Friday, December 19, 2014

Santa House, 1954

Certainly among the most fondly recalled memories for many adults are childhood visits to Santa, when with list in hand and nerves steeled we went with firm resolve to inform the jolly old man of all our Christmas wants and desires.

For a number of years in the early 1950s, the Middleborough Retail Merchants’ Association sponsored a Santa Claus who had an established “office” in one of the Center Street storefronts and “visiting hours” during which children could pay him a call with their list of wishes for the coming year. Each year, Santa’s arrival was announced in the local Gazette and he arrived courtesy of the Middleborough Fire Department upon one of their engines, sirens blaring and lights flashing.

Speaking directly to the community’s children in 1953 regarding the arrival of Santa Claus that year, the Gazette reported: “The Middleboro retail Merchants Association is very pleased to announce that a committee quite some time ago contacted the North Pole, and made arrangements to have St. Nick come to Middleboro …. We are very fortunate, children, to have Santa coming to Middleboro because he is extremely rushed at this time of year, and it is being done with the kind cooperation and needed assistance of many local people.” Santa arrived that year by means of Ladder No. 1 to a workshop decorated by Middleborough High School art students.

The popularity of this community Santa (and the lack of an available vacant store front the following year) prompted the proposal for a separate headquarters for the gentleman from the North Pole which ultimately led to the creation of the Santa House in 1954.

Under the direction of Alton Kramer, the Merchants Association in conjunction with the shop class of Middleborough High School constructed a small house on the grounds of the Middleborough Post Office at Center and Union Streets. “The proper artistic scenes for Santa’s stay here shortly after Thanksgiving for a two week period [were] arranged by students of Miss Sylvia Matheson’s art classes.”

To add to the festive atmosphere in the downtown district, colored overhead lights and decorations were strung across Center Street as a joint project between the merchants and the schools.

Santa arrived at his new home on Friday, December 10, 1954, and his appearance was described in the pages of the Gazette. “Santa Claus arrived here Friday afternoon at 3.30. Heralded by a police car with siren wailing, the old gentleman was seated in a chair atop Engine 1. He was dressed in the traditional red outfit trimmed with ermine. His luxuriant white beard hung down to his belt as he waved to the crowds of children dashing along the sidewalks trying to keep pace with the fire engine. The engine came down South Main street and turned up Center. It stopped in front of the Post Office lawn, where Santa’s holiday home had been completed several hours before his arrival. He jumped down very spryly for a chubby old timer, and waded through a mob of screaming children.” The initial line of children wishing to visit extended down Center Street “for some distance.”

The 1954 event proved enormously popular and was repeated for a number of years afterward, with the Santa House being set up on the first Sunday in December by members of the Merchants Association. Although the 1955 season curiously was to have featured Santa arriving at the Santa House by helicopter, these plans “were cancelled on orders from Washington” which no doubt wisely objected to a helicopter landing on its post office grounds. Instead Santa arrived in the local traditional manner of a fire engine, the delight of the children no less diminished by the absence of the helicopter.

Typically, hours at the Santa House throughout the era were set for Friday and Saturday afternoons as well as evenings for children to visit. Though the Santa House was a popular holiday tradition, it quickly lapsed. In 1971, Clint Clark eulogized that “the Santa Claus quarters, we remembered, was little more than a flimsy structure. But the path led to ‘Santa’ and that made it as magical and grand as a dream castle to the hundred of youngsters who came to confide their Christmas hopes.”

Better yet to remember the Santa House from its earliest days, from a time when Center Street was packed wall-to-wall (or store-to-store) with retailers, when residents would come to shop, to dine and simply to meet one another. The account from December, 1954, recalls an era when downtown Middleborough remained the heart of the community at Christmastime.

“Most of the lights strung across the streets by high school students had already been turned on. The trees along the sidewalk opposite Santa’s home were also lighted. Store windows were gay with holiday trimming and crowds of shoppers moved along the sidewalks. From one store a loudspeaker had been rigged and Christmas carols as old as time boomed out at the traffic-filled street.

“Overhead it was gray and a cold drizzle came down on the people, but no one seemed to mind or notice very much.

 “The Christmas season had arrived in Middleboro.”

Merry Christmas.

Santa, J. C. Leyendecker. 


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