LAPORTE — Attendance for the 20th annual Christmas at Pioneer Land at the LaPorte County Fairgrounds shattered last year’s record.
Volunteers at the 1830s village had to bake thousands more cookies for Sunday after running out during Saturday’s open house.
A second horse-drawn wagon helped accommodate the crowd, but the wait for rides outside the blacksmith shop was still long.
The line to see Santa stretched 150 feet past the throngs of people sitting around the open fire all the way to the General Store.
"It’s super. Super. Super," said Carl Schultz, a volunteer manning the fire pit beside the log cabin.
Dick Reel, considered the father of Pioneer Land, estimated weekend attendance at more than 7,000, or 40-percent more than the previous record set in 2016.
Unseasonably warm temperatures and dry conditions were cited for the strong turnout, along with word about the village continuing to spread.
John Pease, of LaPorte, along with his wife, Leann, and two daughters, ages 2 and 7, were just starting to get close to Santa after a 20-minute wait.
"It’s pretty cool," Pease said about experiencing Christmas in a setting complete with villagers in period costumes.
Tiffany Robbins, of LaPorte, put her 1-year-old son, Okey, on Santa’s lap before she and her whole family ventured over to the old-fashioned post office, where letters to Santa were accepted.
She’s been to Pioneer Land before, during the fair, but it was her first time there for Christmas.
"I really like it. There’s places to get popcorn and apple cider, and we meet Santa Claus. It’s been a pretty good visit, so far," she said.
Even the portable toilets had to be pumped before the weekend was over because of the crowd’s size.
There was no charge to get in.
The cookies and cider heated in a kettle in the fireplace inside the log cabin were also free.
"Gosh, where can you get a deal like this anywhere in the country? And friendly people. It’s a great place to bring your kids," said Merle Miller, a volunteer in the working blacksmith shop.