by Mark Ollig
This marks the 60th year the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) will be tracking the flight path of a certain jolly old soul, and his famous reindeer sleigh team.
NORAD is always on guard; monitoring the skies, and ready to alert authorities in the event of any threats against North America.
We can sleep better at night knowing NORAD has our backs.
It’s quite an interesting story on how NORAD began tracking Santa and his sleigh team traveling around the world on Christmas Eve.
On Dec. 24, 1955, the Sears, Roebuck and Company department store, located in Colorado Springs, CO, placed a local newspaper advertisement.
This ad showed a picture of a smiling, white-bearded Santa, and the direct telephone number children could dial to talk to him.
“Hey, Kiddies! . . . Call me on my private phone and I will talk to you personally, any time day or night, or come in and visit me at Sears Toyland,” the newspaper ad read.
As a precaution, the advertisement included, “Kiddies, be sure and dial the correct number!”
Unbeknownst to the newspaper, they had mistakenly printed the wrong telephone number for Santa; one of the digits was incorrect.
Now, imagine a young child in Colorado Springs, picking up the telephone handset, dialing this number, and excitedly listening to the ring-back tone; anticipating what they were going to say to Santa.
It so happened, Dec. 24, 1955, US Air Force Col. Harry Shoup, director of operations at the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD -- NORAD’s predecessor), was on duty at CONAD headquarters in Colorado Springs.
At that time, CONAD had a top-secret, air defense telephone hotline used only for national emergencies; such as alerting CONAD personnel of any imminent Soviet Union military attacks against the US.
This hotline rang to a red desk phone, located at CONAD headquarters.
Can you guess what the top-secret telephone number was for this phone?
You knew it had to be the same telephone number being advertised in the newspaper for the kids to call Santa on; which, of course, it was.
Sometime on Christmas Eve 1955, the red phone began ringing.
Col. Shoup quickly answered it – thinking an attack may have begun.
Recalling this event years later, Col. Shoup said, “The red phone ringing it’s either the Pentagon calling, or the four-star General Partridge. I was all shook up.”
“So, I picked it up and said, Sir, this is Col. Shoup.”
There was only silence on the hotline.
“Sir, this is Col. Shoup,” he repeated.
“Sir, can you read me alright?” asked Col. Shoup, who said he believed a military general, was calling the hotline telephone.
Imagine his surprise when Col. Shoup hears, “Are you really Santa Claus?” in a little girl’s voice.
Col. Shoup looked around the room at the faces of his office personnel and sternly said, “Somebody’s playing a joke on me, and this isn’t funny!”
“Would you repeat that?” demanded Col. Shoup into the phone, believing it was some prankster randomly dialing telephone numbers.
“Are you really Santa Claus?” the small voice on the other end of the telephone line asked.
It was at about this time Col. Shoup was informed of the local newspaper advertisement mistakenly showing the top-secret telephone number hotline for kids to call Santa on.
Learning this, Col. Shoup’s demeanor changed.
He decided instead of disappointing the little girl, he would answer her as Santa would, saying, “Have you been a good little girl?”
The little girl said she knew Santa would be coming down the fireplace at her house, and that she was leaving some food there for him and the reindeer.
“Oh, boy! They sure will appreciate that!” Col. Shoup recalls telling the now happy little girl on the telephone.
He went on to say the little girl read off a “big, long list of what she wanted [for Christmas].”
Col. Shoup instructed his office team to “act as Santa’s helpers” whenever a child called the hotline number.
He also had his radar operators’ check for signs of Santa’s progress, as his sleigh team traveled from the North Pole that Christmas Eve so it could be reported to the children.
Of course, on this particular Christmas Eve, 1955, CONAD’s red hotline telephone was “ringing off the hook” with children wanting to talk with Santa.
The children calling were provided updates on where Santa Claus and his globe-circling reindeer sleigh team were currently located, via CONAD’s radar tracking system.
From that time on, Col. Shoup became known as “The Santa Colonel.”
He reportedly cherished this nickname until passing away March 14, 2009.
A NORAD video interview of Col. Shoup talking about the special Christmas Eve of 1955 can be seen here, http://tinyurl.com/bytes-Santa1.
The official NORAD Tracks Santa website features holiday music, games, Santa Tracker Countdown Clock, Exploring Santa’s North Pole, and other fun activities at http://www.noradsanta.org.
A photo of the Dec. 24, 1955 Colorado Springs newspaper ad can be seen here, http://tinyurl.com/bytes-sanata2.
Have a Merry Christmas.