The Legend of Whittles, Knott’s Berry Farm’s Forgotten Icon

As part of being a Knott’s Berry Farm Ambassador, I am tasked with writing posts for the Knott’s Berry Blog. Last week my first blog post for them was published, which was an overall history of the Farm. While you can read the whole post here, today I wanted to take a moment to expand upon one of my favorite nuggets from Knott’s Berry Farm’s past, Whittles, the happy miner ’49 who just didn’t quite work out.

If you’re been reading the blog for awhile, or are familiar with Knott’s Berry Farm, then you know that Snoopy, and the rest of the Peanuts Gang, represent Knott’s Berry Farm, and are present at the Farm through walk-around characters, akin to Mickey Mouse and friends at Disneyland. However, Snoopy, Charlie Brown and the others haven’t always represented Knott’s, and how they came to arrive at the Farm begins all the way back in 1960.

In 1960, the little berry farm turned theme park introduced a new employee handbook, and wanted a friendly character who could represent the Farm on the cover and throughout the book. The task was given to illustrator Pete Winters of Orange’s Paul Mitchell Advertising Agency.

A black and white photo of a young man seated at a drawing table.

Pete Winters, as photographed for the Knotty Post, Knott’s Berry Farm’s employee newsletter.
Photo courtesy of the Orange County Archives

Knott’s wanted someone who would “represent the atmosphere of the Berry Farm” and said that “the character had to be western with a lovable personality. He had to be a happy character whose appearance fairly well shouted ‘Welcome!’.” The result was a smiling old prospector simply known as “The Old Timer.” With a white beard, plaid shirt, and a burro companion named Joe, “The Old Timer” was indeed pretty cute and friendly.

The Employee Handbook, which features a woodgrain background, and the "Old Timer" with a white beard, black hat, check shirt, black vest, brown pants, and black boots, waving, and holding a pick ax. A donkey stands next to him. Black text at the top reads "Howdy Pardner"

Photo courtesy of jericl flickr

Eventually “The Old Timer” began to appear on more than just employee paperwork, including ticket books, park signage (including topping off the entrance to the park), newspaper advertising, and more.

A collage featuring a map and various ticket books with the "Old Timer" on them.

Entrance to Knott's Berry Farm, which features the "Old Timer" at the top of the sign.

Photo courtesy of the Orange County Archives

In spring of 1973 the Farm decided to turn “The Old Timer” into a walk-around character and named him Whittles. Whittles’ arrival was announced in The Knotty Post, the employee newsletter at the time, and even featured him on the cover. The neck-less, short torso’ed miner donned a massive black hat, plaid shirt, yellow vest, blue trousers, cowboy boots, and a massive button reading “My Name is…Whittles.”

The cover of The Knotty Post, Spring 1973. An awkwardly proportioned old miner in the form of a fuzzy mascot costume, he has a white beard, black hat, plaid shirt with yellow vest, and blue jeans. He wears a button reading "My name is...Whittles'"

Photo courtesy of the Orange County Archives

An awkwardly proportioned old miner in the form of a fuzzy mascot costume, he has a white beard, black hat, plaid shirt with yellow vest, and blue jeans. He wears a button reading "My name is...Whittles'" rides a donkey

Photo courtesy of the Orange County Archives

An awkwardly proportioned old miner in the form of a fuzzy mascot costume, he has a white beard, black hat, plaid shirt with yellow vest, and blue jeans. He wears a button reading "My name is...Whittles'" stands at the Ghost Town Shooting Gallery.

Photo courtesy of the Orange County Archives

While Whittles may have looked like an old prospector who had spent his time panning for gold, he was first portrayed by a young woman, Diana Kerchen, now Kelly. Awkwardly proportioned, Whittles was simply better suited to the page, even after a costume redesign, Whittles failed to capture the hearts of children, “It didn’t work out…He scared the children,” Russell Knott, Walter Knott’s son, reflected.

An awkwardly proportioned old miner in the form of a fuzzy mascot costume, he has a white beard, black hat, plaid shirt with yellow vest, and blue jeans. He wears a button reading "My name is...Whittles'" stands next to a child.

Photo courtesy of the Orange County Archives

It’s unclear just exactly when Whittles in 3-D rode off into the sunset, but the misstep didn’t end the Farm’s desire for an icon and walk-around character and they decided that maybe they should try to secure an already established, well-known, family-friendly icon.

Ron Mizaker was the man tasked with finding and securing the new icon and, and narrowed it down to a handful of possibilities, including Snoopy and company. As the characters from Charles M. Schulz’s comic strip Peanuts were already doing work for Met Life and others, Mizaker knew there was a possibility for them to represent an amusement park. Mizaker met with Schulz up in Santa Rosa, and midway through their meeting, Schulz said he needed to go to his daughter’s ice skating rehearsal at the ice rink across the street that the Schulz family owned. Schulz invited Mizaker to join him. While the pair watched Schulz’ daughter take to the ice, Mizaker informed Schulz that located within the stage of the Farm’s Good Time Theatre there was an ice rink, “Wouldn’t it be great if we did an ice show with Snoopy?” Schulz liked the idea and asked “Could my daughter be Snoopy?” Mizaker said they could work that out and that became the foundation of the deal to have the Peanuts gang join the Farm. Soon Snoopy, Charlie Brown, and more were walking around the Farm, had merchandise, and, just as Mizaker suggested, there were Peanuts themed ice shows, which continue to this day.

On July 1, 1983, the Peanuts gang received their very own area at the Farm, called Camp Snoopy. With a high Sierras feel, Camp Snoopy blended in well with the other California themed areas of the Farm, and offered a plethora of rides just for the kiddies. Immensely successful, Camp Snoopy has been expanded and received upgrades over the years, and more recently the Peanuts gang have expanded their presence in the park with Peanuts Celebration, which takes place near the beginning of each year.

While no longer a walk around character, thanks to creatives at the Farm, Whittles can still be spied here and there at the park with his face appearing on a handful of items, ensuring that his legacy lives on.

Sources
Jepsen, Chris. “Knott’s Berry Farm’s Whittles.” O.C. History Roundup. 21 March 2009. Accessed 4 April 2020.
The Knotty Post. July-August 1960. Print.
The Knotty Post
. Spring 1973. Print.
Merritt, Christopher and Lynxwiler, J. Eric., Knott’s Preserved. Santa Monica, Angel City Press, 2015. Print

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