From The Vault: Police bust sidewalk Santas in downtown Cincinnati in 1976

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CINCINNATI –  Santa Claus in handcuffs!

No,  four Santa Clauses in handcuffs!  

All under arrest in Cincinnati!

It's probably a good thing that happened 40 years ago and not today. It would break the internet and get Cincinnati ranked on another basement dweller's list of America's Least Livable Cities. Still, downtown drivers, Christmas shoppers and workers had to do a double-take.

Officer Tom Kellison talks to WCPO

It was two weeks before Christmas in 1976. Cincinnati police officer Tom Kellison was directing traffic at Sixth and Race. One block away there arose such a clatter, Kellison sprang from his (car/sled/rhymes with bed) to see what was the matter.

When Kellison got to Sixth and Vine, he saw a Santa on every corner. These guys were wearing Santa suits and fake beards, but they didn't have the right look. Instead of old, fat and jolly, they were young, thin and pushy.

And not a "Ho, Ho, Ho" could be heard - only an occasional "Hare Krishna."

When Kellison confronted them, they said they were from a Hare Krishna sect in New York. They were selling candy, incense and books.

"I asked for their solicitation permit and they didn't have one," Kellison told reporters. He said he told them they were breaking the law and they had to stop.

Kellison said he checked back later and the four men had moved another block to Seventh and Vine and were being more aggressive.

Santas off to jail

"They were stopping people in crosswalks, getting off buses, and in the middle of the street, so I arrested them," Kellison said.

By the time other officers arrived and helped take the Santas to a holding tank at District 1, word got out to the media. A Channel 9 photographer got there in time to film the Santas being led behind bars.

Outside District 1 headquarters, a Channel 9 reporter asked Kellison: "How do you feel busting Santa Claus just two weeks before Christmas?"

"If you want to call him - or them - Santy Claus, you call them what you want," Kellison replied. "They are in violation of the ordinances of the city of Cincinnati. They are taking funds from legitimate organizations, which are Salvation Army, organizations of this type … the Neediest Kids of All. They are not using it for children and the proper use that people are issued permits for to solicit funds down there.

"Consequently I feel they're wrong and I have no qualms about arresting anybody who's in violation of the city ordinances no matter how they're dressed."

When it was time for police to take the Santas to the Central Station jail, three still in red suits walked out handcuffed together. They looked like a Santa Claus chain gang.

There were no "Ho, Ho, Ho"s.

After police loaded them into a cruiser, one sitting next to the door held up his handcuffs for the camera.

"Hare Krishna," he said.

SEE more video and stories about Tri-State history in our From The Vault series.

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