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Interview with Harry Bloomer

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Description

Harry Bloomer discusses joining the Army as a young man and entertaining the soldiers. Upon being discharged he began working as a Santa Claus for local organizations and continued to do this for the rest of his life. He talks about attending a Santa Claus school annually. He was also a clown and was known as Blinky the Clown. During the Bicentennial he portrayed Uncle Sam.

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This audio file and digital image may only be used for educational purposes. Please cite as: Broome County Oral History Project, Special Collections, Binghamton University Libraries, Binghamton University, State University of New York. For usage beyond fair use please contact the Binghamton University Libraries Special Collections for more information.

Transcription

Broome County Oral History Project

Interviewed with: Harry Bloomer

Interviewed By: Dan O’Neil

Date of Interview: 03/16/1978


Dan: This is Dan O’Neil, and speaking with Harry Bloomer. 263 Main Street, Johnson City. The date is March 16, 1978. This interview is being, taking place at Wilson Memorial Hospital in Johnson City, where Mr. Bloomer is a patient. Will you start out giving me the, the date and...where, the place of your birth, a little of your childhood days, why you came to Johnson City, and while in Johnson City or in this locale, how you earned your living?
Harry: Well, well, I mean, I came to Johnson City when I was a small boy. I lost my Dad and my Dad put me away, and so, ah, my Mother didn’t want me. So, when I got to a certain age, after I got to a certain age, then I got transferred to another institution, and I ran away from that one. And then I, then...then the depression came on, so, I…depression come on, so I was, I couldn’t read, couldn’t write. It was just my own name, so I joined, ah, joined the Army. And, ah, and [cough] after I joined the Army, why, I come out with an Honorable Discharge, and…and I, four years and seven months, I was in the Artillery first, then from the Artillery, I went to, ah, I went to the Medical Corps, and from the Medical Corps, and then I got discharged. And then I come home, and I couldn’t buy a job, so I’ve been a clown all my life. Used to clown up to the soldiers and every day that I could, and after I clowned up and everything. And then one day, they wrote a, couldn’t find the guy that was, that was going to be the Santa Claus. And, ah, so they couldn’t find him, so after, so they’re, so after the Chamber of Commerce, ah, got ahold of me. And after they got ahold of me, said, “I’m gonna make a Santa Claus out of ya.” I said, “Whoa, wait just a minute - difference between a Santa Claus and a difference between Santa Claus, and, eh, difference between, and, ah…a clown is between day, day, ah, day and night.
Dan: Right.
Harry: So…
Dan: Okay.
Harry: So, I said, “The difference between day, a day and night,” and ah, “What do you mean, you like children?” Well, I knew how to handle ‘em. “You’ve been a clown. And, eh, you know what…how to act with ‘em.” Stuff like that. I says, “Yeah, I know I do. But it’s, difference between, ah…” I says, “Well, I’ll try it.” So, I says, “You got a suit?”
He says, “No, I haven’t got a suit. But,” he says, uh, “we’ll get you one.” And he got me one, and it was the worst one I ever saw. It was handmade, and it was a rubber mask, with a, a hot cotton, batten beard on it. And it was the hottest thing I’d had ever got ahold of. And I begin to like it, and so, happen next year, so I says, “Well," I says, who’ll be it next year?”
“Well, you did such a good job, we’re going to let you have it.”
Then I found out where this school was in Albion, New York.
Dan: Mm-hm.
Harry: And, ah, so I went to Albion, New York, and I, I said, “Is this the place where you get your, your wig and beard?” He says, “Yes, this is the place. But I only got one left - I’m going to New York, but I guess I can wait on you.” So, he says, “You want that wig and beard real bad, don’t ya?” I said, “Sure, I really want it, no matter what the price is; I don’t give a care. I want the suit, and I want the wig and beard.”
