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Column: This may surprise you: Santa Claus had a Worthington suit

Editor’s note: Former longtime Daily Globe Editor Ray Crippen died Dec. 27, 2015. We will continue to publish previously run “Isn’t That Something” columns on Saturdays, until further notice, as a tribute to Crippen and his knowledge of local and regional history. The following column first appeared Dec. 24, 2004.

WORTHINGTON — Not too many years ago, when Worthington was young, there came a year the old-timers called the Autumn of the Early Snow. By Oct. 1, there were drifts in the cornfields three feet deep. The corn stood tall, but the harvest was stalled. Horses couldn’t get through the fields.

In that time, Santa Claus had a wardrobe of handsome brown and tan suits. Some were velvet and some were tweed. Old Claus cut a dashing figure, then as now, but as he soared through the skies on Christmas Eve, as he swished down the chimneys, children strained to see a fleeting figure in brown and white, or — sometimes — in tan.

The thing that happened …

On Christmas Eve, as through so many nights that year, there was a swirling, whirling, whopper of a snowstorm. This was when all the other reindeer still were laughing and calling Rudolph names. Poor Rudolph was back at the Pole, hiding his nose under a stocking cap. Dasher and Dancer were Santa’s lead team.

The Jolly Elf and his tiny deer put down at a farmstead south of Worthington in Bigelow Township. As Santa raised the reins to lift off once again, he sensed trouble. Visibility was so low he couldn’t see the antlers on Donner and Blitzen. Santa worried to himself, “I can’t see a church steeple in Worthington. I don’t know how I am going to get there.”

The reindeer lifted off the shingles of the farmhouse, but they could not gain altitude. Dasher’s antlers grazed a windmill near the barn, and the sleigh was not 20 feet off the ground when it began to cross above the drifts in the pasture. Santa glanced as his altimeter: 15 feet, 10 feet. Riii-i-i-i-p, crunch, FOOF! Reindeer, sleigh and Jolly Old Elf all were down in a cornfield. Santa glanced toward the runners. Buried! Now, Santa Claus has an unusual power that has never failed. If he just sets his mind to it, he can rouse sleeping fathers and mothers from their deep winter slumbers. Santa set his mind to it! “Emergency, emergency — WAKE UP! “Emergency, emergency — HELP! — sleigh down in cornfield near Bigelow, south of Worthington.” The message came through. Mothers and fathers suddenly popped awake and sat up in their beds. “Emergency! Emergency!”

It was not long before the streets of Worthington were filled with volunteers. They came from their houses with scoop shovels. They went to the barns for their horses. It seemed it would be no time at all before they would have the toy-laden sleigh extricated from the snowdrifts and the cornstalks.

Meanwhile, back in the cornfield, Santa examined the situation. The harness was in a tangle. He unloosed the lead team and then unhitched Prancer and Vixen. “I’ve got to try to get these lines straightened,” he said — just before he sank to his waist in a snowdrift. Donner and Blizten could not move. Dasher was out of sight in one row of corn, and Dancer was lost in another row.

The Worthington volunteers were soon near the scene, but precious minutes of Christmas Eve were ticking away. “I can’t see anything,” one father said, holding a lantern high in the swirling snow. “Cornstalks! They all look alike!” said another father.

Santa tried to called out: “Ho, ho, ho! Ho. ho!” His voice was lost in the wind.

Searchers tried to sight the reindeer but, as people know today, a deer in a cornfield is hard to spot. The volunteers looked into one field and glanced along the rows of another. The wind blew, the snow was deep, the going was hard.

Well, the story has a happy ending. Christmas stories nearly always do.

Santa had a couple dozen bright red fire trucks sticking from the top of his toy bag. Half of the trucks were going to Worthington, and half of them were going to Fulda.

One of the men, holding high his lantern, caught a glimpse of the fire trucks as they reflected the flickering flame. Soon a hundred men were on the scene, scooping out the sleigh, clearing a runway, reassembling the reindeer. Santa was set for takeoff once again. Before he left, he had a conversation with his rescuers.

“I can’t thank you men enough,” he said. “This would have been a sad Christmas for the boys and girls in southwest Minnesota and northwest Iowa if the dawn had come and I had still been stuck in the corn.”

“Aw, it’s nothing,” several of the men assured. “We’ve glad to help Santa Claus any time!”

There was one man — the man in charge of Worthington’s Peace Avenue of Flags — who had a thought.

“You know, Santa,” he said, “if you’d been wearing some brighter clothes, I think we could have spotted you sooner. You blend with the cornstalks. You can see why we had a time finding you.”

“What do you suggest?” Santa asked.

“Well,” said the man, “if you were dressed up like a fire truck — if you were out here tonight in a bright red suit — I think we might have spotted you right away.”

“A bright red suit!” Santa exclaimed. “Of course! A bright red suit!

“And wouldn’t that look fine? A suit like a fire truck, with a furry white trim!” This is how it came to be. And it was a man from Worthington who first made the suggestion. Ever since that Autumn of the Early Snow, as he has made his annual rounds, Santa has been attired in a splendid red suit. If ever he comes down in a cornfield these days, it will not be hard to find him — not with a suit that glows like a stop light, and with Rudolph blinking, besides. “My good, old red suit,” Santa often chuckles. “Sometimes I call it my Worthington suit.”

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