What could be more magical than Christmas at a National Park lodge? Grand log-beamed lobbies, decked out in real pine trimmings, the crackling of massive stone fireplaces, and decadent holiday feasts, while far away from civilization with the glories of snow-blanketed nature in every direction.
On this episode of America’s National Parks, we take you back nearly 100 years, to an impending Christmas emergency. Three 6-year-olds came to the rescue of Christmas at Yellowstone National Park.
Listen to the episode in the player below, or wherever you get your podcasts.
Connect & Subscribe
Join the America’s National Parks Facebook Group here.
Links to some of the resources we used and the website links we mentioned in this episode.
Yellowstone National Park – National Park Service Website
Old Faithful Snow Lodge – Yellowstone National Park Lodges
Yellowstone Holiday Traditions – Yellowstone Forever
How Christmas in August Became an Annual Yellowstone Tradition – Yellowstone Insider
One of my dreams is to stay in a National Park lodge at Christmas. What could be more magical? Grand log-beamed lobbies, decked out in real pine trimmings, the crackling of massive stone fireplaces, and decadent holiday feasts, while far away from civilization with the glories of snow-blanketed nature in every direction.
In order to quench my thirst for National Park Christmas magic this year, we’ve put together this episode, featuring stories of Christmas at one of the most special places on earth, Yellowstone National Park.
We begin with the final Christmas of the 19th century. Let me set the scene. More than 40 years before the creation of the National Park Service, Yellowstone was established on March 1, 1872, as the world’s first national park. Between 1872 and 1886, the park was administered by the Interior Department and managed by a civilian superintendent with limited resources and almost no legal authority to maintain and protect the park’s natural features and wildlife. Over the next decade, special interest groups such as concessionaires, railroad and mining interests attempted to commercialize and privatize park lands.
In 1883, Congress transferred control of the park to the War Department, protecting Yellowstone from schemes to commercialize it. Congress then appropriated funds for the establishment of a permanent fort in 1891.
Over the next decade, 60 structures were erected at what would be known as Fort Yellowstone — mainly cottage style wood-framed buildings and some Colonial Revival styled buildings. 35 of which were still in existence one hundred years later. Along with the necessary personnel quarters, there was a 10-bed hospital, a jail, and a bakery.
Yellowstone Archivist Anne Foster dug up Assistant Superintendent George L. Henderson’s description from a January 1900 edition of the Livingston post of the just passed holiday celebration. It’s also a story of a happy telegram giving good word to the wife of Colonel Wilber Elliot Wilder, a Congressional Medal of Honor winner, about his safety.
Here’s Abigail Trabue.
The ladies of Fort Yellowstone united in making Christmas a joyful occasion for the Sunday School children. The Christmas tree was brilliantly illuminated and bore an abundance of that fruit which children most desire. Captain Brown made one of the jolliest Saints that ever distributed dolls to the outstretched arms of baby-mothers, so eager to kiss and embrace them. The boys were in raptures over their horns, tin horses, soldiers, and locomotives. All were sweetened up to the highest degree.When the tree was cleared of its fruit the jolly Saint informed his patrons that there were millions more expecting to see him that night and that he must bid them farewell.”Have you far to go?” enquired a sweet little girl in a voice that indicated both affection and pity for the good, hard-working Saint. This child’s motherly like curiosity and sympathy brought the house down with laughter and applause alike from citizen and soldier. The Saint soon vanished, surrounded by a halo of glory in the minds of the children, and that he was no mere illusion was evident from the fact that arms and pockets were full of dolls, candies and many other good things. Mrs. W. E. Wilder, although suffering from a sprained ankle, was present and furnished the music to which the school children marched and sang in joyful concert. Mrs. Wilder is very much loved and respected by the children. That night she looked radiant, having had a telegram from Col. Wilder that he was alive and well at Manila.”
JASON: Two decades later, the roaring twenties had hit the cities of the East, but Fort Yellowstone was still as old-fashioned as it gets. A Christmas emergency was coming, but three 6-year-olds came to the rescue. This heartwarming story comes from Jackie Jerla, Yellowstone Librarian.
Don Fraser, Bud Trishman and Spencer Dupre were first graders at the Mammoth Hot Springs School. Lessons for the 17 students at Fort Yellowstone were held in the old Army Canteen and went from first grade to the eighth grade. Their teacher was Mrs. Ellen Mariott, an accredited teacher whose salary was paid by the government. Books and materials had to be purchased by the students’ parents.
Don Fraser’s dad, Jay Fraser, was the assistant chief mechanic in the park. After a shopping trip to nearby Livingston, Montana, Little Don laid eyes on a battleship in a store window that was made from an Erector Set. He really wanted it for Christmas and his mom suggested that he write to Santa. But Fraser’s father Jay foresaw a problem with Santa’s arrival. “You know old man Pond closes the park gate every night at 9 o’clock and nobody leaves or gets into Yellowstone until morning,” he told his son.
