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December 15, 2006
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Volume 34
Issue 50
 
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GREAT ADVENTURE TO THE NORTH, PART II - North Pole, AK: Home to Mr. and Mrs. Claus
GREAT ADVENTURE TO THE NORTH, PART II - North Pole, AK: Home to Mr. and Mrs. Claus
by Rev. Barbara Allen, CMP

It was a small Indian village before Santa emigrated there and set up shop. I'm not kidding, or taking poetic license, I lived there for two weeks this summer, visited with the Claus' family and helpers, dined well at the Elf's Den (and elsewhere), and visited their famous Post Office...yes, all real, and more!

Conrad Miller and his wife Nellie hitchhiked to the Fairbanks area after WW2 and re-opened an existing general store. When he came across a Santa costume in the back room, Con decided to put it on and bring Christmas gifts to children in nearby native settlements, including 12 Mile Village, so named because it was 12 miles from Ladd (now Fort Wainwright) Air Force Base. (There are numerous villages or settlements identified in the Arctic and Sub-Arctic areas by their distance from a well known city).

He was soon advised by a local merchant to set up a new store between the two military establishments: Ft. Wainwright and Eielson Air force base 26 miles out (then a cold weather testing station), and bought 80 acres from early homesteader and developer, Bon Davis.

After Con and Nellie had built their store a truckload of native boys from 12 Mile Village came to see what was happening, recognizing the man who had brought toys to their village dressed as Santa Claus. This wasn't difficult because Con, who joined the Navy at age 15, had tattoos from the end of his fingers all the way up his arms. He wore white gloves when costumed as Santa, but kids pulled on his tunic, and saw his unusual tattooing.

The boys asked Con why he was building a new house. He answered that he was building Santa Claus' house, and that Santa was moving to town, so they'd have to stop being naughty and start being nice. Nellie overheard, decided it was his greatest idea, and named the new store: "Santa Claus House". (Con had had his heart set on calling the place: "Con's General Store", but Nellie prevailed and a myth was born.) Conrad and Nellie Miller's Santa Claus House opened for business in 1951.

The Davis homestead area was so much colder than Fairbanks in winter (although only 10 air-miles away) that Fairbanks friends teased those who resided there about living with North Pole temperatures. Eventually the 22 local families "owned" the difference and the name by incorporating as: North Pole, AK, in 1964.

A team of North Pole men flew to the actual geographic north pole, bringing with them a wooden pole from their area, which they "planted" in the ice and snow for a short time, then dug out and brought it home. Since there were no trees or poles at the more northerly frozen geographic site, they could now boast having the real "north pole."

By 1959, when Alaska became a state, North Pole AK was a well established city.

Santa Claus House moved from its initial site on the Old Richardson Hwy. to the new Richardson Hwy, aka Hwy 2 after an electrical fire destroyed the original building, but continued to house the first City of North Pole U.S. post office. Conrad was postmaster, Fire Chief, and town Mayor for 18 years. Nel was the magistrate, marrying people in Santa Claus House, and conducting Traffic Court on the side to earn spending money.

Their youngest daughter was named: Mary Christmas Miller! Their two sons, Terry and Michael Miller became Alaska State Senators. Con and Nel were the first couple in US History to have two children from the same family, become presidents of their State Senate.

Conrad and Nellie, in costume at times, began traveling world wide as Mr. and Mrs. Claus, meeting people, having fun (drumming up business).

Con originated the Santa Claus letter, which continues on via Santa Claus House, with over one million sent so far. (See URL at end of article.) Any letter addressed to Santa Claus now however goes to the North Pole Post Office, (although previously such letters went to the store). The PO then distributes these letters to local non-profit organizations to read and perhaps send letters and gifts back.

SC House has about 125,000 visitors a year, including tour busses, and is likely the primary store location for anything relating to Christmas, the Claus myth, North Pole souvenirs, decorations, etc. In contrast to the original native beliefs of the area, this is modern entrepreneurial capitalist commercialism at its showiest.