So, Charlie showed me how to put it on, and he said to me, ah, and he said, and Charlie says, I kept feeling my pocket, looking at the suit; feeling my pocket, looking at the suit. “You really want that,” he says. “Really want it?”
“Charlie,” I said, “I’m not married and nobody has to bawl me out when I come home. ‘How much money did you spend?’ And, ah, ‘What kind of, what kind of good time, good time did you have?’ and stuff like that. And if I come home broke…well, that’s my business ‘cause I’m all by, I’m all by myself.” And so, I went then and bought the suit and brought it home. And Charlie says, “If you, if you’re gonna make it your professional out of it, I’d advise you to have two, two suits in case of an accident - the show, it gotta go on.”
And I said, “By the way, Charlie, what do you use for your makeup for your face?”
He says, “See, you’re a better salesman than I am. Well,” he says, “You, ah, need three things - your powder. Use, ah, a white lead pencil. And, uh…when you use rouge, and then you, then you use your mirror. Mirror. And you take your time putting it on, in mirror - you don’t plaster it on. When, when you take your…you put it over your eyes, you don’t plaster it on. You just go very, very lightly. Very lightly. Like you just come in, out of, out of the cold ‘cause your face been frostbitten or something. And then on your face, you put rouge. And after you rub that all off, you rub that all off because, uh, it makes you look pas- you come in with rosy cheeks. And so, uh…then, then...then I, ah, I floated around. I went 25 years to that school. And one year, 25 years [inaudible], and, well, I, I took sick. I didn’t want to miss the school, but my Doctor said I’d better, I’d better miss it this year, then I might be alright the next year. So, I said, “Okay, whatever you say, Doc.” So, I, I missed it. And the day the school opened, I cried like a baby [begins crying] because I never missed a year.
Dan: 25 years?
Harry: Yeah. My profession.
Dan: And this was the school in Albion?
Harry: Albion…it was in Albion, but it was-
Dan: Pardon?
Harry: It’s in Bay City, Michigan now because Charlie died, see.
Dan: Now you talk about - what’s Charlie’s last name?
Harry: Charlie W. Howard.
Dan: How do you spell that last name?
Harry: You know what? I never went to school, so I couldn’t tell ya.
Dan: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah…
Sue: Howard.
Dan: Howard.
Sue: H-O-W-A-R-D. [spelling]
Dan: Okay.
Harry: So anyway, through going up there, and he said, “Don’t worry, Harry. You’re not gonna lose any time for it because you’re, you’re a real goodness, professional Santa Claus. And when I mean you do it…you don’t come up here for thanks just to put it on to scare the kids or give them a lot of hooey or stuff like that; you tell ‘em the truth. And, and you’re willing to…what you learn.” So, I went up the year after I took sick and I said this really…I can’t remember her name, but anyway, she was my nurse and she took me all around, and she really stuck by me, and she still sticks by me.
Dan: Uh-huh.
Harry: And, ah, then I hear…ah, I called him up again this year one time, and I said, “They’re gonna make me again, Charlie.”
“Well, no, you’re not gonna…you’re not gonna lose anything over it because you, you’re always…you know your business.”
Dan: Mm-hm.
Harry: So, anyway, come home…and, ah, when I come home from there, a guy comin’ over, a guy come over to my my house one night from the newspapers. And he wanted, ah, tape…tape a couple of tapes off how, how I got to be a Santa.
“Well,” I says, “There’s all my books here, there’s over 35 books of pictures of everywhere I go, everything I take. And when I’m not playing Santa Claus, I’m playing Blinky the, Blinky the Clown at the Pairs.”
I used to work at the grandstand and sell apples and peanuts and stuff like that. I sell ‘em, “Here, here comes the lousy peanut man, trying to get rid of them just as fast as he can.”
Dan: Uh-huh.
Harry: And then one woman said to me one day, “What have ya got?”
I says, “I’ve got candy apples; they’re dipped in glue; a couple of worm holes; it’s all up to you; sweet on the outside; sour on the in; the red gets all over your chin.”
Dan: [chuckles]
Harry: Then I’d come back the next day: “Hey, you’ve got nothing but popcorn.”
“Oh, yes - I have,” says I, [inaudible] and I came to spend my rotten corn. “Last year a kernel, this year a pop; when we get to you, it won’t be so hot.”
