Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

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December 24, 2010

World’s Biggest Santa Claus

Corsicana — In 1948 Howell Brister, who was president of the Chamber of Commerce in the Navarro County community of Kerens, devised a plan to keep hometown shoppers from driving to Corsicana or Dallas to do their Christmas shopping. He proposed that community join together to build the world’s biggest Santa Claus to display in the downtown business area. Ottis Spurlock, a local grocer who stood over six feet tall and weighed 275 pounds, agreed to serve as the model for the project. The planners took Spurlock’s measurements and multiplied them by seven for the dimensions of the proposed Super Santa, making the final statue over 43 feet tall.  

The entire community got into the act. With $68 worth of metal tubing, some local welders along with the high school ag boys, built the frame. A concrete worker fashioned Santa’s boots. Women employed at a sewing outlet in town stitched 168 yards of red oil cloth for Santa’s suit, and students in the Art Department at Baylor University made a plaster face and head. Customers at the local coffee shop went to work fraying seven-foot long strands of rope to serve as his beard.  

Finally the giant St. Nick was ready to take his place in downtown Kerens for the 1949 Christmas shopping season. Just as Brister had envisioned, large crowds not only from Kerens but from surrounding communities as well, came to gawk at the spectacle. But there were problems, almost from the outset. A strong gust of wind literally blew Santa’s suit off, and the sewing women had to secure more oil cloth to make him some new clothes. It became apparent the new clothes were going to be a reoccurring problem for the outdoor Santa. In addition, after a couple of years the novelty began to wear off, and Santa began to lose his appeal in drawing shoppers downtown.

But Brister had another idea. Rather than merely dismantle Super Santa, he approached Robert L. Thorton, who was chairman of the State Fair of Texas, with a proposal. In short, Santa was for sale. Thornton acquired Santa’s components for $750, and he engaged the services of artist Jack Bridges to transform him from St. Nick to a giant cowboy, whom he dubbed Big Tex. Towering 52 feet above the crowds at the State Fair, Big Tex made his debut in 1952, dressed in size 70 boots, a 75 gallon hat, and jeans and a plaid shirt donated by the H.D. Lee Company. The following year, some “surgical procedures” added a booming voice enabling Big Tex to welcome fairgoers to the midway. Few visitors are aware that Big Tex, one of the most visible symbols of the State Fair, began his career as Santa Claus in downtown Kerens.

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Dr. Tommy Stringer is executive director of the Navarro College Foundation. He may be reached by e-mail at tommy.stringer@navarrocollege.edu

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