"'Twas the night before Christmas
And all through the blog
Not a creature was stirring
The cats slept like a log.
The post was composed
On the laptop with care
In the hope that Bad Santas
Would soon be there."
Our annual parade of Yuletide mayhem kicks off with this cautionary tale from the "Illustrated Police News (January 1, 1876):
On Monday night last, or, more properly speaking, early on Tuesday morning, very serious consequences resulted from practical joking. A Christmas gathering of happy folks, both young and old, took place at Tatchet House, Derbyshire, the residence of a wealthy gentleman, named Johnson. It would appear that some private theatricals were about to take place in the course of the week, and a Mr. Brounger, who had brought with him all the necessary materials to personate a dragon, dressed himself in his scaley habiliments, after his companions had retired to bed, and sought their bed-room for the purpose of having, what he called, "a lark." Unfortunately he made a mistake in the room, and entered the apartment occupied by one of the maid-servants and Mr. Johnson's children. The effect can be readily imagined. Two of the children were so frightened that for some time their lives were despaired of; and, indeed, it is very questionable if they ever recover from the terrible effects of the sudden fright. The maid-servant herself is seriously unwell in consequence. This incident, it is to be hoped, will act as a warning to hilarious young gentlemen who are fond of practical jokes.
They were a sensitive lot in the days of old. Here is a similar tale from the "Cambridge Press," December 4, 1875:
As Christmas approaches, it may be well to call attention to the terrible consequences which, according to the "Indianapolis Journal," ensued the other day in that city from an hour's amusement in telling ghost stories. A number of young ladies, patients of the Surgical Institute, were assembled in one of the rooms of the establishment, at a late hour in the evening, and whiled away their time by relating to each other stories of apparitions, hobgoblins, ghosts &c. Either intentionally or by accident the gas was suddenly turned off, and, in the climax of a vivid story, one of the young ladies imprudently threw her shawl over the head of a trembling companion seated next to her. There was a little rustle and a short stifled scream. When a light was obtained the melancholy fact was revealed that the poor girl was mad. She has remained so ever since, and very slight hopes are entertained of her recovery. Considerable risk, indeed, attends the reading aloud of the average Christmas ghost story. Strong must be the nerve of any one who can bear unmoved the first few lines of one of these thrilling narratives knowing that he is expected to sit through the remainder. If not stricken with idiocy at the beginning of the tale, he generally becomes more or less stupefied before the climax is reached, and his distressing condition has become patent to all.
You know, there's nothing like receiving a Christmas gift that has a heartfelt message behind it. From "Granite" magazine, February 1, 1899:
Chattanooga, Tenn.--Grimm Brothers, saloon-keepers, received a tombstone as a Christmas gift. The donor was Mrs. A.E. Riordan, a widow. Her husband had been a confirmed drunkard, and, shortly before his death, Mrs. Riordan warned the saloon-keepers if they sold him whiskey she would prosecute them. On the day Riordan died, it was alleged he bought whiskey at the Grimm saloon. Mrs. Riordan entered suit, and obtained a judgment for $2,500, but up to this time has been unable to collect the money. While evading payment of the judgment, the Grimms erected a tombstone over Riordan's grave. The slab was returned by the widow.
Ah, Christmas in Denmark. The "Free-Lance Star," December 12, 1951:
Copenhagen, Denmark, Dec. 12--Police Commissioner B. Hebo, of the town of Esbjerg decreed that Santa Claus will be arrested on sight.
The reason, said Commissioner Hebo, is that criminals hide behind a Santa Claus beard to commit their crimes and he's not going to have any of them in Esbjerg.
Note to self: Avoid spending the holidays in Minnesota. The "Alta California," December 29, 1866:
St. Paul, Minn., December 28th.--On Christmas Day, at New Ulm, three men were playing cards, when one of them, named Spinner, was stabbed so badly that he soon bled to death. The others were arrested by the Sheriff, and while on their way to the magistrate they were handcuffed and rescued by a drunken mob and hanged. While hanging, the bodies received a number of cuts from knives.
Note to self: Avoid spending the holidays in California. The "Los Angeles Herald," December 26, 1898:
Angels Camp, Dec. 27--The Bariciolo mine, three miles from Sheep Ranch, was the scene of a lively gun fight on Sunday night. As a result a man named Nelson is dead and Thomas Martin is seriously wounded and in a precarious condition. The tragedy was the result of a brawl after a Christmas dinner and no arrests have yet been made.
Note to self: Avoid spending the holidays in Alabama. The "Abilene Reporter," December 27, 1907:
Birmingham, Ala., Dec. 26--Dan Bradley, 16 years old son of a widow at Pratt City mining suburb of Birmingham, died this morning as a result of being blown up by dynamite at a Christmas party given at Mike Dugan's house Wednesday night. Bradley carried the piece of dynamite in his coat pocket. Several boys and girls were knocked down and others badly shaken by the explosion, and the house was badly wrecked.
Note to self: Never spend the holidays in Italy. From the "San Francisco Call," December 29, 1903:
Naples, Dec. 28--The people of this city and its environs have been in the habit of exploding fireworks and bombs during the Christmas season. This year, however, the police authorities forbade the use of dynamite.
The people of the village of Resina eluded the vigilance of the authorities and while the people were preparing the bombs the dynamite exploded. The result was that twelve persons were killed and many injured.