And, ah…one woman says, “Ya talk like that all the time.”
And I says, “Yeah. If I don’t get ya, my voice will; I’ll get your money before you get over the hill.”
Dan: [chuckles]
Harry: And she says, “See? You’re not only a poet like that,” and when you write it in the paper and it says, “He’s not only a poet, but he’s also a politician.” And so, the kids one day, says, “Hey, Santa. How’d you get here with no snow?”
“I fly high and I fly low; and I find land; that’s how I go.”
Dan: [chuckles]
Harry: Now…[inaudible] And then this family says, “Did you bring Rudolph?”
I said, Yes, I brought Rudolph.” But I says, ah…hm, “He won’t want to go this year.”
“Why not?”
“Did you ever see a deer go why, why, without snow?”
“No.”
“Well, then Rudolph won’t go.”
Dan: Hm.
Harry: But, I…next year, I told ‘em I’d try to play it again as, as...as sick as I was. And so, ah, I put my outfit and suit on - played, ah, quite, ah…clubs, and the big clubs and stuff like that. And did my best. And then they says, “Hey, did you bring Rudolph this year?”
I said, “Yeah.” I said, “But I’m having trouble.”
“What you mean?”
I said, “Tricky Dick won’t give me no gas; I can’t get the helicopter off the grass.”
Dan: [lightly chuckles]
Harry: And I says, “Did you bring Rudolph?”
I says, “Yeah. I can’t use, use him, either.”
“Well, why can’t ya?”
“‘Cause,” I says, “Tricky Dick, he, he shut off the lights; can’t light up his nose…”
Dan: [chuckles]
Harry: “Can’t see which way he goes.”
Dan: “Uh-huh.”
Harry: “I, I hope Tricky Dick is out of the office ‘cause next time, everything will be, will be alright.” And this year I tried to play…I said, “Well, don’t gang me this year because Santa Claus is in tough shape.”
One little boy came to me: “What do you mean, ‘tough shape’?”
I says, “Yeah, I brought Rudolph, but he’s awful mean this year. Terrible mean.”
Dan: Yeah.
Harry: “What do you mean?”
I says, “Awful mean.” I says, “I went up to feed him…when I went out to feed him, he hauled right off from me, and he kicked me. So, I can’t let nobody sit on my lap th-…for this year.”
Dan: Uh-huh.
Harry: I said, “You’re not mad at Santa because you can’t sit on Santy’s lap?”
“Oh, no.”
I said, “We’ll find him just the same.”
Dan: Uh-huh.
Harry: And like that. So, I went through my act the best way I could. And I got bleeding, and…
Dan: Uh-huh.
Harry: …Sick again. And they…
Dan: Uh-huh.
Harry: And they put me back in.
Dan: Mm-hm.
Harry: And that was my Santa Claus days.
Dan: Whe-where were you born, Harry?
Harry: I was born in Cortland.
Dan: Cortland?
Harry: Uh, yeah. I was born in Cortland.
Dan: Now, you mentioned your Dad put you away.
Harry: My Mother put me away.
Dan: Your Mother put you away…away, where?
Harry: In a home in Cortland.
Dan: In a home in Cortland?
Harry: Yeah.
Dan: For, for, uh, children?
Harry: Yeah.
Dan: I see.
Harry: And then, uh…I started a certain age, they put me up on the Hudson to a feeble-minded home, and people said, “What is that guy? Is he a nut?”
“Well,” I says, “If I’m, if, if I’m not, if I’m a nut, I’m a tough nut if I was cracked.”
Dan: Mm-hm.
Harry: And I said, “I make, what do you make?”
I says, “You’re making a lot of noise.”
I says, “I…I’m making a buck or two.”
Dan: Mm-hm.
Harry: “So, make all the noise that’s…and call me anything that you want.”
Dan: Mm-hm.
Harry: “‘Cause I’m making a buck between as a nut.”
Dan: Mm-hm.
Harry: “And if you want to learn what I do, I’m a member of a trade.”
Dan: Mm-hm.
Harry: And so…
Dan: Mm-hm. Now, uh, you mentioned the Chamber of Commerce wanted you to play Santa Claus. What Chamber of Commerce?
Harry: In, in Johnson City.
Dan: In Johnson City - how did you happen to come from - uh, where was this? The…?
Harry: This was after the War.
Dan: Yeah, but you - where was it on the Hudson that you were…?
Harry: Up on the Hudson.
Dan: Yeah - how, how did you to-?
Harry: That’s good news: I ran away from that place.
Dan: You ran away from there, and how did you happen to come to Johnson City?
Harry: Well, I worked my way toward home.
Dan: Towards Cortland?
Harry: Yeah. Yeah, ‘till I found my folks and then my folks didn’t want me. I couldn’t find a job, so I…I picked up my own work.
Dan: Uh-huh.
Harry: Mowing lawns, and anywhere I could pick up a penny here or a penny there, and try to make people happy.
