OF THE FLYING
By Brian Tague
Airplanes, helicopters, lighthouses and a Santa Claus delivering
toys along with coffee, tea, potato chips and shaving products.
Seems like a strange mix for a 84-year tradition to be based
on. This annual New England occurrence, though always appreciated
by its recipients, has not always been completely understood.
There are many elements that make up the Flying Santa experience
and we hope to enlighten people with the following account of
its history and customs. Through personal recollections, newspaper
accounts and family histories we have been able to put together
a detailed report on the origins of the Flying Santa and its
evolution over the past 84 years. We continue to research the
accounts of years past, so this is by no means the final word
on the origins and history of the "Santa of the lighthouses".
Capt. William H. Wincapaw
It all began back in 1929 with a Maine floatplane pilot by
the name of William Wincapaw. Capt. Wincapaw, a native of Friendship,
had been a pioneer in the early days of aviation. He was well
known around the Penobscot Bay area as a skilled and adventurous
pilot. He flew a variety of aircraft but was most at home in
amphibious airplanes. The landscape of Penobscot Bay being made
up of numerous islands, floatplanes had become a most practical
means of transport. At this time, Capt. Wincapaw was overseeing
operations of the Curtis Flying Service at the Rockland airfield
as well as the nearby seaplane base. There were many occasions
when he took to the air in less than ideal conditions to provide
transport for sick or injured islanders. His actions were responsible
for the saving of many lives. On many of these flights, his only
means of navigation were the lighthouse beacons along the coast.
His appreciation of the keepers and their dedication to keeping
these lights well lit and their surrounding waters safe, grew
each time he found himself making a flight in the worst of weather.
When he was out and about, the keepers would keep a watchful
eye out for his plane. They made it a habit to relay word back
to the airfield whenever he had safely passed their position.
Plane's shadow over Curtis Island
On calmer days, Capt. Wincapaw would often land at a local
light, tie up his aircraft and spend some time chatting with
the keepers. He had a great deal of admiration for these men
and their families and felt that something special should be
done to show them how much their efforts were appreciated. So
it began on December 25, 1929, he loaded his plane with a dozen
packages containing newspapers, magazines, coffee, candy and
other items. They were small luxuries and common staples that
could make living on an isolated island a little more bearable.
Some of these same items continue to be a part of the tradition
today. He flew to lights around the Rockland area and dropped
these modest gifts to the lighthouse families. Never realizing
just how well his gesture of Christmas goodwill would be received,
he flew home to spend the rest of the day with his family.
Capt. Bill Wincapaw and Bill,
Word came back to him in the days that followed that his gifts
of Christmas cheer were extremely well received. The keepers
and their families were touched to be remembered on this special
holiday. A simple gesture of thanks had made the day so much
more special for the residents of these isolated outposts. Wincapaw
quickly realized that this Yuletide flight deserved to be repeated
as well as expanded to include more of the lighthouse families
and Coast Guard stations along the coast.
Capt. Wincapaw in full Flying
Bill, Jr. and Capt. Bill Wincapaw
Bill, Jr. and Capt. Bill Wincapaw
The flights continued and were expanded into Massachusetts,
Rhode Island and Connecticut. Wincapaw was eventually joined
on the lighthouse trips by his son Bill, Jr., an aspiring pilot.
The Wincapaws did not originally consider themselves Santas.
This title was fondly bestowed upon them by the recipients of
their goodwill. Eventually Capt. Wincapaw began to dress for
the role, whiskers and all. By 1933, the Wincapaw family had
relocated to Winthrop, MA. Their Christmas flights now took them
to as many as 91 lighthouses and Coast Guard stations.
Capt. Wincapaw experimenting
with package parachute in 1936
The cost of the program continued to expand. Fortunately,
they were able to find sponsors in the business community, including
Adriel U. Bird, president of the W.S. Quimby Company of Boston.
This was the parent company of La Touraine Coffee. Thus began
the connection to one of the program's longest running sponsors.
In 1934, Bill, Jr., at the age of 16 was the youngest licensed
pilot in Massachusetts. He was well on his way to following in
his father's aviation footsteps. That same year he piloted part
of the lighthouse routes with his father. The following year
he would fly on his own to a number of the lights.
