Santarchy History: The Early Years

Santacon 1994
photo by Scott Beale

Dateline, San Francisco: Midget Dressed as Santa Disembowels Carmelite Nun with Teeth While Hundreds of Yobs Dressed as Santa Cheer

Now that I have your attention:

Santarchy: a brief history.

Santa names have been obscured to protect the guilty.

Talk about an absurd one-trick pony event with a half-life of Strontium 90! The first “SantaCon” took place in San Francisco in 1994 and was sponsored by The San Francisco Cacophony Society. The original inspiration came from an earlier SF adventure club called The Suicide Club. The Founder and Avatar of The Suicide Club, Gary Warne decided to organize a non-political, purely surreal Santa prank event after reading a Mother Jones article about a Danish political group dressing as Santas and mobbing a Copenhagen Dept. store just before Christmas. Gary’s untimely death and the demise of the Suicide Club put the kibosh on this super obvious, (destined to be) Yule-time tradition. Gary’s idea, which was eventually given life years later by Cacophony was simply to play with the archetypal image of Santa using a barrage of many Santas (hopefully) inducing a psychedelic reaction from the public while the core of Santas had a real adventure and a lot of fun while goofing it up at various downtown X-mas locations. Had the Suicide Club organized the event it would have fit in nicely with other Club winners such as Clowns on the Bus (dozens of seemingly unrelated clowns going to work, all waiting at succeeding bus stops along the Geary bus line on a commute morning,) The Mud People (the mechanics should be obvious; this event was reprised with great success on Rodeo Dr. by L.A. Cacophony in ’94,) and many other public pranks pulled in the late 70s & early 80s. Alas, it was not to be. The Suicide Club, best known for climbing major suspension bridges, throwing insane costumed events in cemeteries, abandoned breweries, and sewers, and for infiltrating cults such as the Moonies and the American Nazi Party left only a forlorn Suicide note from the Caliph of the North Pole.

Flash forward:

Inspired by the Suicide Club idea and the Danish group, Santa Rob decides he wants to organize a Santa event for Cacophony. He enlists the help of Santa M2 & (yours truly) Santa Melmoth and lists the event in Rough Draft, the Cacophony Society newsletter. Professional bus driver Santa Alex is drafted to haul the Krimson Kringles about downtown SF.We get on the bus & end up downtown. We take a Cable Car up Nob Hill hit a few hotels & descend into Union Square where after making a pass thru Macy’s, I don a body harness and get “hanged by the neck” on a scaffold in front of The Saint Francis Hotel around midnight. We didn’t drink much at all and (with the exception of the hanging) almost all interactions with the public were fun, funny and amiable. This 1st event is so perfect and such an unbelievably fun time, most of the Santas seem to believe once is enough, why try & recreate such a magically singular experience? The ever-brilliant Santa Mangrinus in his “zine” (remember zines?) Twisted Times, while discussing another event of epically stupid proportions that we had all had a hand in noted dryly: Anything worth doing is worth driving into the ground. This brilliant adage applied as aptly to the impending Santa Deluge.

Of course we did it again! We start at the ice skating rink at Embarcadero & Market where, as we are suiting up some bad Santas engage in a snowball fight (the zamboni scrapings from the rink leave a huge pile of soft slush side the rink) with a bunch of 10 year olds which culminates in the Santas chasing the kids across & out of the park, to the amused concern of their parents (the Santa’s parents! Hohohohoho) This is the year we learn when a group of pranksters become a stupid mob. The number is around 100. You can’t see everything the Santas are doing. You can’t intercede between really dumb, drunk and malicious Santas and the authorities if you can’t see em. The control Santas are unable to piss on the various holiday fires. One Santa, in particular, is responsible for most of the violent chaos. I’ll use a pseudonym: SANTA CHRIS RADCLIFFE, 1140 Corondolet St, New Orleans, LA. 504-606-6156!!!! Screw MY Redwing boots to the redwood deck while passed out on cheap gin and then hose me down with a water hose AND film it and show the film to 600 people at MY party, motherfucker!!!! Hohohohohohohohoho!! Santa_______ as we’ll call him from now on, pretty much invented all of the bad, stupid Santa activities that have become de rigeur for santas like the New Zealand crew of this year. On the 2nd Santacon in 1995, Santa_______ insulted pedestrians, made lewd comments to passing ladies, threatened security officers and generally did for Santa what Harvey Keitel did for the NYPD in the Abel Ferera movie Bad Lieutenant. Santa_______ crowned his evening activities by getting in a shoving match with young, macho security guards at The Emporium and telling them: What are you punks gonna do? There’s a HUNDRED OF US!!!! Oh, there were other Bad Santas. Santa Robert (not to be confused with the benign & low key SantaCon originator Santa Rob) swiped a bottle of Skyye Vodka off a family’s table at a debutante party we crashed in the Venetian Room of the Fairmont Hotel. He pounded the whole bottle. He later projectile vomited on the Geary 38 bus as we were attempting to escape the police. Santas Flash & Dana spirited him off the bus before we were detained by the cops, no doubt saving him a night in jail. After escorting Santa off the fleeing bus the heat found a nicely packaged commercial looking “Santa’s Heroin Cooking Kit” containing a spoon, lighter, big rubber band & syringe! Earlier Santas P & R staged a mock Santassasination in Union Square using a very realistic looking starter’s pistol which they ditched in the mob as police zeroed in after the loud gun’s report. Cops got the piece, too. Elsewhere, cops nailed a lady Santa for allegedly baring her breasts. Two Santas were taken from the ill-fated Geary 38 and arrested after one of them was mistaken for Santa_________ who had mysteriously disappeared. Like most natural disasters (Katrina, the Bubonic Plague, Michael Jackson, etc.) it takes years of research to find out what really happened. Fortunately at the time two friendly journalists printed largely positive accounts of the event (SF Weekly & SF Bay Guardian). The Dailys were less forgiving (San Francisco Chronicle).

We were determined never to do it again after all that! Then our friends in Portland Cacophony decided they would do a SantaCon. We figured, what the hell. Portland was such a sleepy, calm, reasonable place. What could possibly go wrong there?

— Santa Melmoth