Hoosier History Live is an independently produced new media project about Indiana history, integrating podcasts, website, newsletter, and social media. Its original content comes initially from a live with call in weekly talk radio show hosted by author and historian Nelson Price. You can hear the show live Saturdays from noon to 1 pm ET at WICR 88.7 fm or stream the show live at the WICR HD1 app on your phone.

December 16, 2023

History of Santa Claus, Ind., and letters from around the world


Whether you have been naughty or nice during this yuletide season, have you wondered how a sleepy village founded in southwestern Indiana during the 1840s became the country's only town that has a post office with the Santa Claus name?

Hundreds of thousands of "Dear Santa'' letters from children around the world have been delivered to Santa Claus, Ind., since the early 1900s. And the Spencer County town (approximate pop.: 2,580) has become a tourist destination, with an internal, recreated historic village that includes a Santa Claus Museum, a church built in the 1880s and a towering Santa statue that weighs 40 tons.

To celebrate the season and its spirit, Hoosier History Live will explore the evolution of the unusual town (its original name was not Santa Claus) and the letters, which are answered by a joyful army of community volunteers known as "elves". They toil in the recreated historic village, which opened within the town in 2006.

More than 100 years before that, though, the mountains of children's letters began flowing in. The mail escalated after the popular "Ripley's Believe It or Not" column syndicated to newspapers across the country put a spotlight on Santa Claus, Ind., in 1930.

Our guide for the history of the town and the letters will be travel and food writer Jane Simon Ammeson, who is the co-author, with Patricia Yelling Koch, of the book "Santa's Daughter". Mrs. Koch, 92, is the founder of the Santa Claus Museum & Village; her father was a long-time, beloved civic leader who began portraying Santa during the 1940s.

That was at a theme park that opened after World War II called Santa Claus Land. Eventually, the theme park broadened its focus and is known today as Holiday World and Splashin' Safari. Spencer County also is the home of historic sites associated with the youth of Abraham Lincoln, who lived in the area from ages 7 to 21. In fact, our guest Jane Ammeson's other books include "Lincoln Road Trip" (Red Lightning Books); she was a guest on Hoosier History Live about Lincoln-related sites on a show in 2019.

According to Jane, the town of Santa Claus was named Santa Fe (locals pronounced it "Fee") when it was laid out in 1846. When the town sought to establish a post office, the request was denied because another Indiana community named Santa Fe had started elsewhere. Tasked with coming up with a new name, townsfolk sat around a pot-bellied stove on Christmas Eve in 1855 and brainstormed, according to folklore. Jane will share further details during our show.

She also will describe how the children's letters to Saint Nick are handled. Beginning in the 1920s, the town's postmaster answered the mail. That eventually became unfeasible with the increasing volume. In addition to being sent from across the United States, letters have been mailed by children in Germany, Japan, France and elsewhere overseas, according to the Santa Claus Museum.

In 1976, Mrs. Koch and other civic leaders in Santa Claus organized the "elves" to handle the letters. Decades later, she founded the Santa Claus Museum & Village to save some of the town's historic buildings, including the original post office. The historic structures also include a wood church, was built in 1800 and originally was called the German Evangelical St. Paul's Church. With a steeple that makes it 70 feet tall, the church is open for tours and has a wooden pump organ and a cast-iron, pot-bellied stove.

The village also includes the statue of Santa, which is 22 feet tall. Built in 1935, it was dedicated to "the children of the world".

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Your contributions help keep Hoosier History Live on the air, on the web, in your inbox, and in our ARCHIVES!

 

New show podcasts are up!

November 11, 2023- Bygone landmarks in Indy Click here for podcast.

For a complete list of show podcasts and show enewsletters, please go to ARCHIVES on our website.

 

Roadtrip: Herr Log Cabin in Lebanon Memorial Park

Guest Roadtripper Bonnie Carter, who is a member of the Indiana Historical Society Board and continues to pursue her interest in Indiana and Boone County history, suggests a Roadtrip to the 1839 Herr Log cabin in Memorial Park in Lebanon, Indiana. Lebanon is just northwest of Indianapolis in Boone County.

Bonnie tells us that "A series of early 1800 treaties established much of central Indiana as land available to early Indiana Territory settlers. Boone County was established in 1830, and farmers were excited for new markets for their crops and livestock. Roads existed but were challenging. In 1851, the railroad coming from Lafayette to Lebanon was a big plus for farmers.  

