A Cool Idea For An Exhibit: Santa Figurines Christmas In July At The Library.

Posted: July 13, 1997

WEST DEPTFORD — Forget about leaping into that backyard pool. That pitcher of cold lemonade? Pour it down the drain. Hey, even unplug that noisy air conditioner.

Who needs 'em?

The folks at the West Deptford library have another way for area residents to cool off from the stifling July weather.

For the entire month, the library is exhibiting two display cases full of Santa Claus figurines - complete with fake snow - in hopes that the sight of the jolly old elf will cool down sweat-drenched patrons.

``Just looking at him is enough to get people thinking about winter and hopefully cooling off,'' explained Christine Keresztury, director of the library. ``It's really a psychological thing.''

The 50 or so Santas, in all shapes and sizes, were loaned to the library by avid doll collectors Deborah Knestaut of Gibbstown and Rosalind Rheiner of Wenonah.

Knestaut's ``semi-obsession'' with Old Saint Nick began when her great aunt gave her tiny, metal Santa figurines from Germany when she was a child. From then on, Knestaut began collecting Santa figures whenever she traveled.

``Some people buy T-shirts when they're away; I buy Santas,'' she said. ``I'm one of those people who likes to see Santa all year round.''

But Knestaut doesn't pick up just any old Santa doll. ``I look for their faces,'' she said. ``Some have really ugly faces and I definitely try to avoid them.''

The idea of putting the dolls on display came when a staffer at the library suggested that there be a ``Christmas in July'' theme as part of the monthly exhibits presented at the library.

Knestaut, who had donated Depression-era glass for a display earlier this year, was glad to lend her prized possessions during the summer.

``I can't do it at Christmastime. I'd be naked and lost without my Santas,'' she said. ``But July was perfect.''

Rheiner, who started collecting five years ago, said she doesn't necessarily have an obsession with Santa but is certainly fond of old Kris Kringle.

``I just started decorating the house with them at Christmas and they've just kind of grown over the years,'' she said. ``I wasn't using them now so why not donate them to the library?''

So far there has been no way to gauge how effective the Santas have been in cooling off visitors to the library. The air conditioner blasting full force makes it hard.

But Keresztury is hopeful that it will help.

``If this works,'' she said, ``maybe in December we'll have a display of beach gear.''

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