A visit from Santa

Various locations around town through the years.
Santa Claus is no stranger to these parts; he’s been making big appearances here since 1915. Before that, his appearances were more subtle, his presence felt without a big deal being made of it. In 1891, adults and children alike were invited to see Santa’s headquarters at The Fair, a store that once stood on the west side of Phillips Avenue where the Holiday Inn now stands. From this we can infer that, in the early days of our statehood, Saint Nick had run at least part of his operation here in South Dakota. He was no stranger to supply chain issues.
On December 13, 1915, the right jolly old elf had a letter printed in the Argus Leader. In it, he asked Captain J.George Barry of the Salvation Army to ready the children of Sioux Falls for his visit. He would arrive at the Illinois Central Depot on Wednesday, December 15 at 5 p.m., bringing candy for all the good boys and girls. His post script asked Captain Barry to bring a car to meet him, as he was getting very old.

Hundreds of children were in attendance at the Illinois Central depot awaiting a glimpse of the man himself, and maybe get a handful of the promised candy. Santa arrived in a specially-decorated train car, pulled by a specially-decorated engine and, to the consternation of many a tender young heart, quickly hopped down and into Barry’s awaiting car. Santa was a busy man, and likely had to attend to some holiday emergency. The children were assured that they’d probably see him on the streets of Sioux Falls as he bustled about, collecting for the Salvation Army. Truth be told, the Salvation Army, that put on the appearance, didn’t realize there’d be such a huge turnout.
The Illinois Central Depot as it looked in 2005, 90 years after Santa disappointed the masses of awaiting children (1997 Civic for scale).
From then on, Santa would make annual appearances in town, sometimes showing up at the Bee Hive, later at Shriver’s, then at Sears, Johnson Hardware, Fantle’s and even at First Bank at 33rd and Minnesota.
On December 14, 1957 he gave his reindeer a day off and arrived on the rooftop parking lot of Northwest National Bank at the southwest corner of 9th Street and Main Avenue. There he met some 4,000 eager children who held his attention for the next 3 1/2 hours. He was able to make his escape at 4 PM, though not via whirlybird. Though still a very busy man, his staff was able to let him get away to meet the children who most delight in the bright lights and wonder of the season.
December 5, 1970, he was to make his most amazing appearance to date: After parachuting into Spellerburg Park, he would arrive across the street at Park Ridge Shopping Center. Again, candy was promised, but this time also music. The music would be at the Coliseum. The annual children’s concert by the Sioux Falls Symphony Orchestra would be performed, and teacher Norm Soyland would do a narration of Peter and the Wolf.

When the day came, Santa’s people wouldn’t let him parachute into the park. Despite his protests, cooler minds prevailed. The man was 1,690 years old at the time and the weather was not cooperating. The 16 degree temperatures and 25 mile per hour winds made the reindeer skittish. Instead, Santa arrived at Park Ridge Shopping Center in a special bus, where he was immediately mobbed by children of all ages. Shortly after, he was escorted to the river parking ramp, where he handed out candy.
Saint Nick was finally able to chute in on November 29, 1980, shortly after the opening of the New Town Mall – currently the Empire East. The weather was with him this time as he glided in and landed lightly in the parking lot of the mall. The temperature was 35 and the winds were light. You couldn’t have asked for a more favorable beginning of the holiday season.