LaTouraine plane dropping package
over Boston Light
Boston Light - 1936
Baker's Island Light - 1936
Straitsmouth Light - 1936
Ipswich Light - 1936
Plum Island Lifesaving Station
It was about this time that Bill, Jr. introduced his father
to Edward Rowe Snow, one of his teachers at Winthrop High School.
Mr. Snow, a native of Winthrop, had always had a keen interest
in the sea and ships and the history of the New England coast.
He was a descendent of sea captains and would eventually become
one of the most well known maritime authors and historians. Capt.
Wincapaw was looking for additional help with his growing schedule
of flights and knew that Snow was the right man for the job.
In 1936, while the elder Wincapaw flew the northern route, Bill,
Jr. and Mr. Snow flew to 25 stops in southern New England.
Capt. Wincapaw and young pilot
Bill Wincapaw, Jr.
1938 found Capt. Wincapaw based in Bolivia, flying gold and
mining machinery over the jungles and mountains of South America.
Unable to make it back to New England for the Christmas trips,
he called upon his son to make the flights with the assistance
of Mr. Snow. The Wincapaws had "shown him the ropes"
and Mr. Snow was now in it for the long haul. The flights went
off without a hitch
Flying Santa's plane over Graves
Light - 1938
Flying Santa's plane over Boston
Light - 1937
In 1939, Capt. Wincapaw's employers made special arrangements
to fly him back to the United States for his Santa duties. There
were three trips that year. Bad weather on Christmas Day had
forced the postponement of the last trip to New Year's Day 1940.
By that time it was necessary for the elder Wincapaw to return
to South America. So once again it was up to his son and Mr.
Snow to ensure that the lighthouse families and Coast Guard crews
would be paid a visit by the aerial Santas.
Loading up the gift bundles
at Boston Airport
In 1940, Capt. Wincapaw's duties again prevented his return
to New England for the Christmas holiday. His son was now also
involved in the South American cargo flights and he to would
be unable to return. Beginning to feel quite comfortable in the
role of substitute Santa, Mr. Snow stepped in to continue what
had become a beloved New England tradition. On one of the flights
that year, Mr. Snow was accompanied by his wife Anna-Myrle. In
the years to come she would be on board with Santa Snow for the
majority of his Christmas flights. This was also the first year
that Wiggins Airways became involved. They provided the charter
and their pilot Charles Cowan. Over the next 60 years, Wiggins
would be the provider of a number of "sleighs", from
prop planes to helicopters.
Anna-Myrle and Edward Rowe Snow
loading plane 1940
With the advent of World War II, the holiday flights to the
lighthouses were curtailed. October of 1941 found Bill, Jr. on
his way to Pensacola, Florida to become a flight instructor for
the Navy. He had spent the summer ferrying bombers from Canada
to war ravaged England. His father had planned to return from
Bolivia to make the trips that December but cancelled due to
concerns over causing unnecessary air raid alarms and the possibility
of becoming a target for the coastal anti-aircraft batteries. However, just a few days before Christmas, Army and Navy officials authorized the Santa flights so that the isolated keepers and Coast Guardsmen would not be deprived of their holiday packages.
Edward Rowe Snow and pilot Al Leckscheid, took off on Christmas morning to drop packages at over 35 locations. They were especially careful to avoid a number of high security installations. To make sure the plane was not mistaken for enemy aircraft, "CHRISTMAS SEAL PLANE" was put on the side of the plane in two foot hight red letters.
1941 flight - CHRISTMAS SEAL PLANE
In 1942, the trips were cancelled due to Ed Snow's service in North Africa as well as the Wincapaw family's wartime obligations. As the war continued so did young Bill's service in
the Navy. As a lieutenant commander he continued to ferry bombers
to England before becoming involved in patrols over the Atlantic
searching for enemy submarines. While his son was stationed at
the Quonset Naval Air Station in Rhode Island, Bill Sr. came
on as chief of maintenance "so as Billy's ship would be
First helicopter trip - 1946
Boston Light - 1946
With the end of the war in 1945, the lighthouse flights were
back on track. Edward Rowe Snow was back to the regular schedule
of flights throughout New England. During his delivery drop to
the keeper's family at Cuttyhunk Island off the coast of Massachusetts,
a package containing a doll for 5-year-old Seamond Ponsart was
smashed on a rock. The little girl was heartbroken at the sight
of the damaged doll. Hearing the news of this disappointing delivery
Mr. Snow decided that a different course of action would be necessary
for the next time he delivered a fragile doll to young Seamond.
