By Mark Bradley
If you don’t believe in Santa Claus, don’t read this story. Believe me when I tell you that there is a Santa Claus and it’s in southern Indiana. Get out your map and you’ll find it conveniently located just a few miles south of I-64, halfway between Evansville, Indiana and Louisville, Kentucky.
I visited this lovely little community in December for their annual “Christmas in Santa Claus Festival.” After checking into my spacious Jacuzzi suite at Santa’s Lodge, I took a quick spin through Kringle Place and past Holiday Foods where I found Santa Claus’ Post Office. Floods of letters to Santa from around the world arrive each day during Christmas season, and up to 10,000 a year are answered by Santa’s Elves.
Next-door to the Post Office I caught up with Head Elf Pat Koch who has set up shop in the brand new Santa Claus Museum.
“Children have been sending letters to our town for more than a century. Our records show that the first person to answer the letters was Santa Claus Postmaster James Martin in 1914. We’ve not missed a year since!” she proudly exclaimed.
But Santa Claus hasn’t always been known as Santa Claus.
In the 1840’s a group of German immigrants formed the town of Santa Fe, and in 1852 applied for the establishment of a post office. The residents found they would have to change the town’s name when the Postal Department informed them there was already a Santa Fe, Indiana.
So, why did they choose Santa Claus?
Local lore tells of a town meeting around a wood stove in a little log church on Christmas Eve in 1852. The residents were deliberating over what to name their community when a gust of winter wind blew the doors to the church open. Sleigh bells could be heard in the distance and the children started exclaiming it must be Santa Claus! So right then and there the residents decided to name the town Santa Claus.
The village of Santa Claus wasn’t incorporated until 1967, with a town board of three members and a clerk-treasurer. The population then was less than 50, although the town was not without visitors. The world’s first theme park, Santa Claus Land, opened in 1946 nine years before Walt Disney unveiled Disneyland in southern California. Today the park is known as Holiday World and Splashin’ Safari, a family theme park that includes, among many other things, unlimited free soft drinks for all. It is open May through October.
Today the town is comprised of over 2,200 permanent residents, many of whom live in the gated community known as Christmas Lake Village. It is here that the residents present their annual Festival of Lights featuring 14 miles of lighted homes, animated displays, costumed Christmas characters, plus a live nativity scene. After an hour and a half drive, I emerged with the spirit of Christmas and a twinkle in my eye.
Along with discovering that there really is a Santa Claus, I found other reasons to visit Spencer County. Being from the Land of Lincoln, I was pleasantly surprised to find the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial just 5 miles down the road from Santa Claus.
Seven-year-old Abraham and his family moved here in 1816 from Kentucky and farmed their homestead until 1830 when they moved to Illinois. In the Pioneer cemetery, the grave of Abe’s mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, can be found, and the Trail of Twelve Stones connects the homesite of Lincoln’s youth with her burial site and the visitor’s center.
The Trail of Twelve Stones is a half mile wooded walk that features twelve historic stones commemorating milestones in Lincoln’s life. For instance, a boulder was brought from the battlefield at Gettysburg that supported a platform where he delivered the Gettysburg Address. Another stone was part of the Old Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. where Lincoln gave his second inaugural address.
During the summer, living history interpreters inhabit the farmstead portraying the harsh realities of pioneer living. As I plodded through the quiet woods in ankle deep snow I reflected on what this humble Midwestern ploughboy had accomplished in his lifetime.
Located on SR 162 between Lincoln State Park and Santa Claus is the Buffalo Run Farm Grill & Gifts. Designed with the pioneer spirit in mind, it is a privately owned roadside attraction. Owners Kathleen and Michael Crews served me a tasty buffalo burger under the mistletoe in their cozy restaurant after I had experienced an Indiana frontier Christmas in their log cabin, which is rumored to have been slept in by Mr. Lincoln around 1830.
Buffalo Run is open year round and the live buffalo herd features a huge bull named Beast. A full line of bison, elk, and ostrich meat is available for purchase and educational farm tours are given up request.
For more information on the legendary places and faces of Spencer County, Indiana, call 1-888-444-9252 or www.LegendaryPlaces.org.