This holiday season, Mrs. Claus could be without a home.
No, not the one that lives in the North Pole, but Christine Seelye-King who plays the stout, white-haired woman at private holiday events for Atlanta families and corporations.
For 36 years, Seelye-King lived in her home on United Avenue, formerly East Confederate Avenue, in the Ormewood Park community in east Atlanta.
“It’s been my family home for a very long time,” she said. She’s shared the home with her late husband, who died from a heart defect in 1992. The home, a “kit” home purchased from the Sears catalog, sat on the street for nearly 100 years, before it was engulfed in flames Aug. 24, 2018.
Since then, Seelye-King, 58, has lived in a temporary home covered by her insurance and isn’t sure when her new home will be ready. “My insurance coverage ends at the end of the year,” she said. “I’m really hoping I’m not couch surfing come January.”
Seelye-King was initially told work to restore her original kit home — salvaging what didn’t burn and rebuilding what did — would be finished in a few weeks. That became several months. Now, more than a year after the fire, she’s hoping the rebuild will be completed by the end of the year. Roughly 50 percent of the house is finished, she said.
Kit homes were pre-fabricated homes that became popular in the U.S. in the early 1900s. More than 100,000 homes were erected between 1908 and 1940 using kits. Sears is perhaps the most well-known brand of kit homes, sold through their catalogs and delivered in pieces by mail order.
Seelye-King was about five minutes away from her home when the fire broke out. Firefighters told her a small hand towel fell behind the clothes dryer and blocked the air intake vent, causing it to overheat and catch fire.
“I had the very unpleasant experience of driving around and seeing my house in flames,” she said.
Her 2,500-book collection was among the many valuables engulfed in the fire. She could also hear glass exploding, possibly from her China set, in the kitchen.
“That was a pretty horrible noise,” she said.
The loss of her home has made Seelye-King’s work as a performer and entertainer difficult: She lost 200 costumes and accessories – including her Mrs. Claus costume – that she’s since had to cobble together with items from Goodwill or donations from her friends.
For the past 25 years, Seelye-King has worked as Mrs. Claus as part of A Visit from Santa in Atlanta. She and Santa — played by business partner Dallas Fox — go to corporate and private events to sing songs, tell stories and interact with children and families.
“It’s more than just go see Santa and get your picture taken,” she said, “It’s actually time spent with Santa and Mrs. Claus.”
The home had been a gathering spot for her and her friends to make costumes and hold workshops. It was, as she described, a true Santa’s workshop.
“I don’t generally decorate for Christmas because the house looked like Santa Claus worked in it,” she said
While Seelye-King finds pleasure in working as Mrs. Claus, the worries of where she’ll live looms over her head this season. After this year, Seelye-King’s insurance coverage on the rental runs out, and she’ll have to find another place to stay while still paying the mortgage for her burned home.
Last year, she started a GoFundMe, which has met half its $20,000 goal, with the hopes of paying her bills and finding temporary housing.
“It’s very stressful not knowing where I’m staying after the end of the year,” she said.
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