From the Christmas edition of the Detroit Free Press, 1977:
Christmas got its start about 1938, when a state conservation officer named Julius Thorson put up the money for a man named George Mitchell to build a toy factory on the site. Mitchell told people at the time he had gotten the idea from Santa Claus, Ind., a little town 40 miles east of Evansville which has been trapping tourists and postmarking mail since before the turn of the century. The factory was built, but before it had turned out much of anything, there was a disas-trous fire which burned it to the ground. Mitch- ell moved on and hasn't been back. The last anyone heard, he was in a nursing home in Florida. Thorson kept at it. He owned a lot of the land, and in 1940 he plotted it, calling it "Christ- mas," and giving the streets names like "Santa's Lane, " and "Tinsel Street. " Some residents still use the old street names, although nobody has ever bothered to put up street signs.
Thorson died in 1953. His son-in-law, Louis Passinault, says the town still hasn't fulfilled the old man's expectations. "He figured it would've been a lot bigger than it has turned out. He figured it would really boom. He thought another factory was going to come in," says Passinault. "But it didn't." Things developed slowly after the war, then reached their zenith in the 1960s, when the town was awarded a special one-way post office and got the first-day issue of the 1966 Christmas commemorative stamp. It reproduced a portion of a 16th-Century painting by Hans Memling, "Madonna and Child with Angels. " The original hangs in the National Gallery of Art in Washington. The '60s boom petered out in the '70s, however. Several of the original owners of motels and shops died, sold out or moved away. Among them was Pauline Burness, the first special postmistress in 1966. Three years later, her husband died, and she moved away to lower Michigan.
The business associations, which had provided promotional literature and fostered co- operation among the merchants, disbanded a few years ago. And in 1971 the highway department raised the road, which improved the driving but has hurt business. Today there are several boarded-up businesses, and some of the others that are still going have shortened their open season. There's some talk of a new promotional drive — maybe a special "Christmas in July" with a parade and Santa Claus — but no one has taken the first step. "It would be nice if everybody would get together again," says one business owner wist- fully. There is no Santa Claus in Christmas. There are signs of the jolly old gent everywhere, but when the children seek his whereabouts, they get pretty much the same answer from everybody. "We tell them he's at the North Pole, making the toys, but we tell them they can leave messages here for him," says Francis Merceier, owner of Santa's Gift Shop.
"Usually I tell them he's at the North Pole making toys. And they're thrilled with that," says Joan White, who with her husband, Jim, runs Mrs. Klaus' Kitchen. he Merciers and Whites have the two obviously profitable tourist operations in town. They also have the biggest signs. Mrs. Klaus looms over the town's eastern approach, an apple-cheeked, white-haired behemoth clutching a brown turkey on a platter, kind!y blue eyes glinting fixedly over her granny glasses in the direction of the restaurant parking lot. Merceier's 32-foot Santa is seven feet taller than Mrs. Klaus and a little less subtle. His upraised hands point travelers off the road into the parking lot where they have a choice of parking under a 12-foot North Pole, a 25-foot candle or a 15-foot candy cane. Loudspeakers pipe Christmas carols through the store and out into the parking lot. (You can read the rest below)