Generations of New Orleans children still remember how the holidays were ushered in with a familiar tune: “Jingle, Jangle, Jingle / Here Comes Mr. Bingle / With Another Message From Kris Kringle.” A snowman with holly leaves for wings, Mr. Bingle wore an upside-down ice cream cone for a hat and carried a candy cane wand. As Santa’s helper, Mr. Bingle helped kick off the holiday season in Maison Blanche department stores, promoting toys, books, children’s clothing, household goods, and more.

Mr. Bingle dominated the Canal Street streescape during the holiday season throughout the late 20th century. (THNOC, the Charles L. Franck Studio Collection, 1979.325.10)

Developed by Maison Blanche display director Emile Alline Sr. in 1947, Mr. Bingle is said to have received his name from the initials of the department store: MB. Mr. Bingle was brought to life by Edwin “Oscar” Isentrout, who had previously performed racy puppet shows on Bourbon Street. With the help of Ray Frederick and Harry J. Ory, Isentrout created an enchanting puppet show starring Mr. Bingle in the downtown Maison Blanche building. With Isentrout giving voice to the childlike snowman, crowds flocked to the shows. Isentrout also took Mr. Bingle to visit children all over the city who were unable to make it to Maison Blanche.

A 1950s WDSU broadcast features a Mr. Bingle marionette. (THNOC, gift of Sue Budde in honor of her husband, Joe Budde, 2007.0357.4.30via GIPHY

Beginning in 1949, a 50-foot high version of Mr. Bingle decorated the front of the Canal Street Maison Blanche every year during the holidays. The beloved character had time on local television as well, with appearances every December on WDSU-TV, heralding the arrival of Christmas. Mr. Bingle, alongside Pete the Penguin and Dr. Walrus, helped promote Maison Blanche products to watching viewers.

Mr. Bingle became such a local icon that he even joined Santa in his yearly arrival at the New Orleans airport, via a special Eastern Airlines Silver Falcon plane. Following their arrival, Mr. Bingle and Santa would parade to various Maison Blanche stores around the city, before ending at the downtown store and its “Toyland” display.

An interior display at Maison Blanche's Gentilly store in the 1940s. The department store had locations throughout New Orleans and other markets. (THNOC, the Charles L. Franck Studio Collection, 1979.325.1717)

Dillard’s Inc. bought the Maison Blanche chain from Mercantile Stores Company Inc. in 1998. Dillard’s, recognizing the cultural importance of Mr. Bingle, distributed a press release after the sale welcoming the popular character. To this day, Mr. Bingle dolls and merchandise are still available at Dillard’s locations and on their website.

After a brief stint at Lakeside Mall, Dillard’s donated the 50-foot papier-mâché figure of Mr. Bingle to the Friends of City Park. Since 2005, the figure has been part of the annual Celebration in the Oaks display, once again heralding the arrival of Christmas to New Orleanians young and old.

—Lissa Capo, The Historic New Orleans Collection

This online article has been published posthumously. The original version appeared in the New Orleans Advocate's Historically Speaking series, an ongoing partnership between the newspaper and THNOC.

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