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Joshua Thomas
Liaisons Plaisantes, featuring, from left, Susan Casler, Ron Burch and Sue Ann Whedon, plays St. Nicholas Day at Fort Klock.

Joshua Thomas
St. Nicholas day attendees watch Liaisons Plaisantes perform.

Joshua Thomas
Fort Klock Historic Restoration Member and Former President Eugene Wagner has played St. Nicholas for nearly forty years.

Joshua Thomas
Fort Klock Historic Restoration Member and Former President Eugene Wagner, as St. Nicholas, greets Delton Keeba.

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St. Nicholas Day celebrated at Fort Klock for nearly forty years

Wednesday, December 04, 2013 - Updated: 8:22 AM

By JOSHUA THOMAS

C-S-E Editor

ST. JOHNSVILLE — For nearly forty years, Fort Klock Historic Restoration Member and Former President Eugene Wagner has donned the same red suit and hat, along with a flowing white beard and welcoming smile, to bring the legendary St. Nicholas to life.

St. Nicholas Day has been held at Fort Klock the first Sunday of every December for longer than even the lifelong Fort Klock Historic Restoration members can recall, although it's agreed that the event has gone on for at least three decades, and closer to four.

Before even entering the main building at Fort Klock, you can hear Christmas music, and if you attend at the right time, when the event is full of attendees, you can hear voices singing along. Upon opening the door, the scent of mulled cider wafts over you as St. Nicholas, with a wide, warm smile, cheerily greets visitors, inviting kids for a sit on his lap.

"Do you say your prayers every night?" St. Nicholas asks before giving each child a unique wooden ornament, 75 of which were hand painted by about eight members of Fort Klock Historic Restoration for this year's event. Each ornament is dated and emblazoned with the recipient's name before the kids are sent to see Storyteller Mary Brewster, who, accompanied by a picture book and a roaring fire, recounts the story of St. Nicholas.

The story focuses on a poor family dressed in "ragged clothing". St. Nicholas, hearing of the family's plight, drops some gold coins down the chimney and into the home. The family, thanks to St. Nicholas' generosity, said Brewster, were "at last able to eat and buy clothes, and they were much happier." The story, she said, is how St. Nicholas came to earn his saint-status -- by helping those in need, primarily children.

In the Fort's kitchen, Wade Wells ladled out cups of mulled cider -- a warm drink made from sweet cider, dark brown sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon and a cloved orange, which cooks slowly, adding its juices and oils to the mix, "balancing the flavor" according to Wells. 

There are also cups of hot chocolate, which has been cooking since 9:45 a.m. Hot chocolate, Wells explained, "would've been an extraordinary treat in the 18th century." While wealthy people could afford the drink anytime, those of poor or middling incomes only enjoyed the drink during the holidays.

In the next room, Liaisons Plaisantes played a selection of holiday songs. A large, seated crowd gathered around to sing along, the lulling favorite "Silent Night" floating out the stone facility and across Fort Klock's lawn to greet incoming attendees.

Fort Klock Historic Restoration President Mary Lee Mills said that nearly all 30 active members participate in St. Nicholas Day, whether by decorating the day before the event, making ornaments or helping in some capacity during it.

As the event has remained very much the same over the course of its existence, so have Wagner's goals in playing the beloved bishop.

Wagner shared a story about a child that visited two years ago with his mother. Wagner, as he always does, asked "do you say your prayers every night?" to which the child responded that he hadn't.

Last year, the boy and his mother returned, and the boy informed Wagner that ever since their visit, he's said his prayers every night with his mother's participation. "He stood right there and recited the Lord's prayer from beginning to end," said Wagner, visibly moved. 

"To feel like you touched someone -- that's what it's all about."

Joshua Thomas - St. Nicholas, played by Fort Klock Historic Restoration Member and Former President Eugene Wagner, gives Trace Keeba a handmade wooden ornament.

Joshua Thomas - Fort Klock Historic Restoration Member Cindy Sinchak writes Trace Keeba's name and the date on his ornament.

Joshua Thomas - Storyteller Mary Brewster reads the story of St. Nicholas.

Joshua Thomas - Wade Wells ladles a cup of hot mulled cider.

Joshua Thomas - Eight Fort Klock Historic Restoration members gathered in late October to create 75 hand painted wooden ornaments.

Joshua Thomas - Sophia Bellen (left) and Melanie Pomatto meet St. Nicholas, played by Fort Klock Historic Restoration Member and Former President Eugene Wagner.

     

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