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The Man Who Killed Santa Claus

John McPhee was newspaper editor in Mesa, Arizona, in 1932. That year's Christmas parade was important for the small town's businesses as a way to draw in both residents and out-of-towners for Christmas shopping. But the populace didn't seem to be all that excited about Christmas shopping or the parade, either, since the Great Depression was affecting everyone's ability to celebrate as usual. But McPhee had an idea: a spectacular entrance for Santa Claus that would grab everyone's interest. Santa Claus would arrive in an airplane, an unusual site in 1932, and join the parade by parachute! What could possibly go wrong? Um, the stunt man playing Santa could get killed. But that didn't happen. The real story was a comedy of errors that's quite funny if you weren't a young child in Arizona waiting for the arrival of Santa.    

The day of the scheduled take-off, McPhee found the performer at a bar, too inebriated to participate. Faced with the possibility of storekeepers and children being crushed with disappointment, McPhee immediately set another plan into motion. He convinced a clothing store to let him borrow a mannequin, which he dressed in the Santa suit. He then instructed the pilot to make his scheduled run. At the climax, a pilot would push the Santa-dressed dummy out of the plane and into the field. From a distance, the townspeople would be unable to discern the plastic body from a real one—they’d simply see a red-and-white payload drift gently to the ground below. McPhee would be posted to meet the dummy, disrobe it, don the beard, and drive into town as Santa.

A large crowd had gathered to watch Santa arrive. But as you might guess, the scheme cobbled together at the last minute didn't quite go as McPhee had envisioned it. Let's just say that children were traumatized for life. You can read an account of the Christmas parade debacle at Mental Floss. 


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