Fraser never dreamt it possible that Santa would be barricaded from Yellowstone. With visions of the Erector Set battleship slipping away when Santa had to bypass Yellowstone, Fraser got with his friends Bud and Spencer to figure out what to do. Bud’s father was Harry Trishman, assistant chief ranger, and the boys thought that surely he could order the entrance gate to stay open on Christmas. But Harry had to explain to the boys that this matter was out of a ranger’s hands and only Superintendent Horace Albright could change it. If the boys wanted the gate open, they would have to talk with Superintendent Albright.
Lucky for the boys, Raymond Edmonds, the superintendent’s personal secretary, was a friend of the Fraser family. They reticently went to talk with him, despite always being told by their parents to never bother the superintendent and stay out of his yard and not to play around his house. Off they went and presented their case to Edmonds who listened to the 6-year-old’s request, then disappeared into Superintendent Albright’s office. When he came out, Edmonds told the boys the superintendent would see them.
Mustering their courage, the boys managed to express their concerns about the entrance gate being closed to Santa and then waited to hear the superintendent’s response. “I’ll give you some news, boys” said Albright. “We may be able to do something, but I don’t make or break the rules of Yellowstone National Park. We can, however, make a request to the Department of the Interior, if you boys will sign it.”
The boys agreed. Margaret Linsley, the postmaster’s wife was sent for, and Superintendent Albright dictated a letter requesting the entrance to Yellowstone be left open on Christmas Eve for Santa Claus. The boys signed the letter.
About two weeks went by before schoolteacher Mrs. Mariott announced that Don and Bud were to report to Superintendent Albright’s office after school. Normally they would have been scared, but this time they knew what it was about. When they arrived, Albright had in hand an official Department of Interior order declaring the gates to Yellowstone National Park were to remain open on Christmas Eve. And not just for that year, but each Christmas Eve from then on. The letter was framed and hung on Mr. Albright’s office for the rest of his tenure.
Accompanying the correspondence was a check for $200, proceeds of a collection taken among the staff of the Department of the Interior. The money was to be used to purchase Christmas presents for every child on the post.
The contribution did that and more. A community celebration was held with nearly all the families in Mammoth Hot Springs participating. School students produced and performed a Christmas play in the Canteen. The spirit of the season was alive and well in Mammoth Hot Springs that 1921 Christmas.
On Christmas morning, an Erector Set battleship, glowing in all its battery-powered splendor, graced the mantle in the Fraser home. Every kid on the post came over to play with it and it was christened “Battleship Yellowstone.”
Today, people can enter or leave Yellowstone at any hour of the day. But for nearly four decades after 1921, the policy of locking up at night remained in effect. Officially, the gates stood open only one night a year – on Christmas Eve – to accommodate the expected arrival of a very special tourist.
It’s unfortunate that, at the time, the flying abilities of Santa’s Reindeer had yet to be documented.
Visitor Centers at Mammoth Hot Springs and Old Faithful are open on Christmas Day and throughout the holiday season. Two Christmas Eve candlelight services are held every year in the Mammoth Chapel, which was built in 1913 for the Army soldiers and their families.The candlelight services are one of the oldest annual traditions in the park, as is the giant evergreen lit for the holidays on Officer’s Row.
The Old Faithful inn is closed this time of year, but the Old Faithful Snow Lodge opens around mid-December. The Snow Lodge and cabins, as well as the Old Faithful area, are only accessible by commercially operated oversnow vehicles in the winter. Here, you can enjoy a special Christmas dinner on December 25, and sing holiday carols with live piano music.
The Yellowstone Forever Institute offers a holiday retreat each year at the Lamar Buffalo Ranch. Spend Christmas relaxing with kindred spirits, searching for wildlife such as wolves, elk, and bison, and taking snowshoe rambles through the snowy wonderland that is the Lamar Valley.
To celebrate the new year, employees and guests at Old Faithful head out to the geyser viewing area shortly after midnight to be among the few to share the first eruption of the new year.
If several feet of snow isn’t your thing, concessionaire employees at Yellowstone celebrate Christmas in August every year to close out the busy season. The decades-old tradition has unknown origins, but every hotel in the Park is decorated with holiday trees in the lobbies and cookies are passed out to visitors on August 25th, which happens to be the birthday of the National Park Service.
This episode of America’s National Parks was hosted by me, Jason Epperson, and narrated by Abigail Trabue. If you enjoyed the show, we’d love a 5-star review wherever you listen to podcasts. Don’t forget to subscribe, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Just search “National Park Podcast.” You can also join our new America’s National Parks Facebook group. We’ll link to all of our social media, as well as National Park Service resources, music credits, and more in the show notes at National Park Podcast dot com.
If you are interested in RV travel, give us a listen over at the RV Miles Podcast. You can also follow Abigail and I as we travel the country in our converted school bus with our three boys at Our Wandering Family dot com.
Today’s show was sponsored by L.L.Bean, follow the hashtag #beanoutsider, and visit LLBean.com to find great gear for exploring the National Parks.
Provided through the generosity of the artists under a creative commons license.