The Herr family has been farming in Boone County for six generations. Benjamin and Abigail Herr bought an 1839-built log cabin and 160 acres in Perry Township and used it as their home. Members of the family later built and moved to a white frame house just north of the cabin. The last Herrs to live in the cabin were Charley Herr and family.

The Herr family had also established Herr Grain Elevator in 1917. Herr Station is the site of still-operating Kern, Kirtley and Herr Grain Elevator.

Later the Herr family donated the cabin to the James Hill Chapter of the DAR. The Herr Log Cabin was also moved to Memorial Park and is available for rent for special events. It also has been renovated inside and out!"

Bonnie also recommends Erin Dulhanty Herr's book "The Cabin", which acquaints readers with Indiana farm life in the late 1800s. Happy Roadtripping!

 

Future Prospects for 2024

Coming in 2024, Hoosier History Live REMASTERED! Our 2008 through 2023 shows in an exciting new format! All online, all free, and all structured in a way that's easy for all to find! AND formatting for prx.org, an online distribution service for public radio shows. You KNOW the huge amount of work that has been going into creating these shows over the last fifteen years. (Or perhaps you don't know!) Producer Molly Head says she had been experiencing "burn out" for many years in being responsible for juggling all the aspects of keeping the local media project going.  She says it makes sense for her to focus her marketing and management skills on what is actually our most valuable asset. Our online material! "Plus, no one can mess with that! It is ours!"  

In 2024, host Nelson Price will continue to do a live show in the same WICR timeslot. But we really hope you continue to support us. We think that we are doing the right thing!

 

HHL Producer at Author Fair

Producer Molly Head promotes HHL REMASTERED at the Indiana History Center Holiday Author Fair on December 2. REMASTERED will focus greater distribution and awareness of all the excellent material Hoosier History Live has created over the years. "I just couldn’t do it all anymore. I think this is the best use of my time and energy" says Molly.


 

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Podcast listening, and Hoosier History Live copyright policies

We still do a live radio show every Saturday from noon to one broadcasting on WICR 88.7, but more and more of our listeners are listening to our podcasts, which are basically audio copies of our live shows. Our website is www.hoosierhistorylive.org, and you can sign up at our website to get our free weekly newsletter.

At the top of our newsletter and website we put notice, and links, to our newly published podcasts. We also provide a link to ARCHIVES, which is a list of our past enewsletters and published podcasts.

If you have a preferred podcast provider like Apple Podcasts or Spotify, you can use their search function to call up Hoosier History Live as well. Look for the yellow Hoosier History Live logo.

We copyright our work, and we have a crew of very talented people putting it together. But we WANT you to share it! We believe that learning should be accessible to everyone! You are welcome to copy, link to, or forward any of our Hoosier History Live material. Just please do not edit it! Our underwriter logos and voiced credits are on our material; and these underwriters make our work possible. 

 

We'd like to thank the following recent individual contributors who make this show possible. For a full list of contributors over the years, visit  Support the Show on our website.

  • Joseph Nield, in memory of history teacher John Michael Glover
  • John and Flo Stanton
  • Susan Life and Mark Ostendorf
  • Dave and Theresa Berghoff
  • Joseph B. Young III
  • Tom Cochrun
  • Norma Erickson
  • Marion Wolen
  • Jane Ammeson
  • Kathleen Angelone
  • Bruce and Julie Buchanan
  • Mark Ruschman
  • Robin Winston

Molly Head, executive producer (317) 506-7164 
Nelson Price, host and historian
Corene Nickel, web designer and tech manager

Richard Sullivan and Ryan DeRome, tech consultants
Cheryl Lamb, administrative manager
Pam Fraizer, graphic designer


www.hoosierhistorylive.org

Please tell our sponsors that you appreciate their support!

Facebook logo links to the Hoosier History Live! page.Acknowledgements to WICR-FM, Fraizer Designs, Monomedia, Henri Pensis, Maddie Fisher, Austin Cook, and many other individuals and organizations. We are independently produced and are self-supporting through organizational sponsorship and through individual contribution, either online at our yellow button on our newsletter or website, or by U.S. mail. For organizational sponsorship, which includes logos, links, and voiced credits in our podcasts and in our show, please contact Molly Head at (317) 506-7164 or email her at molly@hoosierhistorylive.org.

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Your contributions help keep Hoosier History Live on the air, on the web, in your inbox, and in our ARCHIVES!

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