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P.T. Barnum, Snowbird & Me

In the late 1980’s in Nashville, Channel 4 started a winter weather report, called the Snowbird Report. It featured two puppet characters—Snowbird, a penguin and his snarky side-kick Myron, The Rat. After all, if you’re going to announce lousy weather…why not do it with loveable characters? One of the creators of this duo was Steve Pennington (Steve is still one of my very best friends). By the time I moved to Nashville in the fall of 1990, Snowbird was a middle-Tennessee television star. Steve and I first met that fall. He was an alumnus of the university that I was currently attending. For the television station to meet the demand of Snowbird’s popularity, a giant costume of the character was created that would make live appearances. And somebody had to get in it.

Being a college student who was young, small, and hungry, I was a perfect match. So, after learning how to put the thing on—and move around in the giant penguin costume—I was chosen to be one of the guys. (Remember, Snowbird at the time was a character who was only out in the winter. He’s a penguin after all.) So, when it came time to have Snowbird appear in the Nashville Christmas parade boat-float with Channel 4’s well-loved weatherman Bill Hall, I got the call. That was one Christmas parade I won’t ever forget; There I was in front of thousands of folks; waving, dancing, sweating, freezing and trying not fall off the boat. Literally.

Between appearances, I was to pick up and/drop off the costume at Pro Kids, Steve’s company who at the time was managing the appearance of the big bird. This allowed me to have the costume for a day or so before and after the gig. You can imagine the conversations as I went from the parking lot into the dorm with this MASSIVE bag, slung over my shoulder. I probably looked like an elf carrying Santa’s sack. “What’s in the giant bag, Humston?” “Nothin'”, I respond. “Well, actually it’s Snowbird.”  Blank stares.

Did I mention that I was an R.A. (Resident Assitant) in the men’s dorm? Part of my duties was a nightly “room check” to see if the guys, err, “men” were in their rooms by curfew. Not one to be bound by conformity, I tried to make this rather mundane responsibility, well, fun. So, we had balloon animal night (where I made balloon animals for the guys as I stopped to check on them) card trick night and other “themed” nights.  Wait! I’ve got a giant penguin costume in my room! So, of course, Snowbird did room check. There’s nothing like seeing a young man’s face when a famous giant penguin walks in his room. The laughter created that night is memorable more than twenty years later.

P.T. Barnum famously quipped, “The noblest art is that of making others happy.”

“The noblest art is that of making others happy.” P.T. Barnum Click To Tweet

Sometimes bringing wonder & happiness into people’s lives involves putting yourself in a 7′ penguin costume.

Sharing His Wonder,

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  1. loved this story. let me know if you need a life size buzz lightyear sometime. I’d love to team up with you. never too old to ham it up.

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