The Hoosierist: How Santa Claus, Indiana, Got Its Name

Unlicensed T-shirts, merciless logging, and Santa Claus’s backstory. Ask The Hoosierist.
Q: How did the town of Santa Claus, Indiana, get its name? 
Silvia N., Carmel  
A: The patch of Spencer County that would one day become Santa Claus was settled in the 1840s by stolid German immigrants who were too busy busting sod and grooming their epic pioneer beards to name the place. They put it off for so long that folks in nearby cities started referring to it as The Nameless Town. This no doubt put a serious damper on tourism. Eventually, The Nameless Town-ians met at a log church on Christmas Eve of 1852 to pick a moniker. In the midst of the deliberations, the church doors flew open and sleigh bells were heard in the distance, causing the children to shout, “It’s Santa Claus!” According to legend, everyone decided to go with that. Perhaps because they were ho-ho-ho-ly uninterested in hanging around that spooky log church any longer.
Q: How are those unlicensed Indiana-pride T-shirts with images of Reggie Miller or Andrew Luck even legal?
Wesley P., Indianapolis
A: Though they look like cut-and-dried copyright infringement, some tees get a pass thanks to a little document called the U.S. Constitution. “There are certain liberties a person can take in terms of parody,” says Mark Roesler, CEO of CMG Worldwide, which represents the estates of dozens of A-listers. The lawyers get involved if the shirt isn’t clearly a parody, brutally defames its subject, or (most importantly) if someone makes a lot of money from it. “If it’s Joe Smith in a rural Indiana town making a couple of T-shirts, there’s not much damage or financial recovery at the end of the rainbow,” Roesler says. Sounds like The Hoosierist’s basement screen-printing operation will be just fine.
Q: I hear that at one time, Indiana was covered end-to-end by forest. Is there anyplace where the original woodlands still exist?
Ellen O., Fishers  
A: Yes, there really was a time when you couldn’t see our forests for the trees. In pre-settler days, the state was blanketed by 20 million acres of timber. But virtually all of that was chopped down by pioneers intent on covering the state in corn and basketball courts. Even the “woodlands” in Indiana’s state parks aren’t what they seem. Most of those trees grew up in the last century, replacing the more impressive “old growth.” Only 2,000 acres of original forest remain, scattered around protected enclaves such as Bendix Woods Nature Preserve near Elkhart. Is it any wonder the Indiana state seal features a picture of a guy chopping down a tree?
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