December 24, 1916: Duluth Police Chief McKercher plays Santa Claus

On this day in Duluth in 1916, Duluth’s chief of police, Robert McKercher, dressed as Santa Claus to bring presents to many poor children in Duluth—and a couple old single guys in Pike Lake. He packed a cart full of toys and headed off, making his first stop the Children’s Home at Fifteenth Avenue East and Fifth Street. The newspaper played up one orphan’s lisp, quoting “Mary” as telling McKercher, “Honest, Santa, I’ve been a ‘dood’ ‘ittle ‘dirl.’ I knewed you’d ‘tome.’ I played t’at you’d ‘tome.’ Oh, ‘doody,’ ‘doody!” McKercher next stopped by his own home to play Santa for his six-year-old son Ensign, then visited “a dozen homes in the East End, others even less fortunate in the West End, and several dwellings in West Duluth. The Chief then headed out the Morris-Thomas Road where a little girl Louise lived “with her invalid mother and poor father in a tar-paper shack.” His last stop, the paper reported, was “out on the Pike Lake road to the humble homes of two aged and single men the paper called “the French bachelor” and “Otto.” He gave them “pumpkin pies and chocolate cakes made by Mrs. McKercher and a bag of fruit.” Both old men reportedly wept with joy, and the paper toyed with the French bachelor’s accent as they did the little girl’s lisp: “You are ze gran’, ze magnifique, ze generous man. May ze God of fortunate smile veer much on you.” Not everyone in Duluth liked Chief McKercher, particularly the editor of Duluth’s Rip-Saw newspaper. Read about their ongoing fued here.

Duluth Police Chief J. R. McKercher. (Image: Duluth Public Library)