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History Center Exhibit Recreates Pittsburgh's Downtown Holiday Traditions From Decades Past

Downtown Pittsburgh’s holiday traditions have changed over the years. But starting Saturday, a new exhibit at the Heinz History Center takes visitors back in time.

“A Very Merry Pittsburgh” uses original artifacts to recreate classic holiday window displays from downtown department stores Kaufmann’s and Macy’s, which are now closed.

“We were able to go in and search through a lot of their storage and find pieces that were really iconic to their collection,” said exhibit designer Michael DuBois. “The chair was obvious; Santa’s chair is the original one, the mailbox because of all the letters, and the Santa costume. These were all a part of Santa Land.”

There are also costumes from holiday parades, and more contemporary window displays from Macy’s.

John Suhr, otherwise known as Santa Claus, had greeted children at Macy’s downtown location for years before the store closed. Now, he’ll be sitting in a replica of the original Macy’s Santa chair to visit with families at the History Center.

Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
John Suhr had greeted children at Macy's downtown Pittsburgh location for years. Now he will be available to take gift requests from visitors at Heinz History Center.

He said his favorite part of the job is seeing the happy faces on children and adults alike. “I think that’s why Pittsburgh’s still a big Christmas town to this day,” he said, “the adults have the good memories and they’ll remember things like this, and they’ll carry those memories with them.”

The exhibit also includes vintage photos from holiday celebrations around the region, vintage toys like Light Brights and Barbies, and an interactive toy play area.

Santa is available for photos and gift requests every day from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. until Christmas Eve. Parents are encouraged to take pictures with their smart phones or personal cameras, as a photographer will not be provided. 

The exhibit is open until Jan. 15.