Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Santa Comes To Town

free_personalized_santa_claus_video_for_kidsSanta Claus has been making a grand entrance into Youngstown going back nearly a century, at least. I came across this item in A Heritage to Share: The Bicentennial History of Mahoning County and Youngstown, Ohio, from 1921:


    Evidence that the characters in the Santa Claus scene have undergone change over the years is found in the fact that on December 12th, a number of Santa’s surrogates arrived via the Erie Railroad to prepare the way for the later arrival of the jolly old gentleman himself. Chris Claus, brother of Santa, and “Toofy”, his companion, whose job it was to look after Santa Claus’s mail during the rush hours, came in via railroad because ‘they ran out of snow about 200 miles north of here and were compelled to forsake the reindeer and dog teams.’ Some 200 children met the pair at the railroad station and escorted them to the George L. Fordyce Store where Santa maintained local headquarters until Christmas. There were so many adults in the crowd, pushing and shoving to get their children’s letters into the hands of Santa Claus that the reception committee was lost in the crowd and the ropes that were intended to hold back the crowd proved utterly ineffective. In regard to the effect of the Santa Claus traditon upon children, Superintendent of Schools O. L. Reid said it should be encouraged. ‘Whatever tends to develop or prolong imagination is well worth while’, he told members of the Sunday School Institute at Central Christian Church” (p. 241).

With air travel and the opening of the Youngstown Municipal Airport, I’ve read a number of accounts of Santa arriving from the air in the 1940’s. Until the 1980’s, Santa’s arrival was heralded in the Strouss’ Thanksgiving Day parade in downtown Youngstown. Santa also made a big arrival at Hills Department Store, landing in a helicopter. Many of the stores (Hills, Strouss and McKelvey’s) had some version of Christmas land with the chance for children to sit on Santa’s lap, have their pictures taken with him, and tell him all the things they wanted for Christmas.

I don’t remember ever going to the airport or the parade or visiting a department store Santa. I do remember a Christmas party held for families of lodge members at my dad’s lodge where we got to sit with Santa and went home with a stocking full of goodies.

The tradition continues. Santa will be visiting Mill Creek MetroParks this weekend. Today (November 28, 2015) children can give Santa their wish list from 11 AM to 5 PM at the Old Fashioned Christmas at Lanterman’s Mill. Tomorrow (November 29, 2015), Santa will make his appearance from 11 AM to 2 PM with some unusual animal friends like camels, yaks and reindeer at Santa’s Winter Barn at the Metroparks Farm. Since the barn is not heated, dress for the weather!

Then on Friday December 4, Santa will be part of the Youngstown Holiday Parade and Tree Lighting in downtown Youngstown. Festivities begin at 4:30, the parade starts at 5:30 and the tree-lighting is at 6:30. This year’s Grand Marshal for the parade is Sister Jerome Corcoran, who is nearly 100 years old.  According to the article Santa’s arrival will coincide with the tree-lighting and kids can get their pictures with Santa afterwards.

I’m glad this long tradition is continuing. I’m with that former Superintendent in thinking that “whatever tends to develop or prolong imagination is well worth while.”

What are your memories of Santa’s arrival?


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