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Santa pays an early visit, poses for statue effort in Albion

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 18 November 2015 at 12:00 am

Photos by Tom Rivers

ALBION –  Santa stopped by Albion on Tuesday afternoon to pose in front of Hoag Library to help the Albion Betterment Committee get a sense of where the statue would best be located and how tall the statue should be.

The Betterment Committee wants to have a bronze statue in front of the library in honor of Charles Howard, who started a Santa Claus School in 1937 and developed a Christmas Park at the corner of Phipps Road and Route 31. He ran the school until his death in 1966. The school has been moved to Midland, Mich., and it still bears Howard’s name. (Click here for more on the school.)

One possibility for the project by the library would be to have a granite chair that people could sit in and be pictured with Santa. When Santa was posing at about 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Raymond Ryan and his family happened to be walking by. Raymond, 2, was willing to sit in the chair and seemed enthralled to see to Santa. (See top photo)

One issue to consider is the height of the statue. Should it be life size, about 6 feet high? However, that might look too small to passing motorists. Many of the statues I’ve seen in Western New York are 7 feet or more. If Santa was that big, would he overwhelm children, or maybe a big Santa would add to their sense of awe?

Many of the iconic images of Charlie Howard show him with his hands on hips. This photo was taken in 1965, Charlie’s last season as Santa.

When Albion hosted the Charles W. Howard Legendary Santa Claus Conference in April, the hands-on-hips image was used as the logo for the conference.

Santa is pictured with Joe Gehl, one of the directors of the Albion Betterment Committee. This Santa is about 6 feet.

The Committee is working to have renderings of the site to present to the Hoag Library Board of Trustees. Other issues to consider are how close the statue should be to the sidewalk or to the building.

If Santa is near the sidewalk, there could be more in the background, including lighted Christmas trees and maybe even a sleigh to the side.

This photo was taken across the street from the library in the parking lot of the Main Street Store (the former American Legion). It seems like a taller Santa definitely stands out.

The Committee would like to have an interpretive panel about Howard’s life as a toymaker, farmer and active community member, and another panel discussing Christmas Park in Albion and Howard’s role in shaping the look and behavior of Santas around the world.

Howard was in the charter class in 2010 that was inducted in the International Santa Claus Hall of Fame. (Click here for more information.)

Although Howard was his most iconic with his hands on hips, perhaps a waving Santa would better engage visitors and local residents, serving as a welcome to Main Street and the community.

I talked with some of the Santas during the April conference in Albion. They said a waving Santa tends to be the norm for Santa images, or the child on lap or sack over shoulder. Several of the Santas were adamant that a Charlie Howard statue should have hands on hips. However, the waving Santa may have more community appeal.

Another issue to mull over is which direction should Santa be faced. Should he look south, the same angle as the entrance of the library? Or should he look directly across the street towards the former Legion building? If he was positioned to look across the street, he might be able to greet people going north and south, or maybe at that angle he doesn’t quite greet either direction.

Angling him south, his face would be clearly visible for people traveling north, headed to the downtown business district.

Anytime you deal with art, people have opinions. I favor a big Santa at least 7 feet tall. I think he should be close to the sidewalk so you can have a nice background and pedestrians can easily stop and get a photo taken with him. He would also seem “big” to passing cars. The farther away from the street, the smaller the Santa will look to passing drivers and pedestrians.

The Santa and granite chair could be on a stone or perhaps concrete base that would be slightly elevated. Some granite presents would be a nice touch to have near Santa and the granite chair. Bigger donors might have their names etched in the gift tags on the presents. (These are just ideas at this point.)

About 200 Santas and elves gathered in front of the Orleans County Courthouse for a group photo in April during the Charles W. Howard Legendary Santa Claus Conference. Many of the Santas said they would help make a bronze statue of Howard a reality.

The Santa community and Albion Betterment Committee would like to have the statue in place late next year, which would be the 50th anniversary of Howard’s death. That will be an ambitious goal, especially to raise the funds, which could top $100,000.

The Betterment Committee is trying to get a design together that would be supported by the Library Board of Trustees, the community and the many Santas from around the country and world who hold Howard in high regard.

Orleans Hub will continue to post updates on the project. The Betterment Committee also expects to have a welcome sign on Route 98, south of the village, soon erected that declares Albion as the home of Charles Howard.