History: The Santa Claus of Kerens

By Dana Stubbs – Special to the Navarro County Gazette

If you are among a certain station of the old timer Navarro Countians, this time of the year holds a unique Christmas memory. How very excited they were as little tots when they boarded the train of downtown Corsicana, or rode with their parents in a car as they traveled the almost twenty miles east to their destination.

Just the thought of the sights they were going to see made their eyes big and their hearts jump. Everyone in the nation was talking about it, but Navarro Countians were right there in the midst of it all.

What were they excited about this time of year?

Well, Santa of course, and he was in Kerens, Texas.

The big Santa Clause of Kerens was a sight to behold – Courtesy photo

When this very special Texan made his debut into the world in December of 1949, it was big news. His coming into being was announced in newspapers across the country. People from Alaska to New Jersey and even across the big pond read about him, and how it had taken two weeks to build his huge iron-pipe drill casing steel frame.

Yes, he was a big one: He weighed about 1,500 pounds. What ran through the minds of the little ones as they gazed at his huge four foot wide and five foot high head? That alone weighed 200 pounds.

The big Santa was modeled after Kerens natives Ottis F. Spurlock and Hardy P. Mayo.

Santa Claus towered over just about most things in Kerens. – Courtesy photo

When this Saint Nick stood up, his 42 foot high stance dwarfed the houses and buildings around him. His mid-section was 26 feet around. The big fellow measured 14 feet across his shoulders with a 13 and a half foot arm stretch and what big feet he had at 84 inches. His first beard was made of a 100 feet of 1 and a fourth inch rope. He was dressed in his usual costume of red and black, this time made out of oil cloth.

Getting Santa to stand took a lot of equipment. – Courtesy photo

However, just a few days into his first public introduction, the treacherous Texas winter weather played havoc on his person, as a gale-like wind thrashed his oil cloth clothes to shreds.

The Kerens community, led by bank president Earl Seale, came together in a hurry and made him a new stronger suit of ducking, which was sprayed with paint. During his redressing, he also received a better beard and a few other improvements.

Soon he was back, standing tall, happy, and full of holiday spirit by the weekend.

That year, hundreds of people drove or rode the train to Kerens to see the big Santa and shop. After all, that is why he was made. Howell Brister, Kerens Chamber of Commerce manager, came up with the idea in order to bring people to his town to shop.

Santa peeks out from a newly constructed chimney in 1950. – Courtesy photo

By December 1950, Kerens’ big Santa had grown another foot taller, and was surrounded by a chimney area 12 by 14 on the ground, and 24 feet high.

But the big crowds didn’t come.

In 1951, he was sold for $750 ($7,560 in 2020) to R. L. Thornton for a Santa display to be shown at the Great State Fair of Texas. However, after a few conversations, it was decided to redress the big Kerens native as a cowboy, giving him a “face lift”, with a new cowboy hat and boots to match.

From then on, Santa was known at the State Fair by his new name of “Big Tex.”

If you are lucky enough to have a childhood memory of Kerens’ Santa, or if you know of someone with stories of the big guy, please share them with us.

Categories: History