So in December 1946, Mr. Snow chartered a helicopter from Wiggins
Airways to ensure that this time, Seamond's doll could be safely
delivered to her with his own hands. On December 12, Mr. Snow
set off from the Boston Airport in one of the first commercial
helicopters, to make the flight to the southern New England lighthouses.
Roy Beer, a pioneer in helicopter flight, was at the controls.
Seamond's father was now the keeper at West Chop Light on Martha's
Vineyard. Arrangements had been made for the Ponsart family to
meet Santa and his helicopter when it landed at the nearby Gay
Head lifesaving station. Upon landing, Mr. Snow was able to safely
and securely place a doll into the welcoming arms of little Seamond.
Edward Rowe Snow and the
It was a memorable occasion for all involved. As can be imagined,
the cost of the flight was infinitely more expensive than conventional
fixed wing. But that year, Mr. Snow was well satisfied that the expense was worth it. However, this mode of transport would not
be used again until the late 1970's.
Edward Rowe Snow and Seamond
1946 also saw the return of the Wincapaws from their war duties.
Rejoining Mr. Snow in the delivery of the Christmas bundles,
they tackled the northern leg while Mr. Snow made his southern
flight. For Bill, Sr. and his son the roles were now reversed.
Flying in a Douglas DC-3, Bill, Jr. would man the controls while
his father jettisoned the packages from the rear of the aircraft.
Capt. Wincapaw had no trouble with this back seat arrangement.
At 61 years of age and having spent a quarter of his life in
the air, he welcomed the chance to begin to settle down.
Douglas DC-3 used on northern New England flight by Wincapaws.
two days of flying to cover the 115 lighthouses and Coast Guard
stations from Cohasset, MA to the Canadian border. That year,
the Wincapaws made sure the flights were completed before Christmas
Day, so that for the first time in 18 years, Capt. Wincapaw's
wife would have him home on the holiday.
Capt. Wincapaw and Bill, Jr.
On July 16, 1947, Capt. Wincapaw, 62, suffered a heart attack
shortly after taking off from Rockland Harbor. His Cub Cruiser
seaplane nose-dived into the water, and both he and his passenger,
20 year old Robert Muckenhirn were killed. On what was supposed
to be a pleasant scenic flight over the Rockland area, a young
war veteran and an aviation legend were lost. A memorial service
was held in Rockland on July 19 and was attended by lighthouse
keepers, their families, island residents and representatives
of the Coast Guard, Navy and Army. At 2:00, as the service began,
fog horns and lighthouse-warning bells rang out across Penobscot
Bay in memory of Capt. William H. Wincapaw, the Flying Santa
of the lighthouses.
THE SNOW YEARS
Edward Rowe Snow
With the passing of Capt. Wincapaw, Edward Rowe Snow was left
to carry on the Santa flights. He had been greatly saddened by
the news of his old friend's death. "Bill had a heart as
big as anyone I have ever known." Mr. Snow was quoted as
saying to the Boston Post. "His thoughtfulness in beginning
the lighthouse flights will never be forgotten by the lighthouse
keepers and Coast Guardsmen up and down the New England coast."
During his northbound flight in December of 1947, Mr. Snow dropped
a memorial wreath over Rockland Harbor in honor of Capt. Wincapaw.
Committed to carrying on the Wincapaw legacy, Mr. Snow expanded
the program that year and visited 176 lighthouses and Coast Guard
stations from Canada to Florida. The tradition remained alive.
