THE YEAR OF BURNING SANTAS

I was dreading coming to the end of the 1904 microfilms, to tell the truth. Between the erratic electrical service and the 19th century practice of placing lighted candles on dead evergreen trees (!) I expected the Dec. 26 headlines to read, “TOWN IN FLAMES.” Imagine my surprise when the holidays passed without incident — except for the flaming Santas, of course (UPDATE HERE).

(The “Red Men” and “Council of Pocahontas” have nothing to do with Native Americans, but rather are one of the many white fraternal organizations, to be described in a later post.)

SANTA CLAUS TAKES FIRE AND IS SEVERELY BURNED
ALMOST A PANIC AT RED MEN’S HALL LAST NIGHT
OTTO SEEMAN’S WIG AND WHISKERS CATCH FIRE AT POCAHONTAS CHRISTMAS TREE AND CAUSES CONSIDERABLE EXCITEMENT
Man With His Head Enveloped in Flame Dashes Through the Crowded Hall — Headgear Was Tied on With Rope Which Made Matters Worse — Pleasure of the Evening Marred

Considerable excitement, a panic and almost a fatality marred the closing moments of the Christmas festivities at Red Men’s Hall last night in connection with the tree and entertainment given under the auspices of the Council of Pocahontas.

Otto Seeman, who played the part of Santa Claus, arrayed in all the trappings of the time-honored visitor, whose flowing white beard and wig, added a thrill of realism at Christmas time to the tree [sic], came very near being incinerated. As it was he was shockingly burned about the head, face, and neck.

When the accident happened Mr. Seeman had mounted a ladder reared against the tree and the flowing wig and whiskers caught the flame from one of the candles. In an instant the flames encircled his head and face. He jumped from the ladder and ran through the crowded hall. Women cried out hysterically and men attempted to grab him to tear the burning mass from his head. He tugged at the cotton and hair himself, but kept on running. A few moments elapsed until some one threw his coat over the flames and smothered them.

What presented a worse aspect is the fact that the wig was securely tied on with a rope… While his burns are undoubtedly very serious it is a miracle that he escaped as he did when it is taken into consideration that the wig was so securely tied. At his home a physician attended to his injuries. The unfortunate happening robbed the occasion of its full measure of festivity and the suffering man was given full assurance of the sympathy felt with him.

[…]

– Press Democrat, December 24, 1904

 

SEVERELY BURNED PLAYING SANTA CLAUS

Charles B. Duncan of Sebastopol had a narrow escape from fatal injuries while acting the role of Santa Claus at the home of J. E. Fornachon, where the two families had gathered to celebrate Christmas. He was dressed in a big overcoat covered with cotton, and wore a headgear with cotton beard and long hair in regulation style.

The cotton caught fire on his sleeve and like a flash he was enveloped in flame. Considerable excitement ensued. Before Mrs. Duncan and Mr. Fornachon could tear off the burning coat and head-trappings, Mr. Duncan was severely burned about the face neck and hands. His hands and arms suffered the worst. Mrs. Duncan was also burned about the hands and arms. Mr. Duncan is a brother of E. E. Duncan of the Press Democrat typographical staff.

– Press Democrat, December 29, 1904

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