As part of my 6,000 mile road trip to Alaska I managed to drop in on the North Pole …. no, not “the” geographical north pole, but rather a town 12 miles south of Fairbanks named “North Pole”. It is rather hard to avoid it, anybody heading to Fairbanks from the Alaska Highway or Valdez must drive through it.
So what is the story here, how did they end up with a town called, “North Pole”. It is perhaps a reflection of the type of characters that Alaska attracts, it got its name in 1952 when the Dahl and Gaske Development Company purchased a homestead, subdivided it, then renamed it North Pole, with the hope of attracting a toy manufacturer to the area. About the same time a chap called Conrad B. Miller. Miller opened a trading post along the highway in 1952 and that evolved into what is now known as the Santa Claus House. He sort of set the tone at the start of it all by wearing a Santa Claus suit and so earned the nickname of “Santa”.
Santa Claus house is everything you might expect (given that name), and so in the middle of August, we stopped off to bask in a vast array of Christmas decorations (wall to wall). My 13 year old daughter decided she was above it all and opted to not bother but instead hang out in the car and carry on playing a game on her iPad (a far more interesting attraction). It would have been a rather different story if she had been 6.
Was it really as tacky as I have painted it to be? Yep, it sure was, we got to meet this guy …
What surprised me was the constant stream of adults wanting to go up and shake his hand and also have their pictures taken with him.
Even more surprising is not just the setup, but rather the response to it all; the place was packed with folks more than willing to pay high prices for what can be best described as overpriced crap decorated with a Christmas motif, but it is not just the Santa House, the entire town is in on the game, they have Christmas-themed streets such as “Santa Claus Lane”, “St. Nicholas Drive”, “Snowman Lane”, and “Kris Kringle Drive”, and also all the street lights are decorated in a candy cane motif …
Seriously? … Yep …
… and of course many local businesses have leapt on the bandwagon with similar decorations. Even the city’s fire trucks and ambulances are in on the game, they are all red, and the police cars are green and white. The city also has an all-female flat-track Roller Derby league, the North Pole Babes in Toyland (NPBT) whose athletes have Christmas and/or North Pole inspired Skater names.
So … if you are ever in the area and on the road heading for Fairbanks, it is just 12 miles south on the Richardson Highway and is worth a stop, if only to gasp at the sheer kookyness of it all, ah but only in the summer and not for Christmas. Drop in during December and you will regret it, while their average low in December is -21 F, they have also recorded tempartures as low as -71 F. In other words, spit and it will be frozen before it hits the ground – that’s a temperature far lower than those found in any commercial freezer.
Within Alaska the main industries are of course oil and mining, and this town is no exception to that, they have simply opted to mine something that they have a constant flow of during the summer months … gullible tourists.