Dan: Right. Now, you appeared, of course, before a lot of groups and organizations as Santa Claus.
Harry: Yeah.
Dan: Now, did you go to individual houses?
Harry: Mm-hm.
Dan: Were you out for hire?
Harry: Um-hm.
Dan: And what was your busiest season? I mean, was it the week before Christmas?
Harry: It…it was, ah, Christmas Eve night.
Dan: Christmas Eve night. Now, you weren’t - you, you don’t drive a car, do you?
Harry: No, I don’t drive.
Dan: Now, how did you get from house to house?
Harry: Well, I had a good driver. I decorated my sleigh all up, and I named, and I named him, “Rudolph.”
Dan: Uh-huh.
Harry: I says, “Well, Rudolph is now all ready for a night.” Then, we keep the same addresses every year. Sometimes we get new ones, sometimes old, younger ones are growed out of it. And so, I always had new ones coming in.
Dan: But, I mean, how did you get from one house to another?
Harry: In the car.
Dan: In the car?
Harry: Yeah.
Dan: I see…uh-huh. And, ah, Harry, would you mind telling me, I mean, how much you got for each one of your performances - I mean, to go to a residence? You know, to play Santa Claus?
Harry: Well, sometimes I got nothin’.
Dan: Sometimes, you got nothing.
Harry: I didn’t get a penny.
Dan: Is that right?
Harry: But it ain’t, it ain’t for the penny.
Dan: It’s, it’s…that’s right - it’s self-satisfaction. Mm-hm. Ah, what awards have you had, geh, Harry?
Harry: Well, the highest award I ever had was, ah, was, ah…Red Ruby.
Dan: Red Ruby?
Harry: Red Ruby. From the Santa Claus school - I went there for 25 years.
Dan: That’s in Albion?
Harry: Mm-hm. Yeah.
Dan: Uh-huh…now, what is the Red Ruby award?
Harry: Well, Red Ruby stands for everlasting fire that never goes out.
Dan: Uh-huh.
Harry: For the, for the good deeds you did.
Dan: Uh-huh.
Harry: Towards other people.
Dan: Uh-huh. Now, during the Bicentennial year, you, as I understand, you portrayed Uncle Sam.
Harry: Yes. I went out, crazy enough. I went out, tried, bought myself an Uncle Sam suit. But, I didn’t have no beard at first.
Dan: You’ve still retained the beard, haven’t you? [laughs]
Harry: Yeah. Somebody, somebody said, “Hey, Uncle Sam’s supposed to have a beard.”
I says, “I, I know that.” I says, I says, “Don’t worry about it.” I says, “I’ll put my razor away. And I’ll see what, then I’ll see what Uncle Sam will do.” First thing I know, it come out a perfect white and shaped right up - didn’t have to color it, tie it, or nothing. So, I said, “Here comes Uncle Sam; dirty old man; takes your money as fast as he can.”
Dan: [laughs]
Harry: “Takes your money and takes your dough - won’t give it back, where you go.” Hello. What do you want?
[Interruption over Public Address system]
Dan: Um, Harry, is there anything else that you’d like to tell me? You had a banquet here some time ago that the notables of the Triple Cities put on for you, honoring you for your-
Harry: Well…
Dan: -public service.
Harry: Well, when I got out of the hospital.
Dan: This was, what? About a year ago? Mm-hm.
Harry: And I didn’t know nothin’ about it.
Dan: It was a surprise party. Uh-huh.
Harry: [crying; words inaudible] -light up the trees. And then they, they presented me with a live Christmas, Christmas tree.
Dan: A live Christmas tree?
Harry: Yeah, in the park.
Dan: I see.
Harry: So, then I told ‘em…I says, “Well, I tell you all,” I says, “When the tree gets big and tall, you can come in and decorate it all.”
Dan: Uh-huh.
Harry: So, I says, “Now, you’ve got a swing out there.” And I says, “When, uh…when the tree begins to, to grow,” I said…I said, “Out in the…out in my swinging, and now, and I’ll watch it grow.”
Dan: Uh-huh.
Harry: I told ‘em.
Dan: Uh-huh.
Harry: And so, I always had little ditties, little poems here for different people-
Dan: Uh-huh.
Harry -and stuff like that, you know?
Dan: Were there any other characters that you portrayed other than Santa Claus, Blinky the Clown, and Uncle Sam?
Harry: Well, the real ones was the…see, I’ve been a clown all, all of my life. And then I came in, in on the Santa Claus deal…and then, then...then I was up, I was up to Albion. Charlie said to me, “You outta, you outta make a good, eh…Easter Rabbit.”
“A rabbit?” I says. “Whaddaya mean, a rabbit?”
He says, “You make such a good Santy Claus…"
Dan: [laughing]
