Museum News

Museum Saving Santa, Bringing Back a Beloved Central Illinois Christmas Tradition

December 24th, 2023

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, two in fact, right here in McLean County. The 14-foot Santa sculptures symbolized the holiday season in Central Illinois for nearly fifty years. But all the holiday hoopla has them in need of some TLC before next Christmas.

So, the McLean County Museum of History is embarking on its largest object preservation project yet: an $85,000 restoration of the two Livingston's Department Store Santas. 

They were created in the 1940s to adorn the store's awning. Formerly located on the 100 block of West Washington St. in downtown Bloomington, Livingston's was a pillar in the community. For over 113 years, it sold hats, shoes, and everything in between. During the holiday season, they billed themselves as the "Big, Big, Santa Claus Store of Central Illinois" and visiting the store's Santas became a beloved local family tradition. 

When Livingston's closed in 1979, College Hills Mall purchased the Santas. They were displayed there until the mid-1980s when they were again sold, this time to Jeffery Alan Wandell, philanthropist and owner of Jeffrey Alans in Normal and Prairie Gardens in Champaign. Wandell has a love of sharing art with others, as illustrated by projects such as the Wandell Sculpture Garden at Meadowbrook Park in Urbana. He also shares a Christmas spirit similar to Livingston’s and  continued displaying one Santa in Normal and one in Champaign until they became too fragile for outside use.

The Santas have since been kept safe in storage for several years while Wandell hoped to find an opportunity to preserve and share them once again. On December 15, after months of planning and research, Wandell gifted the iconic Livingston Santas to the Museum. Wandell also made a $10,000 donation to kick off Saving Santa fundraising efforts to ensure these nostalgic Santas return to the community and are preserved for future generations. 

The $35,000 restoration work will consist of repairing the existing structures, building new fiberglass exteriors, and repainting each Santa. The work will ensure they can be displayed outside and moved safely to and from storage. Local artist Andrew Jumonville will complete the work. Jumonville created the "The Convergence of Purpose” statue in front of the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts, and others displayed nationwide, including one in the U.S. Capitol building.

Partnerships are needed to save Santa. Restoration work will begin in mid-January and finish before the 2024 holiday season. During this time, the Museum will seek community and business partners to implement the initiative's various moving parts. Additional underwriters will be needed to offset the restoration cost, with an additional $50,000 needed for initial site costs and ongoing care. Conversations have already started regarding the creation of public art spaces in Uptown Normal and Downtown Bloomington to display the Santas during the holiday season and other sculptures rotationally in the other months of the year.

The project’s most significant areas of need are storing and transporting the Santas and their ongoing care. To learn more about the project and how you can help Save Santa, please visit or contact Director of Development Norris Porter.

Click here to access the media kit, complete with vintage and modern photos of the Santas.

The Museum is also asking folks to share their memories of the Santas here:

Micaela Harris

Director of Communications

Contact Micaela