Burl Ives was a singer/songwriter and an Academy Award-winning actor, but he will forever be known “Sam the Snowman” from the Holiday classic “Rudolph, the Red-nosed Reindeer.” Today, on Globetrotting Grandpa we explore Ive’s hometown and final resting place of Newton, Illinois. 


Burl Ives was born on June 14, 1909, in Hunt City an unincorporated town near Newton Illinois. Newton is in the center part of the state about a two-hour drive from St. Louis. In his early days, Ives would make extra money singing and playing the guitar and banjo. A graduate of the prestigious Julliard Academy in New York City, Ives was a gifted actor and singer. He had a successful career as a folk singer among his best-loved recordings were “The Blue Tail Fly” (Jimmy Crack Corn) and ” A little Bitty Tear.”

As an actor, he won an Oscar for best-supporting Actor in the film “The Big Country,” but all this pales to his role in the 1964 Christmas classic “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” where he played the voice over for the character “Sam the Snowman.” Ives’ character served as the narrator to the story and featured two standout songs “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas” and “Silver and Gold.” The show has been rebroadcast every Christmas since 1965 and is an enduring legacy in the holiday memories of several generations. Ives died of cancer in 1995 at the age of 85 and is buried just east of Newton. The town honors Ives with a lovely statue near the city’s library.


Ive’s big smile and warm spirit are conveyed through the statue-makers work.  Visitors often sit next to the statue and get a selfie with the singer.


Ive’s gravesite is located on a hill outside of town and has a very nice headstone.


The City of Newton is located near I-70 in central Illinois. The statue is downtown and the grave is east of the city in the town cemetery. The place is worth a visit for anyone who fondly remembers Ives and his many wonderful songs and the jolly Sam the snowman.

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