I’m a Jewish woman who is obsessed with a Christmas icon from years gone by. Yes, I know some of you might have a problem with this notion of a Jewish person with a Christmas obsession, and if you are one of these people, either deal with it or stop reading.
Many hours of my childhood were spent at the now defunct Capitol Court shopping center. Kohl's Food Store, Gimbels, Chapmans, The Hobby Horse, and Mansfields, are just some of the stores that we remember well.
It was around the holiday time that Capitol Court was home to something special. It was home to Candy Cane Lane and the Kooky Cooky House. Every year I walked past the picket fence made from giant gingerbread men and I peered into the windows of this Swiss chalet. The Kooky Cooky House was an oversized gingerbread house made from fake gingerbread panels and decorated with required white icing, of course that was fake too.
There were no life-like Animatronics. Instead, inside the Kooky Cooky House there was the square headed robot that ran the show from his control panel. Red boxing gloves kneaded the dough and an iron pressed out the cookies that were baked in an old-fashioned oven. Who needed Disneyland, Milwaukee had the Kooky Cooky House. It was cheesy but this was our childhood.
Year after year I would see families dressed in their “Sunday best” waiting to enter this pre-fab house of confectionary delight. Boys and Girls were waiting in line to tell Santa what they wanted for Christmas. After they read their wish list to Santa, kids would get a coloring book and a cookie. A Kooky Cooky House cookie; a perfectly crisp gingerbread man cookie with a smiling face. Everyone seemed to be enjoying these cookies, except for me.
As a kid, I didn’t understand why my parents wouldn’t take me to the Kooky Cooky House. So what that I am Jewish and don’t celebrate Christmas. Maybe inside there was a menorah hidden someplace?
One December day in 1970, as my Mom and I were shopping at Capitol Court, she surprised me and took me to the Kooky Cooky House. There I was in line with all the other boys and girls, but there were a couple of differences between them and me. I didn’t care about seeing Santa. I was overweight or slightly chunky, as my Mom likes to say; all I really wanted was the cookie.
When it was my turn, an elf guided me to Santa and I jumped onto his lap. After he bellowed a hardy "HO HO HO", I told Santa that I’m Jewish and don’t celebrate Christmas. Needless to say, he was a bit perplexed. He looked around to see if any of his elves were listening and then he quietly whispered to me, “shhh . . . don’t tell anyone but I’m Jewish too.” Santa then asked what I wanted for Hanukkah. That wish list I gave him.
Then it was time. . . I jumped off Santa’s lap, grabbed the coloring book, and there it was – the cookie. A Kooky Cooky House cookie; a perfectly crisp gingerbread cookie. A cookie baked by those elves inside that pre-fab house of confectionary delight. The best cookie I’ve ever had; a very special cookie from a very special place.
As an adult I know understand why I went inside the Kooky Cooky House only once. Obviously, I didn’t need to sit on Santa’s lap to read him my wish list. My parents took me go inside once because they wanted me to experience this holiday tradition. Little did they realize that a gingerbread house would make such a lasting impression on me.
Today this iconic structure holds so many memories for me just as it does for many Milwaukeeans; it was a part of our youth. It was something that we looked forward to seeing every holiday season.
96.5 WKLH is bringing back the Kooky Cooky House and all its magical memories on December 13, at the Riverside Theatre. For one special evening, Dave and Carole’s Kooky Cooky Christmas Show will give Milwaukeeans the ability to relive the memories associated with this iconic holiday tradition.
There will be a recreation of this famed “house” as well as actual artifacts from the original structure. An added bonus, everyone will get a gingerbread man cookie.
The morning show crew will be there, including Dave, Carole, John McGivern and Gino Salomone. Singers, dancers, storytellers, and much more will put the audience in the holiday spirit. Yes, even Santa will be there!
Proceeds from this evening go to support the Christmas is for Kids party that is held annually. This party provides a holiday dinner, entertainment, and presents for Milwaukee’s most needy children.
For further information, please log onto wklh.com.
In this season of giving and being thankful for what you have, spend an evening being thankful that you have such wonderful memories of the Kooky Cooky House. Revive your Kooky Cooky House memories while helping a worthy cause, children in need of a Merry Christmas.
Come out and join the fun. I’ll be the one there telling Santa what I want for Hanukkah!