Harry: “…And you know how to act…you know how to [inaudible] without breaking into them, and you know not to talk when you don’t have to. So, you outta make darn good Peter Rabbit.” And so, I got the business for, of playing, uh, the Peter Rabbit for, for the Schweiners, and help to count them egg hunt Easter eggs. Stuff like that.
Dan: Uh-huh.
Harry: Sometimes, they’d give me something for it, and sometime they wouldn’t. But it all come from the heart.
Dan: Yeah. Well, you, you’ve managed to be self-sustaining over all these, all these years, uh, Harry.
Harry: Yeah.
Dan: In spite of the fact that you can’t read nor write, I mean, I think you’ve done remarkable.
Harry: Yeah.
Dan: Is there anything else you’d like to add at all?
Harry: Well, let’s see, uh…
Dan: Is there any other awards that you received outside the Ruby award at the Albion?
Harry: No, not exactly. Uh…some of the boys didn’t like me coming up there quite so many times - it took me 25 years. And Charlie - before Charlie died - he said, “If I know you, you’re gonna be the first man to walk out of this school with that Red Ruby on.”
Dan: Uh-huh.
Harry: He says, I said, “No, Charlie.”
He says, “I’m telling ya.” He says, “Harry, if you’re not here - if you’re gone before I am - you’re gonna be the first man to walk out.”
Dan: Mm-hm.
Harry: And he says, “It’s because you’re gonna make a good Santa Claus.”
Dan: Uh-huh. Now, when you went up there during these 25 years, when you returned, Harry, what did you do - teach the other…?
Harry: Well…
Dan: Fellas that wanted to, uh…the trade?
Harry: Well, I wanted, I wanted to, to portray like that. If I still live and I get better, I might exactly do that. But, I, I never take away anybody else’s trade.
Dan: I see.
Harry: Never.
Dan: Mm-hm.
Harry: If they wanna learn, they can spend their money like I did.
Dan: Yeah.
Harry: I’ll always be glad to help ‘em, explain it to ‘em, and tell them where they make their mistakes. If they don’t like it, then they can save their money, and they can, they can go up to the school.
Dan: How much did it cost for you to go that school?
Harry: Well, when I first went to school there it cost me 20, $125.00. And then they cut it down to, ah, $75.00 - try to get more men to come.
Dan: Yep.
Harry: That was a refreshing course.
Dan: Yeah.
Harry: And then they cut it down to 50. And he left it that way - left it, left it down to 50.
Dan: I see.
Harry: And, ah…and Charlie says, “Don’t let anybody kid ya, Harry, at all: You did this alone.”
Dan: Mm-hm. How, how, uh, many weeks was the original course when you went there?
Harry: [inaudible] -cost.
Dan: When you went, when it was-
Harry: Hundred-
Dan: $125.00?
Harry: Oh, it was about…it was about two weeks, it started.
Dan: Two weeks?
Harry: Yeah. Because, see, the school was just startin’ to be...
Dan: Yeah.
Harry: He, he just started buildin’ it.
Dan: Mm-hm.
Harry: It was between Charlie (W-H-I) and, and, ah…and, and May. Maple Jone.
Dan: Mm-hm.
Harry: And he, ah…got them together. And he, he got them together. And he went to New York, helping him all over. We went to Macy’s, he says, “Oh, my God. I,” he says, “I can’t find better-lookin’ Santa Clauses than that.” Heaven bets. And Macy says, “Why in the world don’t you start a school? And put better-lookin’ men in this, in, in this school?”
Dan: Mm-hm.
Harry: “Better-looking Santa Claus?” And so I go around and check ‘em. I see a boy – a fellow with brown shoes and black puttees, and I said, “By the way.” I says, “Did you ever go to Santa Claus school?”
And he says, “No, why?”
Well, I says...ah, “Don’t you want to go to school?”
“Do ya have to?”
I said, “No, you...you don’t have to. It costs ya money no matter where you go; you’re never gonna take a penny with ya when you go...
Dan: Mm-hm.
Harry:...But you’ll be...[begins sobbing]
Dan: Okay, that’s alright, Harry...ah...
Harry: He, he killed that.
Dan: Mm-hm.
Harry: I says, “Please think.” I says, “Playing Santa Claus; there’s not many that are very nice.” 
So, what point they need is: “How much money you make playing Santa Claus?
I looked at him, and I says, “Is that what you came up here for?”
Dan: Mm-hm.
Harry: Make a little thing like that – go right back.
Dan: Mm-hm.
Harry: So, I says, “You’ll never make a Santa Claus.”
Dan: Mm-hm.
Harry: Says, “You mean to tell me
you see a Santa every three or four over there, and some over there, that you hadn’t, haven’t the opportunity to charge...”

