition for many, the exhibit’s interpretive signage points out. The connection between Santa and department stores dates back to the 1800s, while the practice of photos with Santa traces its roots to the years after World War II. In the late 1900s, mall Santas were practically everywhere people shopped in Johnson County during the holiday season, including Ranchmart, Prairie Village, and Ward Parkway shopping centers. 

The chair on display is part of the museum’s permanent collection, and has not been on display since Metcalf South Shopping Center, previously located at 95th and Metcalf, stopped using it. First opened in 1967, the mall closed in 2014 and its last remnants were demolished and removed earlier this year. 

Santa’s chair is exhibited outside the museum’s All-Electric House along with a special camera used to take photos with the jolly old elf, as well as mechanical carolers also used at the mall. No live Santa will be at the exhibit, but there will be opportunities for visitors to take their own photos at a Santa selfie station in the museum. In addition, the All-Electric House will be decorated with a 50s Christmas holiday theme, including an aluminum tree. 

“Memories of Santa” opened Nov. 19 and will remain on display through Jan. 7. This holiday exhibit is included with regular museum admission. The museum is open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Admission is $6 for adults, $5 for seniors, and $4 for children. 

Holiday-related programs offered by the museum during December are:

Dec. 1

Dec. 10

Dec. 14

Keep in mind that the Johnson County Museum Store is a perfect place to find interesting gifts for that hard-to-buy-for person on your list. Unique items include teeny-tiny tinsel trees, Mid-Century Christmas and Hanukkah tea towels, home décor, holiday books for kids, and Kansas-themed gifts. Museum admission is not required to shop, and the store is open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday.