This guy is … obviously Santa Claus. I met him yesterday on my way to the Library of Congress to do research on my biography of Eliza Scidmore.
Santa with his toy trains at the National Christmas Tree, south of the White House. (Photo: Diana Parsell)
These days I have a new routine on the days when I go to the library. I take Metro into town, but exit at the Foggy Bottom station and walk the rest of the way to Capitol Hill. It’s about 3.5 miles. A chance to get some exercise without the tediousness of a gym workout.
The move was inspired by my writer friend Jenny Rough, who wrote an essay in The Washington Post about walking from work in D.C. to her home in Alexandria, Va. Seven miles. Twice my distance, but still …
I like to vary the route. Yesterday I walked south of the White House, past the National Christmas Tree. I did a detour to take a closer look. The tree wasn’t very interesting with no lights ablaze. Huge amount of wiring.
There were lots of toy trains chugging away at the base of the tree. And I was intrigued by this guy who seemed to make the trains run.
After watching a while, my curiosity got the better of me. When I nudged him over, he was kind enough to respond.
I needed to know: With that beard, does he moonlight as Santa.
Yes, he does.
He gave me his name but asked me not to “put it out there on the Internet.” So I won’t.
Just call me Santa.
I did learn that he lives in Fairfax County, Virginia. The same county I live in. He’s retired and does this as a hobby.
Every year he and a bunch of toy railroad enthusiasts volunteer their time to operate the trains. The group has been doing it since 1994. They even have their own organization and website (here). From Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day they run the train 12 hours a day. The toolbox of wrenches and such is disguised to look like a train depot.
And where are the trains when not on display? Packed up for 11 months of the year in a warehouse. They’re owned by the concession that sets up the National Christmas Tree display every year.
Yes, Santa told me, he does have a beard the rest of the year. Much more modest. He lets it grow wild and crazy for the holidays.
The Canadian Pacific chugs south of White House. I was intrigued to discover in my research that Eliza Scidmore wrote promotional materials for the Canadian Pacific in the 1890s, after the railroad started its premium service to Japan and the Far East. (Photo: National Christmas Tree Railroad)