Dan: Mm-hm.
Harry: “...then you’d never be a Santa Claus?”
Dan: Yep; right. Not from the heart.
Harry: Right.
Dan: Not from the heart. Okay, Harry, you think that’s about all you’d like to tell me today?
Harry: Well, you like - that’s how I got to be Santa Claus.
Dan: That’s how you got to be Santa Claus.
Harry: Yeah.
Dan: And sold peanuts and popcorn at the ballpark.
Harry: Yeah. And he says, “Come and get your stinkin’, rotten peanuts!” 
Dan: [Dan laughing]
Harry: And said, “The longer you wait, the rottener they get.” I used to tell them that.
Dan: Uh-huh.
Harry: [unintelligible]
Dan: Well, for the sake of the archives, ah, Harry, why don’t we get your nurse’s name here on tape?
Harry: Um...
Sue: Sue Romanaski.
Dan: Sue?
Sue: Romanaski.
Dan: Romanaski.
Sue: Mm-hm.
Harry: Yeah.
Dan: And you’re a nurse, are you, Sue?
Sue: Yeah, I’m an RN.
Dan: You’re an RN?
Sue: Yeah.
Dan: At the hospital here?
Sue: At Ideal Hospital. I’m-
Dan: Oh, at Ideal.
Sue: When Harry was having his operation last October, I was a student nurse.
Dan: I see.
Sue: And I went through the operation with him and everything.
Dan: Mm. And you stuck with him.
Sue: Yep.
Harry: Good.
Sue: I used to go over and read his letters to him, write his mail, and take him shopping, and things like that.
Dan: Uh-huh. Well, God bless you. Well, Harry, would you like me to play this back for ya?
Harry: Yeah.
Dan: Okay.


