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December 1985

North Creek Santa

Each Christmas before World War II, Sam Coplon carried his gifts to the Adirondacks in a freight car on the D&H railroad

FEW ADIRONDACKERS REMEMBER Sam Coplon. But for more than a quarter century, this rotund resident of Brooklyn brought Christmas happiness to hundreds of poor children living near the headwaters of the Hudson River.

To his business associates and city friends, Sam was a kind, unassuming man who worked hard as a toy salesman. To the children around North Creek, however, he was a true Santa Claus—the only one many of them ever knew. Sam Coplon’s Yuletide tradition reflected a spirit of ecumenism as well as generosity; Sam was Jewish.

A sleigh wasn’t big enough for this Santa Claus. He brought his gifts of toys and trinkets in a freight car via the D&H railroad. When the freight car pulled onto a siding a few days before Christmas, Sam had enough gifts to give happiness to hundreds of needy boys and girls living as far as 50 miles from North Creek.

Why should this man, a resident of a big city over 200 miles away, show such compassion for the mountain children? The answer dates back to the years following the Spanish-American War.

A veteran of that tum-of-the-century conflict, Sam needed a quiet, restful place where he could regain his health. He found refuge in the tiny hamlet of Johnsburg in Warren County. While he nursed his health, Sam got to know the people and the poverty of the region.

County welfare helped keep the poor families from starving and freezing in the sub-zero winters. At Christmas time, baskets of donated holiday food helped create the holiday spirit, but little thought could be given to toys for children. Available energy was expended soliciting and delivering the bare necessities. Sam Coplon realized children needed more than just food and clothing at Christmas. He made a promise to himself that if and when he got his health back, he would do something about the situation.

Sam recovered and returned to Brooklyn to resume his career selling toys. He struggled to rebuild his business, but he didn’t forget his promise. As he traveled around the country, he told the story of the needy mountain children to toy manufacturers and distributors. He asked for contributions in the form of surplus or imperfect toys. The industry didn’t know the Adirondack Mountain people, but it knew Sam well. Before long, toys of all kinds began to arrive at Sam’s Brooklyn home. They came in such large quantities that he was obliged to rent an old warehouse for storage until Christmas time.

Sam had little trouble recruiting North Country helpers to make up packages of toys and deliver them. Just about everybody pitched in. Teachers played a big part. Clergymen on snowshoes pulled sleds through road-blocking snowdrifts. The still-operating Braley and Noxon Hardware store in North Creek was a major distribution point for many years.

To both children and adults in the area, Sam became known as the “North Creek Santa Claus.” Except for the necessary contacts in the toy industry, Sam told few people about his pet project.

More than 20 years elapsed before the story leaked out to the general public through an Associated Press dispatch. At first, Sam was not happy about the publicity, but he changed his mind when it brought in a flood of toys from far and wide. By Christmas of 1936, Sam reported the volume had reached 50,000 items.

Sam never asked for cash to help pay the cost of warehousing and shipping. He preferred to take it all out of his own pocket. Once, when praised for devoting so much time, energy, and money to his Adirondack operations, Sam shrugged and replied, “Anyone in my circumstances would have done the same.”

Sam became a living legend, but age finally took its toll. The Santa Claus of the Adirondacks made his last trip just before World War II. Afterwards, he was confined by illness to his home in Brooklyn. Sam died in 1949.

The legend of Sam Coplon lives on. Old folks in the town of Johnsburg have never forgotten the North Creek Santa Claus of their childhood. Daisy Allen of Baker’s Mills remembers the precise gifts she received in 1931—a toy microscope and a writing tablet. Her husband, Earl, recalls receiving a little green ice truck, an airplane, and a drum.

People of all walks of life have paid trib
ute to Sam. But none are more eloquent 
than the simple words of a little girl who
 had received a Christmas doll from the 
business-suited Santa Claus. Looking up at 
her mother, she said, “Mommy, Mr. Co
plon must be a very good man.”

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