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Thursday, April 13, 2006

Yes, Virginia, There is a Chuck Showalter

Those famous Santa illustrations created for Coca-Cola ads were supposedly done by Swedish-American illustrator Haddon Sundblom using the nom de plume "Chuck Showalter." But through a bit of genealogical research, Bob Olsen of Madison, Wisconsin, has found the truth: Chuck Showalter was a real person, and he died just last October (here's his obit).

It started 15 years ago when Olsen was attending a Sundblom Santa exhibition with his wife Carol. He mentioned that he had a relative who served as a model for the Santa images.

"Yeah, sure," Mrs. Olsen said, or words to that effect.

Five years later, Sundblom's Santas were in the news again, and Bob once again mentioned his distant connection. Carol was, shall we say, not persuaded.

"So I decided to look into it," Bob recalled.

He began by writing to his cousins, trying to learn more. Olsen finally found, in Arizona, the photographer who had taken the original "pose photos" for Sundblom's Santa models, and sure enough, Bob's great-uncle was one of them.
Olsen also found evidence that Chuck Showalter really existed.
In 2002, Olsen said, "I stuck an inquiry on a genealogy Web site." He heard nothing for two years. Then, in December 2004, he received an e-mail: "I think you are looking for my uncle."

Not long after, Olsen heard from a Chicago area surgeon, John Showalter, who said he was Chuck Showalter's son. Olsen explained why he was trying to get in touch. The son said, "He will be amused to learn he is a myth." [Link]

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