Article: Tribute Paid to memory of ‘Mr. Santa Claus’


By: George Basler


"God knows the world needs more Harry Bloomers."

This statement by Bernard Fionte, news director of WNBF radio, summed up the feelings of many today toward Harry Bloomer, who for 36 years played Santa Claus for thousands of Johnson City children.

[Image Caption: 'Mr. Santa Claus'. Depicts Harry Bloomer in his Santa Claus outfit, looking down at a piece of parchment held in his two hands.]

Bloomer, 71, who was nicknamed "Mr. Santa Claus" because he played the role for so long, died yesterday at Wilson Memorial Hospital after a long battle with cancer.

"He was one of the most irreplacable people I've known," said Fionte, who emceed a tribute to Bloomer at Johnson City High School in 1976. "I think it's a dreadful loss to the community."

Bloomer was sick for more than a year, but until the very end he never gave up fighting. Last January he was still looking forward to playing Santa Claus for local children next Christmas. But, for the last week or so, Bloomer knew the end was near, his friends said.

"I saw him last Wednesday night, and he had put his trust in God. He said God knows best," said the Rev. Richard D. Christen, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Johnson City, which Bloomer attended for more than 30 years. "He was a man of good faith with respect to the community, and he was a man of real faith with respect to God," Christen added.

Another close friend, Patricia Morse, said, "I'm glad it's over. He had suffered too long, and he was too good to suffer.”

At his request, Bloomer will be buried in his outfit of Blinky the Clown – a character he created during his years as a circus vendor. He also played Peter Rabbit and in the

summer of 1976 appeared as Uncle Sam at area parades and celebrations in honor

of the Bicentennial.

But, in a recent interview, he said, "Way down deep in my heart, I think my favorite character is Santa Claus. It’s a lot of headaches sometimes, but I like to meet kids."

He identified with the role so much that at one time he thought about being buried in one of his Santa Claus costumes. But, he decided against it because he said simply, "Santa Claus lives forever. "

Why was Bloomer so dedicated to playing Santa Claus? Christen theorized part of this dedication stemmed from his lack of parental love as a child. His childhood was spent in orphanages where, because of a stutter, he was overlooked by teachers and never learned to read or write. He finally ran away from an institution at the age of 15.

"Maybe he felt what he lacked as a boy, he could give to others," Christen said.

While Bloomer became a local legend during his years in Johnson City, an Evening Press article in July 1976 discovered that few knew the man behind the gaudy costumes and outrageous trappings. For the last 12 years of his life, Bloomer lived in a small $30-a-month basement apartment in Johnson City. He never married and never had any children. Ironically, the man who brought joy to so many persons at Christmas time usually spent his holiday alone.

But, Bloomer never became bitter. He called the testimonial that local residents organized in November 1976 a high point of his life, and added, ''I didn't think I had so many friends, but I have a lot of them.''

Louis Augostini, who organized the testimonial, said he saw Bloomer 10 days ago at the hospital, and "he was preoccupied with expressing thanks to people for everything that's been done for him. “Of course, the real truth is that Harry did a lot for us," Augostini said. 

"He was a very unselfish person. Playing Santa Claus was never a money maker for him. Maybe it just gave him a sense of pride to do something for the kids," Augostini added.

Bernard Brown, president of the Johnson City Businessmen's Association, said Bloomer was "synonymous with Johnson City."

"That was his life[,] to keep people happy...He was terrific. He'll be missed."

Jean Kavulich, a friend of Bloomer's for more than 30 years, said simply, "He was the children's idol."

Funeral arrangements are being handled by the J.F. Rice Funeral Home in Johnson City. Director James Carey said the home is expecting large crowds during calling hours this afternoon and evening.

This evening the Frank A. Johnson American Legion Post, to which Bloomer belonged, will provide a special honor guard. The Last Man's Club (veterans of World War II) will also hold a special service at the home. Bloomer's funeral will be Saturday at 10 A.M. at First Baptist Church in Johnson City. His body will then be taken by a grandnephew, Terrence McCullough, for burial at a cemetery between Marathon and Cortland. McCullough was with Bloomer at the time of his death yesterday.

But even though he's gone, Bloomer's memory will live on, his friends said.

Morse said, “There is some talk of donating to Roberson Center one of Bloomer's Santa Claus suits and the certificates he received from the Santa Claus School in Michigan (a training school for Santa) that he attended for many years.”

[Image caption: Harry Bloomer. Depicts Harry Bloomer facing the camera, garbed in his Uncle Sam costume, and walking up a city street.]

For his part, Richard Barrons, curator of history at the center, said he'd welcome this donation. "Harry was a great inspiration to many people," Christen said.

Morse noted simply, "He didn't play Santa Claus - he was Santa Claus.''


Article: Blinky the Clown will get the epitaph he wished for


By: George Basler


Thanks to the efforts of a friend, Harry Bloomer's final wish has come true.

For 36 years Bloomer enchanted thousands of area children as Blinky the Clown and Santa Claus. He made a career out of bringing good cheer to others, and in the process became one of Johnson City's most beloved residents. Before he died last April, after a long battle with cancer, Bloomer made two requests:

To be buried in his Blinky the Clown outfit because, he said, "As long as I've been a clown there's no harm in going out that way. I just might want to entertain someone on the other side.”