Note to self: Never spend the holidays in Kentucky. From the "San Francisco Call," December 26, 1911:
Middlesboro, Ky., Dec. 25--Edward Van Bever, nephew of Chief of Police Van Bever of Little Clear creek, near here, was blown to atoms tonight while discharging dynamite. Van Bever with a party of friends was celebrating Christmas. Thinking that the fuse attached to the stick of dynamite had been extinguished, he walked up to the dadly explosive to relight it. In a second an explosion followed, throwing him high in the air.
Note to self: Just never leave the house until after New Year's. From the "Lancashire Post," December 27, 1893:
A wedding, which was celebrated at Hazleton, in the United States, on Christmas Day, was the cause of some sensational occurrences. Ill-feeling has prevailed for a long time between the Austrians and the Poles in the town, and after the wedding ceremony an attempt was made, it was alleged, by the Austrians to blow up the Polish party by dynamite. The attempt failed, but a riot ensued, in which firearms were freely used on both sides. A dozen were shot, and many more received injuries from other weapons. It is believed that four will die.
It's striking how our ancestors believed that no Christmas festivity was complete without someone getting blown to bits. The "Lewiston Daily Sun," December 20, 1911:
Latrobe, Pa., Dec. 25--Dynamite being prepared for a Christmas celebration in a foreign miners boarding house at at New Derrick, near here, tonight exploded, killing two men and fatally injuring four others, who are dying in the hospital here.
In case you're planning to feature dynamite and firecrackers this holiday season, think again. The "Star-News, [N.C.]" December 27, 1955:
Raleigh--Three boys injured when a quantity of dynamite exploded in a car Christmas Eve, were in "fair" condition today at a hospital here.
The boys planned to use the dynamite in Christmas celebrating in rural Wake and Harnett counties.
State highway patrolmen said some of the dynamite exploded when one of the youths accidentally dropped a lighted firecracker in the back seat of the car with the dynamite.
If the Darwin Awards ever opens up a special Dynamite subcategory, these young men would sweep the field. This astonishing headline comes from the "Reading Eagle," December 27, 1925:
And what's Christmas without a few Bad Santas?
From the "Greenville Advocate," December 7, 1978:
Akron, Ohio--An Akron merchant has complained of being kicked and punched by a man dressed in a Santa Claus suit after he objected to the way the sidewalk Santa was soliciting contributions.
Jonathan I. Kaufman, 30, of the Cleveland Temple of Hare Krishna, is free on $1,000 bond awaiting a pretrial hearing Dec. 15 on an assault charge in the incident.
And then there's the "Palm Beach Post," December 21, 1978. They reported that Santa, otherwise known as 22-year-old Russell Meek, stole a $69 camera from his workplace at the Delray Mall. Meek told police he took the camera because the shopkeeper owed him money.
After his arrest, Meek went back to the mall to try and get his job back, but failed. The arresting officer commented, "I guess they didn't feel like being generous."
Well, this is heartwarming. The "Brandon Sun," December 20, 1923:
Newark, N.J., Dec. 20--Santa Claus was arrested in Newark in the person of Edward Weldon who solicits funds for the Salvation Army in a red suit and white whiskers in the heart of the shopping district. Weldon was arrested in the presence of a group of children on a charge of assault after he had knocked Ernest Goldberg, a crippled sandwich vendor, into the gutter.
Goldberg had moved too close to the Salvation Army "chimney" maintained by Weldon, in hopes of bettering his trade, and a dispute followed.
So, kids, ever wonder where Santa gets the money for all those toys he brings you? The "Melbourne Argus," December 27, 1948:
In Texas, Mrs. Wing Lee's faith in the benign old gentleman was sadly shaken when a badit, disguised as Santa Claus, arrived early in the evening.
When she said, "Haven't you come too early, Santa Claus?" he produced a revolver and robbed her of $10. He then robbed the waiters. Four hundred diners were present.
Santa may have been under the influence at the time of the robbery. The "Canberra Times," December 12, 1959:
New York, Friday--"Santa Claus"--or one of his helpers--was taken to gaol yesterday at Mineola. Police said he was a "bit too full of Christmas 'cheer.'"
Edgar Woods, 69, was still attired in the outfit supplied by a local store when arrested at 2 a.m.
He then was happily directing traffic at a busy intersection. "Santa" Woods was charged with disorderly conduct.
But wait, there's more! The "Mohave Miner," December 19, 1994:
Birmingham, Ala.--A 69-year-old department store Santa Claus has been charged with stealing nearly $100 worth of merchandise from the store where he worked.
Police said Dave Campbell of Homewood, a longtime local radio personality, was released on $500 bond Tuesday following his weekend arrest at the Rich's department store at Brookwood Mall where he worked as a Santa Claus.
Campbell is accused of taking a calligraphy pen set, a Trivial Pursuit game and a back massager, worth a total of about $95.
The parade of sticky-fingered Santas gets even sadder. The "Brainerd Dispatch" for December 20, 1966, reported on another department store Santa who was nabbed for stealing a $1.50 bottle of cologne and a 37 cent bottle of corn and callous remover.
All in all, I'm forced to say that Commissioner Hebo had the right idea.
However, there are aspects to Christmas that are even more frightening, more dangerous than dragons, dynamite, ghost stories, or Santas with corns on their feet. The holiday season has a a dark, sinister figure bringing a message of violence and death to everyone unfortunate enough to be within reach.
No, no, I'm not talking about Krampus. I'm talking about a legendary creature who could have Krampus for lunch.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet Miss Garnet Thompson.