Santa came, as always, with good intentions. Inspired by holiday tableaux at European hotels and made by local volunteers, decorative Santa Claus figures went up on the sides of downtown Medford buildings in November 2001.
But a mix of too little support in the figures' interiors and too much December weather took its toll, and the erstwhile jolly elves were soon being described as looking like drunks, cat burglars and those broomstick-riding witches that smack into poles.
Downtowners called them "a theoretically good idea" and "a horrible mistake." They were labeled SWAT team Santas, the aftermath of a sleigh wreck and Wile E. Coyote plastered to the side of the Grand Canyon.
Part of a new $45,000 holiday package for the downtown core, they were sewn locally at a cost of $1,800 and stuffed with polystyrene peanuts by volunteers. But as the season wore on, moisture and gravity did their thing, and droopiness set in, and some parents complained that the figures frightened small children.
"The thought process of how do we hang them on the buildings never went all the way," the Heart of Medford Association's Shirley Bewley said of the 2001 effort.
These days the Santas are in storage in a container out at the city service center, says Joyce Loyd, manager of Heart of Medford, which organized the displays.
"They're just hanging around out there," Loyd deadpans.
Loyd is also the director of Winter Light Festival, a newer non-profit that now coordinates downtown holiday decorations.
The Santas were brought back in 2002 with a couple of twists. The Heart of Medford said they were hiding, and there was a contest to find them. They'd been rebuilt with interior support wires and additional stuffing and fastened onto buildings with ropes. Although some said the concept of hidden decorations was an oxymoron, others said at least they no longer looked look like soggy beanbags.
"I've had more comments about them," Loyd says. "Everybody said they looked like they were drunk."
She says the festival has not considered the fate of the Santas recently, although there was some talk at one point about having art students devise clever ways to pose them. She says the group plans this year to seek the help of a professional decorator.
"We have no income, so we'll have to get sponsors," she says.
Does that mean Santa Claus could be coming to town again?
"We haven't discussed it," Loyd says. "But it's certainly a possibility."