1985: Holiday World expansion focuses less on Santa Claus

The nation's first theme park opened in 1946 in Santa Claus, Indiana.
Posted at 5:05 AM, Jun 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-18 05:06:02-04

SANTA CLAUS, IN. — Nestled in the rolling hills of southern Indiana is a theme park that's been delivering family fun since 1946 — Holiday World.

The park initially opened under the name Santa Claus Land and became Holiday World in 1984. It is the nation's first theme park.

When it first opened, the park's theme centered around the name of the town in which it is located, Santa Claus. As it approached 40 years of operation, Holiday World began to expand.

Former WRTV reporter Greg Todd visited the park in July 1985.

The first person Todd interviewed was a man who played Santa Claus. Ray Jochum worked as a Santa at the park for seven years. Jochum had recently become a full-time Santa after the death of his predecessor, Jim Yelling, in 1984. Yelling was the park's original Santa, who held that position for 38 years.

The park was then under the ownership of Bill Koch, the son of park founder Louis Koch. Koch was determined to make sure everyone knew Holiday World was the nation's first theme park.

"Everybody seems to think that Disneyland was first, but we were long before Disneyland," said Koch.

Koch had big plans for the park and wanted to get away from the kiddie image of Santa Claus Land.

"The idea occurred to us that if we keep Santa Claus Land as a part of it for nostalgic reasons, and then expand on into other areas where we can have bigger rides, more entertainment, and things for the adults to do as well as the children, then we can get more people here, and that's exactly what's happened."

Holiday World had three holiday themes in 1985. The original theme of Christmas, plus Halloween and the Fourth of July.