Package received at Minot's
By this time, Mr. Snow had been participating in the Santa
flights since 1936. During the war, he was commissioned as a
lieutenant in the Army Air Corps. In late 1942, he was wounded
during a bombing mission over Northern Africa and found himself
spending Christmas recuperating in a hospital bed. His thoughts
were with the lighthouse families that would have no Flying Santa
visit that year. The wounds he suffered eventually forced his
discharge in early 1943.
Edward Rowe Snow and pilot Major Paul Dudley
As the next Christmas approached, and
with wartime restrictions still in place, Mr. Snow made plans
to visit his lighthouses by automobile and boat. At the last
minute he received special permission to fly from the Army's
Boston Fighter Wing and the Civilian Aeronautics Administration.
This was due in part to the efforts of CAA pilot Lt. Fred Fillingham.
He had heard a radio broadcast of Mr. Snow discussing one of
the visits by boat that he had already completed. Lt. Fillingham
believed Santa's generous efforts deserved better transportation
and so made the proper arrangements. Once again, lighthouses
from Maine to Cape Cod were able to enjoy a visit from their
aerial St. Nick.
Over Boston Light - 1947
What would make Mr. Snow's accomplishments in keeping up the
tradition even more remarkable, was the fact that he was not
a pilot. It was necessary for him to hire a pilot and plane for
the majority of lighthouse flights that he made over the years.
He and his wife Anna- Myrle knew that they could have had a much
nicer house and other luxuries with the money they spent on the
Christmas flights. But, the great deal of fun and satisfaction
that they received from the trips, as well as the deep appreciation
from the lighthouse families, made it all worthwhile.
The Snow Family - 1954
The packages continued to be made up of products donated by
New England sponsors. Everything from coffee, tea, Gillette razor
blades, rubber balloons, chewing gum, dolls and pen and pencil
sets. One item amongst all these that was especially anticipated
each year, was a copy of Mr. Snow's latest book. He would also
include with the packages a self-addressed card for the keepers
to return, letting him know the success or failure of his deliveries.
The Snow Family - 1959
The Snow's daughter Dolly joined them on the flights before
she even reached her first birthday and would accompany them
for many years to come. Over the years the Snow family had many
adventures as they winged their way up and down the seacoast,
hurtling the carefully wrapped bundles to their lonely targets.
Due to the inexact science of predicting the trajectory of 15-25
pounds worth of dolls, books, coffee and candy, all wrapped in
a paper bundle, there was the occasional errant delivery. Car
windshields were smashed, skylights shattered and fence pickets
snapped. These were the exceptions since over 90 percent of the
bundles were delivered on target. The Snows always took care
of any damages and one of the more expensive parts of the program
was the insurance policy they began to carry for just such occasions.
Most of the "victims" of these unintended bombings
seemed to enjoy recounting the experience to their families and
friends. It made the visit of the Flying Santa all the more memorable.
One memorable occasion that Mr. Snow would rather have done without,
occurred at Boon Island Light when two packages connected by
rope lodged themselves in the tail of the plane. An emergency
landing was made at Portsmouth, New Hampshire and all aboard
were thankful that a disaster had been averted. On more than
one flight, Mr. Snow's Santa whiskers were lost to the wind as
he leaned out the window for a package drop. A few weeks after
one such flight he received a mail parcel with the following
note: "Here are your whiskers, where is our package?"
