A Comedy of Errors


‘Tis the season for festive events and the Tampa Bay area celebrates in colorful style, with holiday light shows and decorated boat parades. There are so many options, that it actually isn’t possible to attend them all.

Many of the events are long-standing traditions because they are well-planned and attendees have a wonderful time. Unfortunately, not all events work out. I recently read about one that was an unmitigated disaster*.

The eight day extravaganza was held in downtown Tampa back in 1958 and it’s so infamous that it is still discussed to this day. Howard Hilton (of the Hilton & Gray Advertising Agency) pitched a winter wonderland to downtown business leaders and they eagerly hopped on board.

Snow Show would feature the nation’s tallest Christmas tree, a 5-story ski slope with toboggan rides, an ice rink with skate performances throughout the day, a world record ice cube, “reindeer”, and, of course, Santa.

What transpired reads like a script for a National Lampoon movie. The troubles began with the tree. The governor of Minnesota enlisted a logging company to scour the North Woods for a massive specimen. They bulldozed a road in order to haul it out and then strapped it on a train bound for Florida.

The tree was so immense that it snapped in Indiana when the train rounded a curve. The logging company attempted to get another tree but their equipment bogged down in the mud. Finally, a second company shipped a suitable tree.

Upon arrival, engineers took extra precautions and dug a hole in the middle of Franklin Street. The towering conifer was carefully lifted into place but its weight broke through the sewer line below and raw sewage gushed forth.

Florida’s typically warm weather also played a role, it was almost impossible to maintain the ski slope, even with 3 million pounds of shaved ice. The Norwegian ski jumper brought over to open the venue crashed on his first run down. As did the first few toboggans before the slope was closed due to unsafe conditions.

The ice rink didn’t fare much better, during the first performance a skate flew off and gashed a young attendee’s face. The show ended early and the girl was taken to the hospital. A few nights later, one of the performers was caught making extra money by putting on an “after hours” show for men in the dressing room.

But surely nothing could go wrong with watching an 8 ton ice cube melt? Well, in an effort to win the “guess when it will melt” contest somebody doused the base with salt which created a top heavy shape that fell over on a little girl.

The borrowed deer which were to serve as reindeer were so traumatized by their handling that one died trying to escape and another molted (huge chunks of fur fell off leaving behind raw, red skin). After protests by animal rights activists all the animal exhibits were closed.

One might think finding a suitable Santa would be the least of the problems. But just like in the original Miracle on 34th Street, the first Santa had to be fired for drinking on the job. One of the replacements, hid in the department store until it closed and cleaned out the jewelry department.

Needless to say, though memorable, Snow Show was never reprised. Personally, I think it would make a great movie!

*Kudos to the Tampa Bay Times for reprinting the article.

Categories: Observations

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