Monday, November 23, 2009

Maybe Schlafly will have a Santa?

Fuck you INBEV, fuck you. Its the little things like this that are the reason the Busch family legacy in STL is now shit. Take your money and get the hell out of town.

I don't begrudge you your business decisions or making of money.  You made a choice to trade your status as the kings of St. Louis for shiny rocks. Take your shiny rocks and get the hell out of town. We don't want you here pretending that things are the same as they ever were.

Always a Santa, even after layoff -
ST. LOUIS — Not even Santa Claus could escape the troubled economy.
bullet VIDEO: See more of this Santa with a calling

The Grant's Farm Christmas spectacular, where the jolly old elf sat front and center for three holiday seasons, was not making money. It had to go.

The man in the red suit got a pink slip.

So did the reindeer, the sleigh piled high with gifts and the gold throne on which Santa held court as children climbed onto his lap. The thousands of holiday lights that transformed The Bauernhof into a winter wonderland were switched off.

The news made its way through the popular tourist attraction in the summer of 2008 as Anheuser-Busch, the owner of Grant's Farm, was about to be purchased by brewer InBev. Santa will tell you that ending the young but popular holiday tradition hurt. Right there in his jelly belly.

Little did he know redemption was just around the corner.

He says the decision at Grant's Farm had to do with Anheuser-Busch positioning itself for a corporate buyout. Trimming the fat, if you will. The head of Grant's Farm says it was more about the weather. Outdoor events held during St. Louis winters are always a risk, and this one was not paying off.

As Santa says, everything happens for a reason. Especially when it comes to the holiday season.

Earlier this month, the former Grant's Farm Santa flew — by plane — to Virginia, to prepare for a new Christmas program at Busch Gardens Williamsburg. He is working for the same man who came to St. Louis in 2005 to help set up the Grant's Farm program.

Santa takes the stage in Williamsburg on Friday. He has spent the last three weeks perfecting his telling of "'Twas the Night Before Christmas." The theme park wanted Santa to tell it without a script.

For Warren Moellenhoeff, it is a second chance to be Santa, although this south city resident might argue that he never stopped. Even out of the fur-trimmed suit and cap, Moellenhoeff embodies Santa.

"I get recognized wherever I go," Moellenhoeff said. "That's why my voice and demeanor has to be Santa Claus-like, because I might be overheard. And I can't be rash or angry or become upset — which isn't my way. I have to maintain that character."

It's the stance he took shortly after he was approached early in 2005 by Grant's Farm general manager Andy Elmore while Moellenhoeff was working in the farm's milk house.

Grant's Farm, typically closed during the winter, was going to open for the Christmas season with its "Magic of the Holidays" program, Elmore said. We want you to be Santa Claus, he told Moellenhoeff.

"He has a great demeanor with people. We learned that very quickly. And frankly, he does look like Santa," Elmore said. "It's amazing. Add to that the good fortune that he has a theatrical background."

That background in local theater includes roles ranging from Julius Caesar to God. With his white hair and beard and wire-rimmed glasses, he was well on his way into the new role of Santa.

Elmore recalls that when he suggested the idea to Moellenhoeff, the response was, "I've been waiting for you to ask me."

Moellenhoeff embraced the role, growing his hair and beard. He even stopped wearing his name tag at Grant's Farm while working at the milk house or one of the four gift shops.

"If they come up and ask, I will admit to being Santa Claus," Moellenhoeff said. "I'm not going to tell them I'm Santa Claus, and then they see another name on me."


Moellenhoeff lives in a 120-year-old farmhouse in the Boulevard Heights neighborhood. When he was a child, the house on Sharp Avenue was surrounded by 40-plus acres. The land has since been subdivided and filled with brick bungalows.

Moellenhoeff had no intention of living here at the age of 73. He remembers back in the 1950s when his dad offered to save him a plot of land next door.

"Why on earth would I want that?" Moellenhoeff recalled thinking.

An only child, Moellenhoeff was soon ready to explore the world. He headed for college in 1953, graduating from what is now Concordia University Chicago in River Forest, Ill., In 1957 he married. He worked as a middle school teacher for more than a decade in Plymouth, Wis., and Springfield, Ill., before he and his wife moved to St. Louis in 1969. He was hired as a manager by Robert Wehmueller, who owned a chain of local jewelry stores. Wehmueller was a longtime family friend who became like a second father to Moellenhoff, especially after his dad died 40 years ago.

Moellenhoeff remained close to his mother. She would often ask him: "What would you ever do with this house?"

"I would always blow her off because I didn't know," he recalled.

When she died in 2000, he was forced to answer his mother's question. He retired and moved into the childhood house that he had not lived in for 47 years. Looking out a window of the house, past his red Jaguar convertible, he wishes that he'd taken his father up on that offer to keep the plot of land next door. He now owns the house with his partner, Windell Shanley. (After 27 years and three children, Moellenhoeff was divorced in 1984.)

When Moellenhoeff was a boy, his family would gather down the street at his grandparents' house for holiday dinner. Dad would inevitably make an excuse to leave, saying he had to check on the furnace or let the dog out. In reality, he was turning on all the holiday lights, making sure the presents were arranged just right, creating a magical Christmas for his family.

"There are so many wonderful, wonderful memories in this house. My father was a Christmas nut."

Moellenhoeff inherited that holiday passion. Typically, he puts up a Christmas tree in each room. It takes weeks to decorate the house and even longer to take it down.

This year, Moellenhoeff is saving his holiday cheer for Christmas Town, the new holiday affair at Busch Gardens Williamsburg. He will be the featured attraction in Santa's Fireside Feast, a dinner theater.

When the theme park was looking for a Santa for its new Christmas program, Scott Gasparich, vice president of entertainment, said he immediately thought of Moellenhoeff. He had seen him work when Gasparich was in St. Louis helping set up the Grant's Farm holiday program.

"We knew we had to come up with a unique Santa, and Warren certainly fit the bill," Gasparich said.


It was the week before Moellenhoeff left for Virginia, and on the kitchen table, where he used to serve dinner to his mother when she could no longer care for herself, sat a copy of "'Twas the Night Before Christmas." He had it memorized long before Busch Gardens asked him to. It's his favorite reading next to the first chapter of Genesis.

Mom would be proud, he said. Of his choice to move back in the house. To embrace the role of Santa. To make children believers in a cynical world.

And to live his life as he pleases.

On his bedroom wall, he has a framed quote from Henry David Thoreau.

"If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away."

Moellenhoeff, dressed in a plaid sweatshirt, jeans and tennis shoes, became animated.

"This is me. This is me," he said, pointing to the frame. "That sums up my life."

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