Rudolph, Wisconsin doesn't have any residential reindeer, but the town, now with a population of 432, has a long association with the red-nosed character, immortalized in the popular Christmas song.
In 1945 Postmaster Lillian Blonien proclaimed the village as Rudolph's hometown and began hand-stamping holiday mail with a small drawing of Rudolph's head.
Rudolph, the famous deer who guides Santa's sleigh on foggy and stormy Christmas Eves, first came to life in 1939. This popular holiday character was created by Robert L. May, an employee of the Chicago-based Montgomery Ward Company, when the chain of department stores wanted a Christmas storybook to give to shoppers.
May's 4-year-old daughter was thrilled with the tale. And so were many others. Despite World War II paper shortages, by the end of 1946, more than six million copies of Rudolph's story had been distributed. The Rudolph phenomenon really took off when the musical version of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," was recorded by Gene Autry in 1949. Fifteen years later, in 1964, a popular television special about Rudolph, narrated by Burl Ives, was produced.
Blonien, the leader of a Girl Scout troup, created the reindeer imprint image in 1945 while working on a community project. It was a hand-stamped Christmas-oriented decorative seal placed opposite the U.S. stamp. Her original design of the outline of Rudolph's face was eventually replaced by a full-bodied speckled deer, more in line with the reindeer postage stamp she lobbied for while serving as Rudolph's postmaster from 1940 to 1971.
"We continue the tradition by having the stamp available to the public to use around Christmas time, though it's available all year long upon request," Linda Hobbs, Rudolph's current Postmaster said in 2002.
"We estimate about 20,000 to 25,000 Christmas cards go out with the stamp on every Christmas," said Hobbs then.
"The local residents put the stamp on their Christmas cards and United States Postal office employees all over the country put the stamp on the cards," said Hobbs. In addition, many people from surrounding communities come to Rudolph to stamp their own holiday cards.
In 1999, the Postal Service realized Blonien's dream, honoring the Rudolph Post Office by selecting it for a First Day of Issue for the holiday Deer Greetings stamp, a stylized antique-gold deer set against four different colored backgrounds. The ceremony was held at Rudolph Elementary School with all of the students participating. In 2000, Rudolph was chosen to release the Deer Greetings Postal Cards.
During the holidays, a lone flying reindeer with a 100-watt nose presides over Rudolph's Main Street. "Rudolph also has street signs with the reindeer head," explained Lilly's son and daughter-in-law, Jim and Tammy Blonien.
Rudolph is also known too for Grotto Gardens (and Dairy State Cheese, a top-rated Wisconsin cheese store). The Grotto Gardens, Christian-oriented shrines constructed from native rock with flowerbeds and trees, was the life work of Father Wagner, pastor at the village.
With a little mechanical help Father Wagner constructed the shrine, fulfilling a prayerful promise he made at Lourdes, France, for the restoration of his health. Many volunteers assisted in Wagner's labor of love, including co-builder and right hand man, Edmund Rybicki, who started helping in 1928 when he was only 12-years-old. He continued the tradition until his death at 75 in 1991.
The Grotto, a spiritual oasis, is open on a seasonal basis, officially closing in October. Gardens, peaking mid-July through August, are planted and cared for mostly by volunteers. They use about 35 pickup truckloads of annual flowers, donated by area greenhouses.
The annual Rudolph County Christmas is always held downtown on the second Saturday of December. This year it begins on Dec. 10 from 9:30 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. The event features a live nativity, Belgian horse and wagon rides, cookie decorating, storytelling, dog sled weight pulls, craft sale, train rides, silent auction, live music, children's activities, Christmas carolers, and a bonfire. The day ends with a lighted Christmas parade featuring Santa and his sleigh.
No matter the season, the citizens of tiny Rudolph carry on the tradition. The village like the red-nosed reindeer and the famed song, is now very much a part of America's Christmas celebration and...will go down in history.
For more information and a complete schedule of events visit, www.visitrudolphwi.org.