116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Last week, Time Machine reported on The Gazette sponsoring an “expedition” to the North Pole in 1929 to find Santa Claus and give him letters from Iowa children saying why they believed in him.
It was a stunt, undertaken as entertainment, but seasoned Arctic explorer Frank Kleinschmidt and his wife, Margaret, actually undertook a flight to the North Pole, reporting back to Gazette readers on their search for Santa.
By Nov. 22, the Kleinschmidts had reached Fort Severn in far northern Ontario. The next leg of the journey was treacherous.
The two landed in Victoria Island, in the Arctic Ocean, at about 4 p.m. Nov. 24 after the 1,000-mile flight from their New York City base. With their wireless frozen — it was 40 below zero — they reported having to navigate by compass over the frozen tundra.
Kleinschmidt reported Eskimos “at this time of the year do not live in snow houses but in underground igloos, the roofs of which are almost level with the ground. In the center of the roof is a window made of seal gut. The light shining through the windows was what betrayed their village to us in the air, otherwise there were only a few dogs and several caches for meat, which we would scarcely have noticed.”
The explorers left their plane on Victoria Island and moved to dog teams and reindeer to head toward the North Pole.
Back in Cedar Rapids, The Gazette’s Santa Claus editor stayed up late Nov. 26, hoping to hear from any amateur radio operator who might have had contact with the Kleinschmidts. No response.
The next day, just before press time, James Clark, an amateur operator in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, relayed a message from Kleinschmidt:
“Unable to transmit message last night. Were surrounded by a pack of wolves and had to fight them off all night. Lost two reindeer. Stopping only two hours to allow reindeer to feed before crossing Wales Strait. … Tell all the children we are pushing north full speed, and all indications denote a successful outcome.”
The explorers finally arrived in “Eskimoland” — the North Pole — Nov. 30. Kleinschmidt reported the Northern Lights were “filling the whole vault of heaven, and constitute the most beautiful, wonderful and supernatural display the eye of man has ever beheld.”
At this point, the Kleinschmidts said a little old man — about 3 feet tall, with a wrinkled face and frost-covered whiskers — approached them. Margaret Kleinschmidt asked him if he would like a cup of tea.
At first, the elf was reluctant to comply with the Kleinschmidts’ request to meet Santa, but eventually said, “Although he is busy with work, I know one thing, he will never disappoint children, and I will tell him all about the great thing your paper is doing for the children in Cedar Rapids.”
Unable to pronounce the elf’s name, the visitors dubbed him “Jimmy Aide.”
The next morning, Jimmy Aide escorted the Kleinschmidts to Santa’s castle. They were greeted by hundreds of elves, waving and cheering. Among them was a tall, fur-clad figure who was smiling behind a mass of whiskers.
“Welcome, captain and party. You are now in the kingdom of Santa Claus,” Santa reportedly said. “I am going to give you the first handshake that was ever given to mortal man in my home. Come in.”
On their first day in the castle, the Kleinschmidts viewed giant rooms filled with millions of presents destined for children all over the world.
The second day, they rode moving staircases past floor after floor of elves working on toys and packing them for delivery. At the bottom, the chief elf and a large crew of machinists and engineers operated the North Pole powerhouse.
Santa said he’d connected his machinery to the North Pole axis, “and the power that spins the Earth drives all my machinery, the lathes and saws and drills. You know it takes a lot of power to manufacture toys for more than 50 million children each year.”
The group then boarded an elevator that rose floor after floor, each named after countries. Getting off at the “United States” floor, they entered a huge library of ledgers.
“You are from Iowa, and here you are,” Santa said, flipping through pages to the one showing The Gazette wanting “to make boys and girls happy in Eastern Iowa.” The ledger was filled with the names of the children who had written letters to Santa.
The third day featured a visit to Santa’s workshop that had a hundred rooms.
On the fourth day, the group went to visit Santa’s friend, Jack Frost, and the fifth day they visited Santa’s magic observatory with a huge “television telescope” through which Santa could observe the behavior of children everywhere.
The sixth day the visitors stopped at the Christmas Forest for lunch and then moved on to the Easter Egg Valley to visit with the famous Bunny and his wife.
Missives from the North Pole stopped coming Dec. 8 as the explorers returned home.
After that fantasy trip, the newspaper’s focus turned to the very real Dec. 14 Christmas parade in downtown Cedar Rapids, sponsored by the Cedar Rapids Gazette and Republican and the Mercantile Bureau. Mild weather contributed to record crowds.
The black-and-white motion picture the Kleinschmidts provided from Santa Land was shown in Eastern Iowa theaters from Dec. 15 until Christmas. The 20-minute film was described as “a fantasy actually filmed in northern Alaska.”
It was part of the Kleinschmidts’ marketing of their North Pole and Alaska journeys, bringing a little Christmas magic to newspaper readers across the United States from 1925 through 1941 and to Eastern Iowa in 1929.