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Where's Santa'

Find all 13 downtown Santas and win a prize

They hang from ropes and appear to head-butt walls, or their legs stick out in apparent rigor mortis, but at least this year they don't look like big red beanbags.

The trick is finding the downtown Santa Claus figures at all. The Heart of Medford Association is not exactly flaunting them, Shirley Bewley acknowledges.

We're hiding them, says Bewley, who took over the project this year.

Skeptics may ask if hidden decoration is not an oxymoron, but Bewley says the idea is to find as many of the 13 Santas as you can.

Entry forms for the contest are available wherever the stealth Santas lurk. Prizes include a night at the Red Lion and Craterian Theater tickets.

Whether it's the several design improvements or just the deployment of the figures in more obscure spots, the snickering that greeted the figures' debut last year, if it hasn't gone away, has perhaps subsided somewhat.

I like them better, says Margaret Graham of Medford, who thought last season's figures looked like those cartoon witches that run into poles. I think they're tongue-in-cheek.

He's plumper, Justina DeVriese says, sizing up a Santa seated atop a bank. He's more stuffed.

They still look like this, says Andy La Fond, drooping his head to one side.

The Santas were made last year for about &

36;1,800 and attached to the walls of buildings around Main Street. Most soon slumped into lifeless poses. Residents described them as red-suited cat burglars, SWAT-team Santas and Wile E. Coyote plastered on a canyon wall.

The thought process of how do we hang them on the buildings never went all the way, Bewley says.

Some of the Santas are easy to spot. One hangs from a yellow rope on a downtown motel. Another dangles near the top of the town's most visible theater building with a sign in its hand that says Yikes! The heads of both loll to the side.

He seems to be rappelling, Graham says of Theater Claus. But once you get past the ropes, the effect of the head is minimal, like he's maybe taking a nap.

Last year the Santas' posture problems worsened as the holidays wore on. Some parents complained that the saggy figures frightened small children.

This year the Santas have had support wires installed in their arms, legs and necks. They have been plumped up with additional stuffing and prodded and lashed into less comatose positions. Most no longer look like victims of neck injuries.

Part of the problem last year was what happens when malleable materials meet gravity, organizers realized. The figures were stuffed with polystyrene peanuts ' too few peanuts ' with the result that what happens to the human figure with aging happened to the Santas virtually overnight. Especially with rain.

December in Oregon, it turns out, is subject to rain, frost, fog and other phenomena that don't perk up an outdoor Santa, or add to the attractiveness of fuzzy red outfits, long hair and beards.

Santa's face was improvised at the last minute using transparent plastic masks, pink construction paper and black button eyes that suggest the lump-of-coal look favored by Frosty the Snowman.

All of a sudden we realized they needed faces, Bewley says. At least they're not a blank nothingness.

Many say they are an improvement.

Last year, Graham says, I think I looked at them too literally.

Thomas Allen, a member of the Elks board of trustees, sets Santa up to wave down from the Elks Lodge to a fog-covered Central Avenue on Friday. Mail Tribune / Jim Craven - Mail Tribune Jim Craven