My husband, Hansford H. Rowe and I have been residents of Santa Clarita for over 20 years. Christmas, brings back memories when he was Santa Claus for eleven years in Richmond, Virginia from 1955 through 1966. T.G. Light, the Santa Claus before him, was said to be the highest paid Santa in the country. True enough, when he took over from T.G. Light, he got paid $2,500 as Santa Claus for a period of one month. Hansford got paid the same amount for the whole year he worked as Theatre Manager for the Virginia Museum. At that time it was a huge amount of money.
Hansford was hired as Santa Claus by the department store, Miller and Rhoads. The manager then brought Hansford for an overnight train trip to New York to purchase a Santa outfit. He was fitted with a big, red coat with white fur, a wig and a beard from a famous wig maker, a wide leather belt and floppy, leather boots up to his knees.
Miller and Rhoads built a stage with a chimney on the fifth floor of their store. There were no escalators then and people rode elevators. Everyday people were lined up for two hours or more in a maze-like line, but all the while, the stage with Santa Claus was in view. People then said that there were a lot of Santa Claus’, but the real one was at Miller and Rhoads. The department store made money from the pictures taken with Santa and the toys purchased at the store.
Santa Claus made his entrance by sliding down from a pole inside the fireplace, feet first. When he emerged, he would have his finger beside his nose and greet the crowd. The Snow Queen sat right below the stage and asked the kids in line what their names were and what they wanted. When the kids’ turn came up for them to go up the stage, Santa called them by their names and asked them to sit on his lap. The children were delighted that Santa knew their names, not knowing that there was a wire to Santa’s ear allowing him to hear the Snow Queen as she talked to each child.
He tried to make the children talk about themselves. They said the cutest things, Hansford said. Sometimes he would see them with scratches on their arms and Santa would say, “How’s your cat?”
They would beam up at him and smile saying, “You know we have a cat, Santa?” The kids would always have a parent, a brother or a sister with them and heard when the children said they wanted dolls, bikes or a popular toy.
Once when he saw a boy with a crusty white thumb, Santa said, “Do you think you can stop sucking your thumb?” The boy replied, “Yeah, I’ll do that.”
When Santa had his time off, he rose from his chair, walked over to the fireplace and went up the chimney. He explained that he had to check on his reindeer up on the roof.
Hansford said the children were adorable. However, they often looked up to him as he talked and with starry eyes coughed or sneeze straight onto his face and all through his beard. He said he always got sick that time of the year.
When he moved to New York City to become a full time actor, Hansford asked his brother Dan to take over. He gave his Santa Claus outfit, complete with boots, to his brother Dan who kept the job for 51 years. Both brothers are now in their nineties.