Imagine that. The wheels of the school bus come to a screeching halt. The sound of feet stomping down the aisle. The door swings open to free you from the day’s events.
When you enter your home, grab a nutritious snack, possibly some milk and biscuits. Then settle in, turn on the TV for some healthy entertainment, and join your friends Casey and Finnegan in the childhood favorite, Mr. Dressup.
Originally from Lewiston, Maine, Ernie Coombs became an icon here in Canada during his time as Mr. Dressup. As they welcomed Mr. Dressup into their home, it became clear that it wasn’t about non-stop action, flashy graphics, or loud noises to attract attention. Mr. Dressup actively engaged his viewers in activities to inspire thought, creativity and personal growth.
Although Mr. Dressup educated and entertained children on the small screen, Ernie Coombs did touring shows in many locations including Sault Ste. Marie several times.
In May 1973, Hadassah’s Samuel Kleiman Chapter organized performances by the beloved icon at three schools, including Anna McCrea, known as St. Bernadette, and HM Robbins. Of these, “twelve hundred youth and parents thronged into the classrooms of the three schools” (Sault Star, May 10, 1973).
In his performances, Mr. Dressup proved to be a versatile performer who “[was] a clown, a pirate, a magician, a pantomime… in short, tremendously exciting for children” (Sault Star, May 10, 1973), declared one of the organizers. Having received so much praise for Ernie Coombs, it is no wonder that Ernie Coombs and his “repertoire of characters, songs and stories created from his Tickle Trunk” (Sault Star, April 27, 1973) have grown over the years repeatedly invited to numerous events followed.
Two of the characters that wowed viewers, both on the television show and at the live events, were the aforementioned Casey and Finnegan. So much so that the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) arranged a farewell tour in the spring of 1991, including a stop at Korah Collegiate on April 7, 1991.
For many, Casey and Finnegan were synonymous with Mr. Dressup as they were the mainstays of the program. As difficult as it was for viewers to see her go, after welcoming her into their lives, Casey and Finnegan made way for a new group of friends, including “Chester the Crow, Truffles, and Annie and Grannie” ( March 12, 1991). . Despite her popularity, her creator and the voice of Casey, Judith Lawrence, decided to retire from the show to focus on other pursuits.
Between shows at the Korah Collegiate, Mr. Coombs, a accomplished family man, compared Casey and Finnegan’s retirement to that of his own children.
“I’ve been through this with my own kids and now I’m going through it with Casey and Finnegan. At some point you have to untie the knot,” he said. (April 8, 1991, Sault Star).
It was clear that Mr. Dressup viewed these characters and the situation as a rite of passage. Coombs was excited to explore the possibilities with the new generation of personalities, while Casey, Finnegan and Ms. Lawrence got to do the same.
Ernie Coombs was just as genuine and reveling in his opportunity to entertain children over the years as his alter ego, Mr. Dressup.
“The kids are a wonderful audience. You’ve known me as a friend for many years,” he said. “When I’m in a strange city, I don’t have to worry about winning it over first” (May 12, 1980).
Mr. Coombs had a wonderful career as Mr. Dressup, entertaining children and parents alike for over two decades. Mr. Dressup was versatile, not only in the way he entertained his audience, but also in how he adapted to audience needs over time, which is what made him relevant for so long.
“Audience has changed over the years, but the same things make them happy,” he said. (May 12, 1980)
This speaks volumes about his character and why so many look back on their childhood Mr. remember dressup.
As it turns out, what really came out of that magical Tickle Trunk were happy memories. Thank you Mr Dressup!