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The Man Who Dared To Dream

Griffin of the Adirondack Enterprise interviews Bob Welch, author of The Man Who Dared To Dream.

This biography focuses less on the current state of the Santa’s Workshop and more on the man who built it, along with many anecdotes unrelated to the theme park.

"I was kind of smitten with the story right from the get-go," Welch said. "I think people are going to learn about a guy who was ahead of his times in terms of how he regarded other people."

During the writing process, Welch discovered that Reiss was part of an equality-activist group that toured colleges, speaking out against racism years before the Civil Rights Movement took shape.

Reiss was also an advocate for profit sharing between companies and their employees.

"This guy came from money," Welch said. "I think it was his grandfather who made his money in the coal business in the Great Lakes area. Business people who have lots of money and are very powerful sometimes overlook the little guy, and Reiss was quite the opposite."

On top of all that, Welch said Reiss had a whimsical side.

"When his daughter said, 'Daddy, I want to visit Santa at the North Pole,' he made it happen."

One of Welch's favorite bits of North Pole history is that Walt Disney sent a group of representatives to Santa's Workshop to take notes for what became Disneyland.

Elizabethtown native Arto Monaco worked for Disney before designing Santa’s Workshop and other theme parks, including his own Land of Makebelieve. He later helped design Disneyland.

"I find it fascinating how this place was so new and cutting edge that even Disney wanted to learn from it," Welch said.

Nowadays, Santa’s Workshop just isn’t on the same level at parks such as Disneyland, Sea World or Universal Studios, but that is what gives it such charm, Welch said.

"You kind of have to go in with contextual blinders on," he said. "It was basic, thoughtful and totally kid-oriented. I think it's a testament that kids don't need all the bells and whistles to be thrilled or to have their imaginations unlocked."

We look back on what Mr. Reiss did, and some will find it kind of ho-hum-ish, but you’ve got to see it and remember the time it was built. It was post-World War II, post-Great Depression. People were free to travel, explore, expand and dream again."