(Editor’s note: The following bit of Christmas whimsy is presented for your holiday enjoyment with our thanks to Logan County Judge Gus Young and Office of Emergency Management Director Don Fairbanks.)
On the Friday after Thanksgiving, the fax machine in County Judge Gus Young’s office in Paris spit out that once-a-year message.
The page is headed "Santa Central, North Pole." The short, three-line message informs Young that a representative of Mr. Kris Kringle, also known as Santa Claus, will visit Paris soon to make arrangements for Santa’s annual rest stop on Christmas Eve night.
Young told a reporter about the visit last week. The information was met with some skepticism until the County Judge handed over the fax message for examination.
"It’s true," Young said. "Santa stops in Paris every Christmas Eve night while making his rounds. He also gets some refreshments for himself and his reindeer.
"He’s been doing these visits for several years.’’ Young said. "Until now, it’s been a closely guarded secret. Santa is a very, very private man and he authorized us to go public this year because fewer and fewer people believe in Santa Claus.
"I can assure you, Santa Claus is very real," Young said.
The judge also revealed that Logan County Office of Emergency Management director Don Fairbanks helps handle Santa’s visit each year. Fairbanks confirmed the story.
The two said Santa always lands at the Paris-Subiaco Municipal Airport. The eight reindeer and the sleigh are stored in the airport hanger while Santa visits an undisclosed local restaurant for a quick snack. He is then driven back to the airport, climbs back into his sleigh and continues his rounds.
"Santa approaches Logan County from the west," Young said. "He is handed over to Paris approach by Fort Smith. Each year he uses the lights on the County Courthouse and around the Courthouse Square to guide him to the landing beacon at the airport."
Once it’s determined Santa is approaching, Young and Fairbanks turn on the airport landing lights and radio Santa’s sleigh to confirm that conditions are right for a touchdown.
"He drives the sleigh into the hanger and we close the doors." Fairbanks said. "Then I take him to a restaurant here in town where he has a meal."
Fairbanks would not name the restaurant.
"We don’t have authorization to give you that information," he said.
While Santa is having a meal, his reindeer are being fed. Hay is delivered to the hanger by an area farmer, Young said.
"Rudolph requires alfalfa, because it he1ps keep his nose so bright" the County Judge said. "The rest get regular grass hay. Feeding them is pretty easy. They are very intelligent creatures. The only other thing that has to be done is sometimes we have to change the light bulb in Rudolph’s nose."
Being in the hanger means Young is one of the few people who has seen Santa’s sleigh up close.
"It may look like an antique," Young said, "but he’s got some of the most sophisticated equipment I’ve ever seen. There are several kinds of radar and a black box that emits a special recognition signal. The signal allows Santa access through any air space in the world."
Fairbanks said Santa is just as he’s always been described.
"He’s tall and he’s a big man. He’s just the way you would picture him — rosy cheeks, white hair, white beard and very jolly," he said. "There’s even a twinkle in his eyes - just as advertised."
Fairbanks said Santa is greeted by the restaurant owner who provides a snack.
"Usually it’s a couple of sandwiches and some chocolate pie," Fairbanks said. "Santa washes it down with milk and hot chocolate. He has a big appetite. He also gets a piece of apple pie to go for Mrs. Claus. Don’t ask me how he keeps it warm on the way back to the North Pole."
Young said Santa stops in Paris because a larger airport would be more bothersome.
"It’s quiet and there’s usually no air traffic at that time of night," Young said. "Santa told me the Paris airport fits the bill for him because he’s less likely to be bothered and that would slow him down. He can’t afford to get slowed down on Christmas Eve."
Young and Fairbanks wouldn’t say if Christmas Eve is the only time Santa Claus visits Paris.
"We’re authorized only to talk about his rest stop," Young said.
"I’m not going to tell you if he’s ever been in Paris at any other time of year.
"But, I can tell you that Santa Claus really likes the view from the top of Mount Magazine and has booked one of the cabins at Mount Magazine State Park for a little vacation," Young said.
"He also thinks the grounds of Subiaco Abbey are a great place to just walk around, grab some quiet time and do some thinking."