A pair of bespectacled blue eyes peer out of Eleanor Peepe's living room window, watching the approach to her front porch. Wooden pipe nestled in a green-mittened hand, snowy white beard framing rosy cheeks, bag of toys slung over a shoulder - it's not difficult to guess who the silent sentinel is. His face is everywhere in December, and at Peepe's house there's a lot of him.
Four-hundred versions of Santa Claus sit inside a display case behind an organ in Peepe's living room. There's a crawling baby Santa, a Bug's Bunny and an alien in a Santa suit. A biker Saint Nick straddles a Harley Davidson. Another Kris Kringle with a backwards ball cap and headphones raps "gotta get jiggy with it."
Peepe said most of her Santa Clauses are gifts. She has more than she knows what to do with, she said. And each carries a story.
"I have them in the attic and I have a storage shed with them in it," Peepe said, adding that she rarely buys a Santa Claus. "I don't want any more Santa Clauses."
Peepe, who was born the oldest of eight children in Ventura and was raised in Compton and Lynwood in Southern California, moved to Crescent City in 1976. She is the wife of the late Crescent City mayor, William Peepe, who died in 2009.
Peepe said she had a few Santa Claus dolls growing up, but didn't really start collecting them until 1979 when she and her husband bought the house she lives in now. That's when Peepe made her life-size Saint Nick out of foam, rubber, sticks, newspaper, tons of duct tape and a department store mannequin.
"He's 6 foot 2 with eyes of blue," Peepe jokes.
When Peepe first created her life-sized Santa, she dressed him in a muslin suit. Now, he sports a suit of red velvet, a present from William Peepe. The pipe Saint Nick carries is an heirloom, Eleanor Peepe said. Instead of placing presents under a fir tree, Peepe puts her gifts at Santa Claus' feet. The display case, which is made out of old-growth redwood, was also a gift from William Peepe, his widow said.
For Peepe, Santa is more than an icon to celebrate once a year.
"When I was a kid we were very poor," she said. "Christmas was a really big thing. We got a stocking with an apple, orange, nuts, candy and a present. To me Santa seemed to be somebody special. To me giving gifts is something you do from your heart and Santa does that."
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