When Santa Claus Came to Town

From snow-heavy pines to a star-blanketed sky, there are few places as peaceful and beautiful as the Adirondacks in winter. But, like the glistening banks that cover next spring’s dog piles and soul-sucking mud, our postcard-perfect views often hide the rough roads many walk through this hard-edged wilderness. This year, at our local Christmas drive, the requests weren’t for dolls or trucks or official Red Ryder carbine-action two-hundred-shot range model air rifles, but for boots and pants and winter coats.

No one feels the division between the haves and have-nots more keenly than a child at Christmas. My uncle, who grew up in a ramshackle village deep in these hills, believed in Santa Claus until he was 12—even to the point of getting into schoolyard scuffles on the subject—insisting that his parents couldn’t possibly afford the presents that appeared under his tree. My mother finally pulled him aside and explained how they squirreled away bits and pieces through the year, then took the half-hour trek into town every Christmas Eve to hit the close-out sales.

A generation before my uncle argued his case, the Adirondacks really did have its own Santa. Around the turn of the 20th century, a Brooklyn toy salesman rehabbing in Johnsburg after the Spanish-American War noticed that stockings remained unstuffed as local families struggled to keep their children clothed and fed. So, until old age caught up with him around World War II, Sam Coplon made it his mission to bring smiles to the mountains each Christmas. His generosity overflowed a simple sack—it took a D&H freight car to tote the thousands of donated toys to North Creek that Coplon delivered throughout the region every year.

Read more about Coplon’s Christmas cheer in “North Creek Santa,” from our December 1985 issue.

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