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Christmas 1959: Inside the downtown 'Santa Hut'

Dec 24, 2013 - From staff reports

A Ranger Christmas Eve tradition is continued below with the reprinting of a piece of seasonal coverage from the past.

In 1959, Riverton children enjoyed the "Santa Hut" placed by the Riverton Chamber of Commerce at the intersection of East Main and North Broadway.

Chamber director Ray Rostron established weekday hours of 3- 5 p.m. in December, longer on Saturdays. There was a small heater in the hut. Each visiting child got a candy cane from Santa.

For The Ranger Christmas Edition, a reporter and photographer accompanied the stand-in Santa to the hut one afternoon, taking notes and shooting photographs as Rostron helped Santa get dressed for the two-hour afternoon shift.

That story and two of the pictures are reprinted here, having been published originally on Dec. 24, 1959:

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At 2:30 each afternoon, a Riverton man with a job and an office leaves that office it goes down to the corner of Main and Broadway. He steps up to the Santa Claus Hut and, with a furtive glance either way, opens the door and goes in.

In the next 20 minutes, the most universal and popular myth of all times, and one of the longest-lived, will take shape. With camera in hand, the Ranger went along one day last week to record the transformation.

First step: Santa Claus reluctantly put away the "stump of a pipe he held fast in his teeth as the last wisp of smoke that encircled his face like a race wreath" drifted away.

"I don't know," he explains. "I'm just afraid if I ever got a coal in my whiskers -- whoosh!"

Santa, who had been going about the streets disguised in a tweet sport coat and hand-painted tie, next pulled on his bright red uniform and black, shiny boots. He held his whiskers high in the air while Ray Rostron, who had arranged have the Santa Claus placed at a convenient spot, buttoned the top of his coat.

By the time it was 3 o'clock, Santa took a seat beside his box of candy canes, and the children began to come through.

In the next two hours, Santa encountered expressions of wonder, fear, awe and disbelief. In a moment of vanity, Santa boasted, "I know what every child in town wants for Christmas."

Of the young skeptics, Santa said with a wan smile, "How can they tell me I don't exist right to my face? Don't they believe their eyes?"

Santa's identity is seldom questioned. "I had a close call with my landlord's children, though," he says.

At 5 o'clock, the door to the Santa Claus Hut is locked. The jolly old man breathes a sigh and reaches for his pipe, remembers his inflammable whiskers.

"Know what I want for Christmas?" He says. "A long-handled pipe. They are safer."

Through his guaranteed permanent grin he says, "I guess I'll have to write a letter to Santa Claus."

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