Sixty years ago this week in 1955, Sears Roebuck ran the following print ad in a Colorado Springs newspaper:
What a lovely thought. Santa (the real one, not some department store fake) announcing “Hey Kiddies! Call me direct.”
There was only one problem, the phone number was already taken by the Continental Air Defense Command in Colorado Springs, the predecessor to the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD), since 1961 buried deep inside Cheyenne Mountain.
They are the folks who can destroy the world with a press of a few buttons.
The commander that Christmas Eve in 1955 was Colonel Harry Shoup, and what happened next is legendary.
From an article by Adam Schrager of Wisconsin Public Television in 2012:
Well, Shoup was on his post guarding the nation one December morning when the red phone rang. Side note here, I always loved the fact that back then the really important phone was a red one. There was no confirmation though on whether it was kept inside a modified cake dish like in the Batman TV series of the 1970′s.
Anyhow, Shoup knew when that phone rang, it was either the Pentagon or the general in charge on the other end. Either way, it meant a crisp and formal, “Yes sir” upon answering. However the voice he heard on the other end in December 1955, after a pause, was that of a little girl asking him “Are you Santa Claus?”
He looked angrily around the room to see if any of his subordinates were playing a joke on him because he didn’t “stand for that stuff,” but all he saw in return were blank stares and dedicated servicemen.
So, in a moment that has defined history, Colonel Harry Shoup said to the little girl, “Yes, I am. Have you been a good little girl?”
Similar conversations happened continuously all morning long with little girls and boys calling the hotline, the red phone, and wanting to talk to Santa. One little boy was so excited, he started reading off his wish list before even saying hello.
Sixty years later, NORAD brings in volunteers (military and civilian) to handle the calls each Christmas, with 70,000 calls and 12,000 emails coming each year from 200 nations, mostly from 2:00am December 24 to 3:00am Christmas Day.
There is even website now that gets enormous traffic. http://www.noradsanta.org/
There is a certain innocence to all this and great fun for the volunteers who work with it, especially for those who bear such a heavy burden in our military. There is most likely therapeutic value to those military personnel who step in to speak to excited children.
Sometimes peacemaking does not need bombs and bullets, but a red Santa-phone.
With thanks to Harry Shoup who saved Christmas in Colorado Springs in 1955.
Application for authors and publishers? I don’t know. Maybe double-check phone numbers, websites and addresses before you publish? (Sorry, it’s Christmas week, I am not thinking critically.)