There's a well maintained RV Park adjacent to the store and reindeer corral, open May through September, 85 sites, including 36 pull-throughs, all with full service including complimentary wi-fi. They plan to expand. My spot was on Prancer Lane. The guest shower facilities are private suites, each including a stall shower, sink, toilet, and mirror.

Con and Nellie, as well as their daughter, have since passed, but the Claus myth lives on, literally.

A small ancient Shasta brand trailer, with louvered windows, is situated adjacent to the RV park office building which also houses a coin Laundromat, showers. Long ago, these Shasta's, (named after snow capped Mt. Shasta in California), came from the factory with two wings, one on each side of the rear of the trailer. I can only guess that this was meant to infer that the trailer could metaphorically fly. When I learned that the Claus couple lived in that trailer, I "flashed" about the myth of a reindeer drawn sleigh flying through the air, which was as likely as the white aluminum sided trailer flying anywhere. A small American flag decorated the front of the unit.

I visited with the current Mr. and Mrs. Claus at their trailer and again at their throne in Santa Claus House. They're an elderly couple with RVs or equivalent residences in different parts of the country because they prudently migrate to warmer climates in fall, returning to North Pole in spring, enjoying a migratory career as Claus re-enactors throughout the year.

She makes their costumes, and sits at his right, knitting or crocheting while he presides from the throne, greeting visitors. (Potential job hazard: It's not always easy to have "children of all ages" shapes and sizes in your lap.)

The current Claus re-enactors are not Miller family relatives.

Their trailer is not air conditioned.

(I had my two RV roof air conditioners going almost full time while at North Pole!)

Though cooler inside Santa House, outside temperatures were in the 90's when I was there this summer. Contrast that to the immediate area's 72 degree below zero winter temperatures!

There are good places to dine in North Pole, including The Elf's Den, which had a fine all you can eat prime rib brunch on Sundays, and reasonably priced lunches week days, all including a great soup and salad bar. (The Gumbo is not to be missed, nor is their surprisingly authentic salsa fresca; steaks and fries are good too.) (There's a lounge or bar section I did not visit.)

The Elf's Den is on the opposite side of the highway from Santa land, adjacent to the North Pole Visitors Center which is an authentic old log building with sod roof staffed by friendly local ladies. (More about cabins, sod roofs, and Alaskan dining in future articles.)

Real, live, velvet antlered reindeer are available close-up in the Santa Claus House corral.

According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, while both male and female reindeer grow antlers in the summer each year, male reindeer drop their antlers at the beginning of winter, usually late November to mid-December. Female reindeer retain their antlers until after they give birth in the spring, as they feed and protect their young. Therefore, according to every historical rendition depicting Santa's antlered team, they're all females!

North Pole is located 14 miles southeast of Fairbanks on the Richardson Highway in the Tanana River Valley, 386 miles north of Anchorage, 2,347 miles north of Seattle, 140 miles south of the Arctic Circle. North Pole lies midway between Fort Wainwright Army Post and Eielson Air Force Base; 64 45' N Latitude, 147 21' W Longitude Section 09, T002E, Fairbanks Meridian.

Anyone can buy a square inch of North Pole AK at Santa Claus House for $7.50. The land is located in a city memorial park dedicated to Terry Miller.

For further information: www.santaclaushouse.com

Caution: Be aware that the City of North Pole is known locally as a fundamentalist, conservative, zone.

Blessings all, and blessed be,
Rev. Barbara Allen, CMP

Rev. Allen can be reached by email: spiritual.soul@verizon.net. Founded in 1985 to serve our community, C.U.L.(Church of Universal Love) is an omni-denominational Washington State non-profit, offering personalized ministerial services for groups and individuals including spiritual counseling, commitment, parting, forgiveness and memorial ceremonies, occasional focused Presentations, Workshops, Retreats, and Mediation (Alternative Dispute Resolution) services. Visit www.godislove.org for further information (website under delayed construction but some parts are available).

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