Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Cross-country Christmas and cosmic Colorado connections

 "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."

___ Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

We all have our holiday traditions but nothing is seeped more in the tradition of winter activities than the town known as the birthplace of winter sports in America. Once again Lake Placid is bringing back traditions of ol.' The High Peaks Resort is resurrecting the Lake Placid Yule Log tradition hailing from the time of Melvin Dewey's Lake Placid Club, says High Peaks Resort in the Winter of 2011. photo of Yule Log provided by the High Peaks Resort and used with permission of the Lucretia Vaille Museum, Palmer Lake, CO  

Two Christmas towns share the magic across the country

 By Rob Carrigan,

Lake Placid, New York, and the Colorado Springs area share some history, the same type of terrain —and if nothing else — a Christmas town feeling.

"The Lake Placid Club opened in 1896 and fostered the concept of a winter sports haven to guests that still draws in visitors today. From 1911 through 1980, the Yule Log continued bringing community and families together as part of the Lake Placid Club's rituals. With the conclusion of the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympics, the Lake Placid Club closed and with it, took its Yule Log custom," says information from High Peaks Resort in the Lake Placid area.

"Now, 32 years later the Yule Log custom has been resurrected and brought in all its finery to the High Peaks Resort where everyone, young and old, is encouraged to seek and find this symbol of light," says High Peaks Resort's owners, when the Yule Log was brought back to life in 2011.

According to High Peaks Resort Director of Marketing Lori Fitzgerald, at the the time,  the 7 ft 'x 8 in birch log was  decorated with a big red bow for all to seek and find, as part of the annual Lake Placid Holiday Stroll.

"Custom dictates that a piece of the Yule Log is saved and then used to start the fire for the next year's log. In 1934 two residents of Palmer Lake, Colorado sent for a splinter of the Lake Placid Yule Log and held their first event that year. This year's log was started from a piece of the Palmer Lake, CO Yule Log which ties back to the original Lake Placid tradition. So the Lake Placid Yule Log has come full circle and now High Peaks Resort hopes to share splinters of this historic custom with other communities."

According to the Palmer Lake Profile – 1920 to 1972 portion of the updated Marion Savage Sabin’s book “Palmer Lake: A Historical Narrative,” the Depression brought many hardships, the W.P.A., and little growth to Palmer Lake. But it also brought us the Yule Log celebration.

“An old English custom was adopted in 1934 which has far-reaching effect on the town and its residents,” the book holds. “At the suggestion of Miss Lucretia Vaile, Miss (Evalena) Macy and the young people of the church (Little Log Church) sent for a splinter of the Lake Placid Yule Log in New York and organized the first Palmer Lake Yule Log ceremony.” 

North Pole near Pikes Peak

Another Christmas connection between the Lake Placid, N.Y., and the Pikes Peak area has to do with Santa.

"It was announced on March 10, 1955 that a 25 acre Santa’s Workshop was planned to be built on the slopes of Pikes Peak. The village was to be identical to the one built in Lake Placid, NY. The village in NY was designed by Arto Monaco, a former Walt Disney artist. In the 1940’s an eight-year old girl told the artist what she believed Santa Claus’ home and village looked like. Mr. Monaco then translated her image of the magical land into blueprints for an actual village," according to history information from

"A village of 12 alpine buildings was in the plans to be constructed. A home for Mr. & Mrs. Claus, 3 workshops, a blacksmith shop, gate house, reindeer barn, souvenir shop, show house, Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard and a miniature chapel with nativity."

One of Sants's Gnomes

One of the main attractions is a frozen North Pole that is in the center of the village. No matter how hot the temperature the pole remains frozen. A small lake enhances the village setting. Water winds a course over 2 waterfalls into the lake and then out onto a water wheel.

June 16, 1956, that young girl’s dream came true when Santa’s Workshop/North Pole opened for the season. Our Santa (Howard P. Meehan) certainly didn’t need any extra padding when wearing his red suit. He was 5’6 ½” tall and wore a size 54 suit!

Rufus Porter, James Gamble and Mrs. Gamble. 

"College girls in colorful gnome costumes were stationed in the artisan, souvenir and toy shops. Costumes were fashioned in grays and greens that blended into the woodland setting at the workshop. It wasn’t an easy task to become one of Santa’s 50 gnomes. You had to meet very strict qualifications to even be considered. Santa’s gnomes had to be 5’ to 5’3” tall; 105 to 110 lbs.; reddish or dark hair; large eyes (preferably blue); dimples and be “quick of step” and enthusiastic. All gnomes were chosen with careful judging by a Denver charm school and had to pass aptitude tests in dealing with the public," according to the local North Pole's history.

Kids feeding the kids!

"Rufus Porter was Santa’s hurdy-gurdy man. While Rufus played his hurdy-gurdy, his pet monkey would politely tip his hat when people dropped pennies into his cup. Coins collected in the cup were combined with money from the wishing well to provide gifts for the needy and orphaned children at Christmas time. Storybook characters, Red Riding Hood, Miss Muffet and BoPeep were also on hand to tell their stories to children who stopped and chatted with them," if you subscribe to Santa's Workshop lore.

White deer, goats, sheep, burros, ducks and peacocks roamed the park to the delight of young and old. Special food and bottled milk were available for guests to feed the animals.

James Gamble and "friend."

Eighteen year old James Gamble was Santa’s puppeteer. Gamble’s show featured his 30 Magical Marionettes. Visitors young and old delighted in Gamble’s “family:” Sam Peabody, a bedraggled lush; Lavenya May Sprayberry, the buck toothed ballerina; Carmen, a sultry dancer who shimmied and shaked; Oscar, a hand puppet dragon; Mr. Bones, a skeleton who comes apart and a chorus line of can-can girls. Gamble designed and made all his marionettes and his mother, Mrs. J.C. Gamble designed the wardrobes.

Mine Ride

1958 brought Santa’s Workshop’s first “rides.” The Mine Ride was the first to be added to the park. Later in the season the Stage Coach and an authentic Fire Engine were featured. And different features were added later.

"Santa’s Workshop has grown through the years, but pure enjoyment of the Christmas spirit has remained the same for the past 61 years," says recent park information.

But Christmas was just a warm-up for items shared in the tale of the two cities.  Lake Placid and the  Pikes Peak area had other cosmic connections.


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