By Shannon Quinn
We all know that Santa brings toys to all good girls and boys every Christmas eve. A man of mystery, most of us don’t understand how he’s able to deliver to millions of kids the world over in just one night. What many folks don’t realize is that the jolly old elf gets in top shape for his big night by rappelling down one of the world’s largest chimneys: Chimney Rock. The story of how Santa discovered Chimney Rock is fascinating, and we traveled to his North Pole home to talk to him about it. Here’s what we learned.
About 30 years ago, Santa noticed that his once lightning-quick delivery was beginning to wane. After a few near misses when a couple of kids at the end of his route glimpsed his black boots as he shot up their chimney, and one disastrous night when he was too tired to climb a chimney in Nepal and had to radio Rudolph to meet him on the home’s front lawn, he realized that he was going to have to do something to get in shape for his big night. But where could he practice? The answer came that summer, when he and Mrs. Claus visited Chimney Rock at Chimney Rock State Park incognito. As Santa pulled into the top parking lot in his red Mercedes, he looked up at the Rock and knew he’d found his answer. “Three hundred and fifteen feet of Chimney!” Santa recalls. “I knew it was the perfect place to hone my chimney-climbing skills.”
Santa contacted Mary Jaeger-Gale, who was the Park’s Director of Sales and Public Relations at the time. “Frankly, I was shocked when Santa contacted me,” remembers Jaeger-Gale. “I’d stopped believing in the guy long ago, but when he walked into my office, I knew in my heart that he was real. It was one of the most magical moments in my 35-year career at Chimney Rock.”
Mary and Santa set up a deal, where Santa would come to Chimney Rock for two Saturdays each December just before Christmas to practice, and the Park would invite families to spend the day watching him rappel and enjoying other holiday-related fun. “It’s been a win-win for everyone,” says Jaeger-Gale. “Santa gets to keep his skills sharp, and the Park gets to host a fun event for families where the kids can watch Santa do his thing, enjoy some treats and talk to Santa and Mrs. Claus.”
“The part I love most when rappelling down Chimney Rock is the comments I hear from guests,” chuckles Santa. “Everything from, ‘How awesome’ to ‘He has lost his mind.’”
“Mr. Claus and I look forward to visiting Chimney Rock every December,” adds Mrs. Claus. “I bake my special cookies the night before to give out to all the kids. Sometimes, if a child is a little shy, he or she will hand me their Christmas wish list to give to Mr. Claus. And after the event, Santa and I like to take a nice winter hike along one of the trails; with the leaves off the trees, it’s a great time to see some amazing views. I’m also an avid bird watcher, and I always look out for birds such as the Red-bellied Woodpecker and Carolina Chickadee, which can be seen in the Park during the winter months.”
This year, you can catch Santa at Santa on the Chimney at Chimney Rock on Saturday, December 5 and Saturday, December 12 from 11am-2pm. The event and all its activities are included with Park admission. The Lake Lure Classical Academy chorus will be singing carols and Chimney Rock Management, LLC will present live animal programs. Local poet Eddie Cabbage will type letters to Santa for kids on his trusty vintage typewriter; he gladly accepts donations. The event will be held on the overlook in front of Cliff Dwellers Gifts, where you can get a great view of Santa rappelling down the side of Chimney Rock. Santa and Mrs. Claus will be available after each rappel to talk to kids. Free hot cocoa and cookies will be available. Folks can register for the chance to win a free climbing session with Fox Mountain Guides to see if they can match Santa’s agility.
Rumors have long swirled that the Santa at Santa on the Chimney is actually played by two men: Fox Mountain Guide Travis Weil, who rappels down the Rock, and Santa doppelganger Frank Godzik, owner of Chimney Rock Village coffee shop Coffee on the Rocks and his very own Santa suit. It’s also whispered that Talia Davis, manager of the Old Rock Café, dons a fur-trimmed red velvet dress, pince-nez and a white curly wig to play Mrs. Claus, but both Santa and Jaeger-Gale adamantly deny this. Not sure what to believe? Come to this year’s Santa on the Chimney and see for yourself.
Shannon Quinn is PR and Promotions Manager, Chimney Rock State Park.