MANCHESTER, NH – The seasonal Manchester landmark that’s come to be known as Creepy Santa or Demented Santa, a 12-foot-tall weathered fiberglass statue of Santa Claus, has a new location this year after 30 years standing vigil over the Rheume family Christmas tree lot on Elm Street.
But residents who are saddened to see the iconic figure move a few blocks south and are feeling nostalgic about the end of an era — or the 0.3-mile shift of an era — can turn to a popular painting of Creepy Santa by Manchester resident Deb Funk, which was painted in 2012 and even shows the street signs marking his original home at the corner of Elm Street and Salmon Street.
For the past few years, the painting has been used with the artist’s permission by CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) of New Hampshire for its fundraising cards.
“(Creepy Santa) has a tremendous fan base in Greater Manchester and the card has been a popular choice for a Christmas-themed card the last three years. We expect to see continued appreciation of this card for years to come,” said CASA of NH spokesperson Carolyn Cote.
Creepy Santa has been around for a while but he’s not your typical holiday decoration. Something about him is just off, and that uncanny visage — perhaps his thousand-yard stare and slightly curled malevolent brow, coupled with a phony, broad smile, like a murderous clown — has made him famous.
But not everyone reacts to the statue in the same way.
“I think it’s his size for one. And the fact that he has kind of an unusual, I guess some would say creepy, look on his face. His eyes are a little buggy, really,” Funk said.
Creepy or not, the statue has become a beloved icon for many. For Funk, who raised her family in Manchester’s North End, and shopped at the Christmas tree lot each year, Creepy Santa was never all that creepy.
“To some he comes across as creepy. To us, he just came across as Christmas,” Funk said.
Christmas officially began, when Creepy Santa went up. So when she decided to become Creepy Santa’s portraitist some eight years ago, it was out of love and happy memories.
Funk said she painted the image as a gift to her husband, who was the family’s biggest fan. After the statue was moved because of a bank development project on the corner, he was dismayed, Funk said.
“I think there were a lot of people that were disappointed,” she said.
The owners of Creepy Santa ended up erecting him at 1467 Elm Street, just a few blocks south, next to the Masonic Temple. While it isn’t far from where it started, Funk said it had much more visibility at the former location, where he greeted (with a foreboding wave or arresting command) motorists coming off the Amoskeag Bridge.
“Now it feels like he’s kind of tucked away at a gas station,” Funk said.
Funk, who has also painted murals around the city, decided to use her Creepy Santa painting for Christmas gift cards a few years ago, and had them printed at Allegra in Bedford.
Someone at CASA saw the painting there, as they use the same print shop for their Cards for a Cause program, and decided it needed to be submitted for one of their cards.
Cote said the program has been a great way for people to support the advocacy work their volunteers provide children statewide.
“Over the years we’ve heard from people who have become donors and advocates that they first heard about CASA because they received one of our cards from a friend,” Cote said. “Our collection of cards wouldn’t be possible without artists like Deb who contribute submissions to it each year. We are so grateful for their generosity.”