Bentleyville's Santa works his magicMost people don’t know it, but the real magic of Bentleyville happens outside the glow of the Christmas lights.
By: Sarah Horner, Duluth News Tribune
Most people don’t know it, but the real magic of Bentleyville happens outside the glow of the Christmas lights.
It happens in a trailer tucked behind the shadows of the Bayfront Festival Park pavilion, when Tom Marciniak, an employee at the Sappi paper mill, steps into his pair of plush red pants, secures his long white beard and becomes Santa Claus.
“It takes about 30 minutes or so to get ready and then I head out there,” Marciniak said. “I sit in that sleigh for four hours and never get up. … It gets cold, but it’s worth it.”
Marciniak, who layers on three sweatshirts and two jackets to bear the cold, has been bringing his star Santa power to Bentleyville for the past five years. It’s his best gig in a roughly 25-year career in the Santa business, and he doesn’t even get paid for it.
“There’s a lot of people hurting in the world today, and if I can leave a smile on someone’s face for a minute or two or make someone laugh, it’s worth all the time and effort,” Marciniak said.
It’s not always easy though. While perched at his post in the Bentleyville sleigh, Marciniak contends with everything from crying babies to too-cool teens who have waited in the cold for sometimes more than an hour to see him. He’s trained not to lose his cool though, and he’s got plenty of tricks up his sleeve to help.
His snow globe probably gets the most play. He pulls it out and asks kids to close their eyes while he looks in to the globe. If it’s snowing inside it when they open them it means they’ve made it on to the nice list; if it’s not they’re stuck on the naughty one.
“The kids really seem to like it,” Marciniak said. “I get kids that accuse me of being fake until I throw out my crystal ball and then all the sudden they’re like ‘geez, maybe he is the real thing.’ ”
That’s the hard-earned reputation Marciniak has made for himself over the years, said Mary Towers, the volunteer coordinator at Bentleyville this year.
“He has patience. He tries to get to know the kids. I don’t how he does it he just finds a way to get in,” she said. “I used to take my grandkids to see him and he was always the real Santa to them. The ones at the mall or other places were fake, but they believed in the Bentleyville Santa.”
Marciniak was making believers out of a line of kids out to see the Christmas lights Sunday night. He danced in his seat in between visitors and busted out the snow globe frequently.
Ten-year-old Max Saburn made it on the nice list.
“I really liked him,” Saburn said about meeting Santa. “He knows a lot about the Vikings.”
Five-year-old Gracie Bakkenthun relayed a long list of requests before hopping off Marciniak’s lap.
“I want a Polly pocket, a DS, a four-wheeler and hamster pets,” she said smiling. She only needed one word to describe her visit with Santa.
“Good,” she said.
Reactions like that make the four-hour stint in the bitter cold worth it, Marciniak said, even on weekdays when he has to put on his jolly face after an eight-hour day at the paper mill.
“It’s hard to explain it. I guess I just like to make people happy,” he said.