What to our wondering eyes did appear? It’s the yuletide display at the Seneca County Museum this year
Santa and his tribe of mischievous elves are the first thing visitors to the Seneca County Museum see when they enter the front door this holiday season. The elves are hanging from the bannister, tangled in the lights … and smiling from ear to ear.
“They’re hurrying to get things ready for Santa,” said Tonia Hoffert, museum director.
And volunteers have been working diligently to get the atmosphere ready for tours. The museum, at 28 Clay St., is open extra hours noon-4 p.m. today for Christmas tours, and 5-8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday for evening tours.
Rooms are decorated with the theme “Santa’s Coming to Town.” Eleven Christmas trees can be seen in the museum’s various rooms, each decorated by an organization or volunteer. In addition to Hoffert, volunteers for the project are Mark Steinmetz, Paula Crum, Paul Pospisil and Brian Courtney. Rodgers Flowers decorated the east parlor, and the tree in main hall upstairs was decorated by Blossoms and Butterflies Garden Club. One room was decorated by Hoffert’s son, Ryan, and daughter-in-law, Pam, in honor of William C. Hoffert, Tonia’s husband and a longtime volunteer, who died in October.
Hoffert said the Junior Home Room features letters to Santa written by the children who lived there.
“They have all the different things the kids would ask for,” she said. “On Christmas morning, they all got a gift and had a big dinner and got candy.”
As he did this year, Santa began arriving in town 90 years ago during the annual Tiffin Christmas Parade. Most years, Santa chose to ride a fire truck, but in the 1950s and 1960s, he liked to ride on floats of various types, often surrounded by his reindeer and other animals.
The parade has been taking place annually since 1927, according to the museum’s historical records collected by volunteer Brian Courtney by reviewing past issues of The Advertiser-Tribune and its Tiffin predecessors.
“He goes through all these old newspapers in search of topics,” Hoffert said. “He looked through to find every Christmas parade that was held in Tiffin.”
Records show the parade has been a significant holiday event in town since its inception.
Some years have been noteworthy, said local historian Mark Steinmetz.
“The parade has been happening in everything from single digits to 70 degrees,” he said. “Rainstorms, ice and snow. Basically, it hasn’t been canceled.”
Steinmetz noted the number of times the words “thousands of people” and “throngs” of people and children were used in the old newspapers to describe parade attendance.
“They were used extensively,” he said.
A headline Dec. 1, 1937, said, “Thousands Gather to See Colorful Holiday Parade.”
“In 1940, snow and ice nearly wrecked the plans,” Steinmetz said. “It was discovered the streets were too slippery for horses and ponies.”
Dec. 3, 1940, the newspaper reported the temperature dropped to 8 degrees.
However, the parade committee enlisted help by calling Tiffin Service Director Joseph W. DeWitt, who asked for state aid.
“Two state trucks equipped with sand distributors preceded the parade and spread stone chips and calcium chloride on the pavements. The day was saved for several thousand kiddies. The county also assisted by furnishing some stone.”
The report also described the parade, which featured Klein’s Attractions of Waterford.
“There were black bears, horses, dogs and ponies, Mother Goose characters and clowns. Miss Marian Lutterbein, parade queen, and her attendants occupied a float.”
A person rode a one-wheeled bicycle, and a clown from Texas “known in the circus world as ‘Pee Wee,’ clowned with his donkey, ‘Teddy.'”
Santa Claus reportedly rode on a float, and then “staged his annual reception in the Tiffin theatre where hundreds of children gathered to shake his hand and whisper their Christmas wishes to him.”
Despite the cold, a one-ring circus took place on Washington Street between Market and Madison streets, “although the cold and snow forced curtailment of a number of the features.”
During those years, Steinmetz said the Koller Store downtown — where Gold Bond apartments now are located — “was known for many, many years as the Santa Claus store.”
“That’s pretty much where Santa Claus hung out in the downtown area,” Steinmetz said.
Owner Nicholas Koller died of a heart attack in 1944 at age 59.
“In 1947, it was the first time they were going to have Christmas lights downtown since 1942,” he said.
World War II cutbacks meant no lights for five years.
“It was a sign of the times,” he said.
A parade preview from the Dec. 4, 1950, issue of the newspaper said, “A Santa Claus parade with live reindeer and other animals, floats, etc., will be held and Santa Claus will hold a reception for children.
“The parade will form at Columbian high school and will include two reindeer, 10 walking characters from children’s stories, 25 grotesque figures, 25 Merry Christmas flags, 25 flags of various nations and 12 floats and cages of wild animals.
“The floats will be manned by 150 children in costume. There will also be real cowboys and cowgirls and many clowns. The floats will depict story book scenes.”
In early December 1953, a traffic accident in Pennsylvania caused some last-minute changes.
“A traffic accident at Norristown, Pa., which damaged the Jean Gros giant balloon unit scheduled for the parade, will not change plans here. … Another balloon unit was rushed from Evanston, Ill. …
“Some changes in the list of floats will result from the substitution. A 60-foot raft with three sailors will replace the 50-foot story book float featuring a cat family, a 14-foot kangaroo will replace a 13-foot cat, a 45-foot dog will replace a 13-foot musician, a 14-foot high, 20-foot long cow will replace another 13-foot musician and a 25-foot alligator will replace an elephant.
“Letters to Santa Claus will be collected from children on the parade route as planned but they will be turned over to Santa instead of being placed in the mail box, Secretary Allman said.”
Today, the parade tradition continues and The A-T still reports on it.
And the museum collects all the information to save for future historians.
It isn’t known whether the mischievous elves visiting the museum this year had anything to do with any of those Santa stories from years gone by, but it’s quite possible. (Wink)
For more information, call the museum at (419) 447-5955
or visit www.senecacounty