Saturday, December 10, 2011

Letters to Santa: we didn’t have email, but we had Paul Shannon

Earlier today when I was at Kuhn’s Market, I overheard two women talking about their holiday plans, and one of them was telling a story about her 7 year old son Toby. She had both the other woman (and me) in stitches.

She’s been after her boy to write a letter to Santa, to give her some ideas on what he wants for Christmas; she said that when she picked him up from her mother’s house the other night, Toby informed her that she can stop pestering him, he sent a letter to Santa on the computer.

She called her mother and asked her if she’d helped him, she said no but her neighbor’s daughter had been over and was helping Toby send an email. The whereabouts of this missing letter was still unknown & Toby’s mom says she’ll be bald before Christmas gets here.

It got me to thinking about writing letters to Santa when I was a kid; we didn’t have email but we DID have a rocket!  Well, courtesy of WTAE-TV & “Paul Shannon’s Adventure Time”.  In the 1960s, when we still lived in town, I used to race home from school to catch this local kid’s show.  Mr. Shannon was a tall, soft spoken man who showed cartoons like “Kimba the White Lion” & “Space Angel”, and always had a studio audience of Cub Scouts or Brownies.  (Oh how I wanted to be one of those kids!)

I’m surprised how little I can find about Paul Shannon online—but this is just how I remember him

But come December (from 1965-1970), he would tell all the kids at home to send their “Letters to Santa” in care of the tv station, and he’d send them to the North Pole-- on Channel 4’s very own moon rocket!

(You have to remember, this was the 1960s—hippies, Vietnam & civil rights may have been on the news every night, but so was the excitement of astronauts and rockets.)

The shows (in those weeks leading to Christmas) would end with Mr. Shannon and a “rocket hatch”; we’d see bags of letters already inside the compartment, and Paul would still be holding a few, reading off the names and addresses of the senders before tossing them in with the others. We’d then be treated to some stock footage of one of the Apollo moon rockets blasting off from Cape Canaveral—I mean Pittsburgh, cough—on it’s way to Santa. And I swear to God, as a kid in the first, second & third grades, I didn’t doubt where that missile was heading for a second.

What I lived for though was the “transmissions from the North Pole”. We’d see Santa in front of his workshop, waving hello and telling Paul Shannon, yes, the latest batch of letters arrived safely. He’d then read off a couple of ‘em, remarking on the fine penmanship or telling the writer how proud he was of them for helping their mom around the house.

George Heid, 1902-1973: He not only played Santa on Adventure Time, but donated his time to work with hundreds of handicapped kids in the Pittsburgh area

I can’t find any clips of him online, but I can still hear his voice; always loving & genuine, I didn’t doubt he was the real deal for a minute either. I can still remember one year panicking over my letter not being read on the air & asking my mom “what if mine got lost somewhere on the way there?” and her telling me “It didn’t Doug, your dad talked to him.” Thank God!

Well, this Santa may not have read any of my letters, but thanks to some very generous parents (and one very attentive mom), I know SOMEONE certainly did.

I love you, Mom & Dad 


  1. Your mom and dad look so happy in that pic. And what great parents too. Love that your mom said "your dad talked to him.” So lovely! Moms are the best.

    Great memories you shared here Doug. Enjoyed reading! :)

  2. Thanks so much Chelly (I was actually hoping you'd read this as I know how much you appreciate this type of thing). And YES when it came to Moms, I certainly had one of the best. Thanks again!

  3. Aw, thanks so much. I do love reading childhood memories—especially when they involve family vignettes or unique pop culture references that were an important part of an individual's experience.

    Great stuff here Doug! :)

  4. What memories you bring back! I remember that rocket and one year heard my siblings' and my name announced and watched our letter launched to the North Pole. I believed it all. It was a great show and unfortunately kids today don't have the same magical moments that we had growing up. Somehow sending an e-mail to Santa doesn't seem as awesome. Merry Christmas!

  5. Hey Pam Lippencott, it's great to hear from you! Thanks so much for your kind words here, and how cool is that, yours being one of the letters read--I would've flipped out :)

    Anyway, I very much agree that kids today are missing out on cool stuff like "rocket letters" but at least they still have Santa (my niece Sophia is still a firm believer). Pam, hope you and your family have a very Merry Christmas. :)

  6. Paul Shannon was my hero as a young boy. Nevermind Fred Rogers (no offense Mr. Rogers), but Paul Shannon reached-out to the little boys that wanted to be big boys.

    I too wanted to be like the "big kids" that were Cub Scouts and got to sit in the bleachers for the Adventure Time show.

    And that Saturn V rocket! There was an alarm that would sound when it was full of letters and ready to be launched. Then Mr. Shannon would back out of the way while the white mist swirled around it and it was ready for lift off. Yes yes. That NASA stock footage was the same every time, but I didn't seem to notice. My letter was on one of those glorious rockets - headed to the North Pole!

  7. Does anyone remember there being Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum at the North Pole?

  8. Hi Richard--I can't say that I do!

  9. Paul Shannon was my personal hero when I was a very young boy. The interesting thing about Mr. Shannon was that he never "talked down" to the kids. He spoke like an adult at all times and that made us kids feel like we had to grow-up to his level.

    Oh, and the rockets at Christmas! I just wonder how many young people he inspired with that prop and stock footage of a Saturn V during lift-off? Again, it made children feel like they were a part of something much bigger than themselves - to send letters to the North Pole using a rocket! How cool is that?

  10. Thanks Nick, and well said--I couldnt agree more! I'm really glad to hear from someone else who remembers him and his awesome show.

  11. I have the same autographed photo of Paul Shannon with "To Sue", my name, written on it when I met him in Pittsburgh. I had forgotten about the Christmas rocket. Thanks for the memories.

  12. That's so awesome, thank you for sharing Sue! :)

  13. Mike from Belle VernonDecember 22, 2017 at 9:41 AM

    I've been searching for years for clips of Paul Shannon putting those letters to Santa in that rocket... no luck so far, but the memory of it is still very vivid in my 53 year old head. Unfortunately, I never sent a letter to Santa via Paul Shannon (Mom said that it was for kids in Pittsburgh only, we were from Belle Vernon, which is apparently zillions of miles away.) But how cool was that!! He had a rocket! And it went straight to the North Pole! I loved the idea then, and I love it now. I'm glad to know that other kids like me had their imaginations stirred when seeing those letters being loaded into that rocket. It's a few days before Christmas 2017, and I'd love to have my letter sent to the big guy in the red suit via rocket! I've been a Stooges fan since Mr. Shannon introduced them to me, and the Kimba the White Lion theme still plays in my head. I hope Mr. Shannon's family know that he continues to be a well loved Pittsburgh icon. Thanks for posting this memory (6 years ago now!) and allowing us to find it and relive our own memories.

    1. Hey Mike, thanks so much for sharing your own memory of Adventure Time & watching those letters get blasted off to the North Pole--sure is nice to hear from others who have fond memories of this show too. (Had to laugh at your Belle Vernon comment, back then I lived even further from Pittsburgh than you!) Anyway, this really made my day--thanks again for sharing, sure hope you have a Merry Christmas :) PS. If you ever do run across a clip, please let me know!

  14. if you remember the rocket, then you must remember Paul Shannon flying to the north pole on his airplane to visit with Santa. That's when we knew that Paul Shannon knew Santa personally


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