A Town Named Santa Claus
Santa Claus, Indiana
Long before there were cars or vacations, there was Santa Claus, Indiana.
The town was originally called Santa Fe. When its citizens asked for a post office in 1856, they were told that Indiana already had a Santa Fe post office and that they would have to change their town's name. "They wanted to keep the Santa," said the curator at the Santa Claus Museum, "and all they could think of was Santa Claus." But that's not a very magical story, so a tale developed that the new-name debate took place on Christmas Eve, and that it was interrupted when a door blew open and sleigh bells could be heard on the wind. "It's Santa Claus!" cried a child, and the town decided that indeed it was.
Santa Claus remained that way for decades of peaceful obscurity. Then it was renamed Santaclause, perhaps to discourage kids from sending letters. But when James Martin took over as its postmaster, he realized that those letters were gold (the more mail that came through, the more money he was paid).
The U.S. Postal Service was somehow convinced to change the town's name back to Santa Claus in 1928 and to agree that it would be the only Santa Claus post office in the U.S. Robert Ripley then publicized Santa Claus as a Believe It Or Not! feature, and the mail poured in. The Postmaster General was furious and threatened to force yet another name change, but the public howled in protest and the threat was withdrawn. It was then announced that all letters to Santa -- which had previously been thrown away -- would now be routed to Santa Claus.
In 1935 two attractions arrived in Santa Claus to try and mine its Christmas gold: Santa Claus Town and arch-rival Santa Claus Park. Their owners succeeded only in destroying each other. In 1946 a new attraction opened, Santa Claus Land, which survived and is technically the oldest theme park in the world -- although its name is now Holiday World and it makes Santa share billing with Halloween, the 4th of July, and Thanksgiving.
The Santa Claus post office still earns its stripes at Christmastime, postmarking a half-million holiday cards and roughly 10,000 letters from children (Santa's zip is 47579, in case your kids ask). But the days when Santa could take the summer off are over, and Santa Claus has been slow to adjust to a world in which people want Christmas all year long.
The local motel, Santa's Lodge, features two 12-foot-tall newish fiberglass Santas on its lawn, and the towns fire trucks have been dubbed Rudolph, Dasher, and Blitzen. But two smartly named local businesses, Frosty's Pizza and Ho Ho Holdings, are gone. A housing community on the south side of town -- Christmas Lake Village -- is off-limits behind security gates. On the north side, Holiday Village has abandoned Santa altogether and has named its streets New Year's Eve, Ides Of March, and Robert E. Lee Day. Holiday World is closed on Christmas.
What town is this -- Santa Claus or Santa Fe? Diversity is nice, but not in a town named Santa Claus.