Fascinating True Stories From the Flip Side of History

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Reindeer Nips Boy’s Finger

On December 23, 1954, Dorothy Ferris of 42 Lakewood Avenue in Roosevelt, Long Island, took her two-year-old son Richard to nearby West Hempstead to see a Christmas display that featured eight live reindeer.  Apparently, Rudolph got the day off.

As the two stood behind the protective fence, Richie took the lollipop that he had been sucking on and poked it through the fence, and shoved it under the nose of one of the reindeer. After sniffing the treat, the curious animal decided to give it a lick. It must have tasted great since the next thing that happened was that the reindeer grabbed the entire lollipop, stick and all.

And when I say all, I mean all. That included trying to remove the end of Richie’s pinky. Richie pulled his hand back as blood began to gush out of his finger.  He screamed at the top of his lungs as Jingle Bells played over the public address system.

Mom wrapped Richie’s finger in a handkerchief, put him in the car, and then raced home. Dr. Samuel Posnock came and cauterized the wound and then, as required by law, contacted Dr. Earle Browne, who was the Nassau County Health Commissioner at the time. Browne was informed by zoologists in Manhattan that reindeer have a high incidence of rabies, so he ordered that the entire herd be quarantined until December 29th, five days after they had originally been scheduled to depart.

Which left police with one big mystery to solve: Who was the guilty party in trying to bite off Richie Ferris’s finger?  Was it Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, or Blitzen? Or was it all a setup by one of the reindeer who never received the fame and glory of being able to pull Santa’s sleigh?

Some of Santa's reindeer taking a much-needed rest? Preus Museum image.
Some of Santa’s reindeer taking a much-needed rest? Preus Museum image.

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