And, to have a tombstone placed at his grave, with the simple inscription: "Here lies Blinky the Clown. Doesn't know if he's going up or down. He just has to leave town.”

After Bloomer's estate was settled, there was no money left for the tombtone.

[Image Caption: Harry Bloomer...in 1976. Depicts a portrait shot of Harry Bloomer in his Uncle Sam costume in a city environment; the white top hat is of prominence.]

[Image Caption: Linc Haller polishes the tombstone of his friend, Horry Bloomer. Depicts Linc Haller squatting next to Harry Bloomer’s tombstone in a cemetary, which depicts an artist’s rendition of the character alongside the inscription that Harry wished for.]

[Image Taken By: Frank Woodruff]

But Howard L. "Linc" Haller, the former owner of the Binghamton-Johnson City Monument Co., remembered a promise he had made to his friend.

"For the past 20 years Harry would see me in the post office or on the street, and he'd say, 'Don't forget when I die what I want on my tombstone.' It got to be an old story,” Haller said. “When he had his last sickness, I went up to see him in the hospital and promised him he’d get his wish.”

ln July, Haller and Robert Traver, current owner[s] of the monument company, wrote Bloomer's grand-nephew in Syracuse for a picture of Bloomer in his Blinky the Clown outfit so it could be engrav d on the tombstone. They then ordered the tombstone, just like Bloomer wanted it from their factory in Johnstown. The tombstone arrived last week, and next week Haller and Traver will move it to Virgil, where Bloomer’s grave is.

Haller made it clear he's not doing this for publicity, but because of the promise he made to Bloomer. He seemed embarrassed by the notoriety.

''Don't play me up too much,'' he said. "I told Harry he would have a marker, and that’s all there is to it.”

The granite tombstone has the Blinky the Clown poem and the engraving of Bloomer in his clown costume on one side. On the other side is the simple inscription, “Harry Bloomer. 1907-1978."

Haller acknowledged that some people might think the poem is inappropriate for a tombstone, but "that's just what Harry wanted.”

And anyone who thinks it's inappropriate didn’t know Bloomer very well.

Every Christmas for more than three decades the portly man, dressed in one of his three red[,] velvet suits and a fluffy white beard, walked the village streets handing out candy to the children. He also played Santa Claus for village merchants and clubs[,] and every year visited the Wilson Memorial Hospital pediatrics ward. Besides Kris Kringle, Bloomer also played Peter Rabbit, Uncle Sam during the 1976 Bicentennial, and Blinky the Clown, a character he originated during his years as a circus vendor at fairs thoughout the Southern Tier.

He became known as "Mr Santa Claus,” but his own life was far from a fairy tale.

A lifelong bachelor, Bloomer worked as a laborer and carnival barker. He spent his early years in an orphanage and his last years in a dingy, $30-a-month basement apartment

in Johnson City. Those who knew him said he loved children so much because he was so neglected during his own childhood.

Despite the bad breaks life dealt him, Bloomer was a man who enjoyed life, Haller said.

“He certainly made a lot of other people enjoy it, kids especially.”

Date of Interview

1978-03-16

Interviewer

O'Neil, Dan

Interviewee

Bloomer,Harry

Duration

00:23 Seconds ; 33:45 Minutes

Date of Digitization

2017-03-27

Collection

Broome County Oral History Project

Subject LCSH

Bloomer, Harry -- Interviews; Broome County (N.Y.) -- History; Johnson City (N.Y.); Cortland (N.Y.); Santa Claus

Bicentennial; Uncle Sam; Blinky the Clown

Rights Statement

This audio file and digital image may only be used for educational purposes. Please cite as: Broome County Oral History Project, Special Collections, Binghamton University Libraries, Binghamton University, State University of New York. For usage beyond fair use please contact the Binghamton University Libraries Special Collections for more information.

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Collection Description

The Broome County Oral History Project was conceived and administered by the Senior Services Unit of the Office for the Aging. Funding for this project was provided by the Broome County Office of Employment and Training (C.E.T.A.), with additional funding from the Senior Service Unit of the National Council on Aging and Broome… More

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Citation

“Interview with Harry Bloomer,” Digital Collections, accessed July 25, 2024, https://omeka.binghamton.edu/omeka/items/show/550.