Black Santas part of holiday collection at Belle Boyd House

December 07, 2009|By CRYSTAL SCHELLE

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- What Alice McCain, 61, of Martinsburg really wanted was an heirloom.

Looking for something that represented her culture, McCain has collected nearly 90 black Santa Clauses. The collection is on display at the Belle Boyd House, 126 E Race St., intermingled with the 100 white Santa Clauses from the collection of Harriet Weakly Johnson. The exhibit continues through Tuesday, Dec. 22.

McCain said her white friends talked about how certain items came from their grandparents.

"I don't have those kinds of memories," McCain said.

But the Santas she has amassed she wants to pass to her son, Derrick, 34, who lives in Orlando, Fla., and she hopes he will continue the tradition.

In 1979, she decided she wanted to purchase a Christmas ornament containing a black figure. But there were none to be found.


The hunt continued, but she couldn't find anything Christmasy that represented her culture. One day, she was in a drug store and saw ceramic figurines of the traditional white Santa Claus. She recalls purchasing three or four of the Santa Clauses.

"And I took them home and painted them brown," she said.

That act started her on a mission -- to find as many black Santa Clauses as she could, even if she had to make them or paint them.

"I just became fixated on it," she said with a laugh.

A cloth Santa Claus, more than 4 feet tall, greets visitors at the Belle Boyd House. McCain said she made the cloth Santa in 1990, the same year she started making the cloth dolls. She said she spotted a similar white Santa and wanted to make a black one for herself.

McCain said she has looked everywhere for black Santas, including flea markets, department and hardware stores. She said she even goes to Lowe's to special-order her Santas. And everytime she went on vacation, including trips to France and the Virgin Islands, McCain made a point to try to find black Santa Clauses.

"It just lights up my heart everytime I get a new one," she said.

In the collection at the Belle Boyd House, about 15 of the Santas are called motionettes, which mean they are electric. Several talk, and one she purchased from Avon tells a story every time a book is placed in Santa's hands.

McCain, who was a police officer in New York City and later retired from the Montgomery County, Md., government, where one of her jobs was deputy sheriff, now works as a real estate agent. She said she has made a point to find Santa doing a variety of things, including one Santa who is a firefighter.

"I hope people appreciate Santa can be anything your imagination says he can be. It can be fun having Santa doing a lot of different things," she said.

For McCain, just sharing her collection with others fills her with the Christmas spirit.

"It brings tears to my eyes that this collection that brought such joy to me will be seen by other people," she said.

If you go ...

What: Santas from Around the Area

When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and 1 to 4 p.m. Sundays, now through Tuesday, Dec. 22

Where: Belle Boyd House, 126 E. Race St., Martinsburg, W.Va.

Cost: Free, but donations welcome

More: For more information call 304-267-4713

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