Shocking stories have emerged over the last century that question whether Santa Claus should be the icon of the Christmas season. History is littered with tragic and appalling controversies, but there was one Santa whose actions did allow the fat man in a red suit to be a hero.
In Melbourne, Victoria, at a musical in 1912, a match set fire to Santa’s beard. It happened in a crowded building and panic ensued. No one was seriously hurt, but a number of women were crushed in a stampede for the exits.
Again in Melbourne in 1922, Santa was arrested after he was caught accepting money from parents at a Melbourne department store. For that he spent seven days in gaol.
In 1954 at Hopetoun in the Victorian Mallee, Santa was seriously burned when his cigarette fell into the loose padded folds of his suit and caught fire. He was admitted to hospital with second degree burns to his arms, legs, chest and neck.
In New York in America that same year, Santa was arrested on a street corner after he started singing a bawdy version of “Santa Baby”. A huge crowd gathered around him, and he only stopped singing to abuse passers-by for not donating to his charity.
It was also in America in 1937 when tragedy struck when Santa drowned as he tried to parachute into a children’s party. Santa was being represented on this occasion by US Army corporal Harold Kraner.
As Santa jumped from the plane, the parachute opened but a wind took him out over Boston Harbour where he landed in the water. The children were horrified as they watched. Santa got out of the parachute, but the weight of his red suit in the icy water proved too much and he drowned.
The tragedy didn’t end there because the search for Santa caused two more accidents – a search plane’s propeller scissored a car and the man inside, and two men who were searching for Santa had to be rescued from drowning after their dinghy overturned.
Then there’s the Great Santa Claus Fire of 1932 in Ipswich, Queensland.
It happened in the crowded hall of Ipswich’s Methodist Sunday School. A young boy went too close to the candles on the Christmas cake and he set fire to the Christmas decorations he was holding.
A dangerous situation quickly developed. Santa, seeing the danger he immediately rushed into action, but Santa’s beard then burst into flames. Pandemonium threatened.
Santa pulled off his red coat and used that to first smother his burning beard. He then used the coat to extinguish the flaming decorations. Santa managed to put out the fire before anything really serious developed. The Ipswich Methodists remained calm – unlike the ugly stampede in Melbourne twenty years earlier.
Santa had saved the boy and everyone in the crowded hall. Sadly, the Christmas celebrations came to an abrupt end.
It’s worth noting the identity of who was representing Santa because he really was a hero that night. It was twenty-year-old Eddie Raymond who lived in Limestone Street, Ipswich, not far from the church.
Like many people at the time, Eddie was struggling through the Great Depression but ultimately found work with the Railways. There’s no doubt that he added to the Santa legend in Ipswich that night.
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Santa headlines collage – my own from newspapers through history
US Army Corporal Harold J Kraner – Great Bend Tribune file photo
Edward Thomas Raymond – FamilySearch contributed by Betty Hartfiel 27 Sep 2016