Iceman Cometh - Every Christmas Magically, He Makes Snow With The Push Of A Button

Posted: May 11, 1993

Never does a year go by that little Kelly Ann McGinty doesn't have a white Christmas. Wakes up on Christmas morning and the lawn in front of her South Philadelphia home is covered with snow. Been that way going on eight years now.

It's not because her daddy's a magician, either.

It's because he's a snowman.

The snowman.

"Want snow? See Jim McGinty," is the word around town.

James Henry McGinty Jr., 38, can make snow appear with the push of a button.

Can also make women disappear with the snap of a finger. Can saw them in half and make them float, too.

But it's the pair of snow-making contraptions in his South Philadelphia ice house that has gained McGinty the reputation as the man to see if you want to make a Christmas-in-July fur commercial, holiday flakes in September, or a variety of other unseasonable snowfalls.

As far as McGinty knows, no one around these parts - except for maybe Mother Nature - does it better.

McGinty's been involved with magic for almost five years. His days with ice and snow go back a lot longer - back to high school, when he pushed a cart around the summer streets of South Philadelphia selling water ice.

"My father bought a horse stable on Newkirk Street and converted it into a water-ice stand," McGinty said. "In the summer I'd take a pushcart and go around the neighborhood selling water ice. At Christmas, I hustled Christmas trees."

James Henry McGinty Sr. worked on the railroad by night and at the water- ice stand by day.

He was a man with 20-20 foresight.

More than 30 years ago, he had a vision of what is today one of the city's most common sights, the corner hot-dog vendor.

One day back in the mid 60's, McGinty and his wife, Marie, packed the four kids into the car and took a ride to New York.

"We saw a guy on a street corner selling hot dogs from a push cart," recalled Marie McGinty. "I think they were 50 cents. We'd never seen anything like that. My husband thought it was a great idea."

A few months later, the father bought a brand-new pushcart from a company in upstate New York for $800. It was stainless steel with wooden wheels. Wooden spokes, too.

His menu would be small. Hot dogs, hot sausages and sodas.

First he needed a vendor's license. But when he went to City Hall to get it, McGinty ran into problems.

Up to that point, explained the younger McGinty, the only food sold from carts was water ice and pretzels. There also was prepared food such as sandwiches from lunch trucks.

"But there was never any cooking done on the street," he said.

And because there wasn't, there was no code or ordinances to control such a setup. So City Hall started making a list of regulations. Deep sinks, hot and cold running water, refrigeration, a soap dish, paper towels . . .

"Everything they wanted, my father did," said McGinty.

Finally, after six months, James H. McGinty Sr. sold his first hot dog. It was at a construction site on Packer Avenue.

After a while, McGinty expanded. After working the morning and afternoon shifts on Packer Avenue, he pushed his cart to a nearby factory to catch the evening shift.

Again, he ran into a problem.

"He needed more ice, but he couldn't get it at that time of the day," said his son. "So he decided to make his own."

Thus began the Ice Age for the McGinty clan.

It wasn't long before the business snowballed.

Today, the family runs Jim's Enterprises, one of the biggest - if not the biggest - ice houses in the city, distributing about 20,000 pounds of ice a day to bars, clubs, hospitals, restaurants, vendors, even the hot-dog guy on the corner.

In addition to his ice operation, McGinty's cart fleet grew to a dozen. He even had a few trucks. Except for one small truck that "for sentimental reasons" still works the spot where it all started on Packer Avenue almost 25 years ago, the family chucked the vending business a while back.

The original cart is cemented into the yard of Marie McGinty's vacation home in Wildwood. Sometimes it's a planter, sometimes a barbecue. It's always a reminder.

Jim McGinty Sr. died of a heart attack 10 years ago. He was 51. The death of his father got the younger McGinty to thinking about how he didn't want to spend the rest of his life lifting 50-pound bags of ice.

So he turned to magic, an avocation he hopes to someday turn into an occupation. He pulls silks from nowhere, candles from somewhere, and makes woman disappear to who knows where.

And once a year, he makes snow appear.

It's a family tradition that started seven Christmas Eves ago, when then 3- year-old Kelly Ann McGinty went to bed with visions of waking up to snow on Christmas morning.

Not one to stomp on a youngster's dream, Jim McGinty hustled down to his ice house at two o'clock on Christmas morning and whipped up a batch of snow.

The next morning, there were two tons of snow all over the family's front lawn. It's been like that every Christmas since.

And it's not because her dad's a magician, either.

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