Edward Rowe Snow over Boston
On a few trips, the Coast Guard had provided Mr. Snow with
one of their own aircraft to assist him in his deliveries. In
1953, he conducted his transcontinental Santa flight. He delivered
packages to lights on the East Coast in the morning, then flew
out to the West Coast to end the day dropping gifts to stations
in California and Oregon. On this Pacific leg, USCG Capt. Paul
B. Cronk provided a Catalina PBY amphibious plane to make the
rounds. 36 packages were dropped from San Pedro to Tillamook
Onboard a Coast Guard PBY
Snow at St. Pierre Island
Always eager to expand the reaches of his aerial visits, lighthouses
as far off as the Great Lakes, Bermuda and the Miquelon Islands
were added to his Christmas rounds. In 1954 he flew to remote
Sable Island, 100 miles east of Nova Scotia. After arriving by
seaplane he jumped aboard a wagon drawn by several of the island's
semi-wild ponies and delivered his gifts to the 3 children and
23 adults residing on the island. It was at these remotest of
places that the Flying Santa's visits were most cherished. Away
from the trappings of the holiday's commercialism, these isolated
families greeted their red-suited guest with an honest and open
Light - 1958
drop over Sankaty Head Light - Nantucket
by Frederick Clow
In the early 1970's, due to tighter restrictions and the ever-increasing
insurance costs, Mr. Snow began to have doubts about the future
of his flights. In 1972, due to these new restrictions and the
proximity of Logan Airport, it was necessary to visit Boston
Light, Graves Light and the Coast Guard stations in Hull and
Scituate by boat and car. Mr. Snow was determined to adapt to
these new obstacles as best he could. In 1973, he chartered a
boat to make his rounds of the Casco Bay lights and was able
to visit with over 100 children and their families. The Snows
repeated the voyage in 1974 and that time were met by over 300
children. Unfortunately, the flights that year were not as successful.
The Snows were able to make the flight to Nantucket before weather
conditions deteriorated. It then became necessary to make a direct
flight to Portland Airport to hand off the remaining packages
to Coast Guard personnel. It was the first time since the 1940s
that the bulk of the Santa visits were cancelled.
Snowbound at Portland Airport
By 1977, new FAA regulations and the prohibitive insurance
costs had taken their toll. That year, flights were made only
to the airports at Nantucket, Block Island and Rockland, Maine.
Frustrated by these impediments, Mr. Snow vowed to find a solution
for the following year's trips. The answer soon became clear.
The conveyance that had allowed him to safely deliver a doll
to young Seamond Ponsart so many years ago, would now become
his standard sleigh. Helicopters were not as constrained by the
strict altitude and flight path rules that fixed-wing aircraft
were faced with. Although slightly more expensive to charter,
it was not necessary to take out the burdensome insurance. So
in 1978, Mr. Snow took to the air in a Bell Jet Ranger helicopter
and flew to lighthouses from Massachusetts to Maine. Old habits
are hard to break so it is not surprising that a few of the parcels
were delivered the old fashioned way. Coming in low, with only
the briefest of hovers, the gift boxes were tossed to the keepers
below. The majority of visits entailed a landing and short visit
with the doubly excited children and their families. To have
a present personally delivered by Santa was one thing, to add
to that spectacle a helicopter landing on their front lawn made
for an occasion that these children would always remember.
Edward Rowe Snow at Goat Island
Light - 1978
By 1981, the years and mileage had caught up to Mr. Snow.
He had suffered a stroke and was not expected to make any lighthouse
flights that Christmas. For the first time since 1942, none of
New England's lighthouse families would be visited by their aerial
Santa. Word of this reached Judeth Van Hamm, director of the
Hull Lifesaving Museum, who had been in the midst of planning
a ceremony to recognize Mr. Snow. Concerned with Mr. Snow's health
as well as the tradition that had meant so much to him, Ms. Van
Hamm decided to approach Mrs. Snow to offer whatever assistance
the museum could provide. Anna-Myrle was touched by her offer
and gladly accepted. She was comforted in knowing that the Santa
visits would continue. So with less than a month to prepare,
the museum crew set out to make the necessary arrangements. The
most important task was acquiring a suitable and affordable sleigh.
The museum was in its infancy and their budget was still somewhat
small. After a number of phone calls, the services of three different
helicopters were secured for the three trips planned. Wheelabrator-Frye
of Maine, a Boston television station and the International Fund
for Animal Welfare of Yarmouthport, Mass. would be providing
their aircraft for the flights. A small ceremony was held at
Boston's Logan Airport where Anna-Myrle and her daughter, Dolly,
presented Mr. Snow's Santa suit to Ed McCabe, the newly recruited
Flying Santa. Over 20 lighthouses from West Quoddy, Maine to
Warwick, Rhode Island were visited that year and this aerial
gesture of goodwill was just as appreciated as Capt. Wincapaw's
flights 52 years before. Once again the mantle of tradition was
Anna-Myrle and Dolly Snow presenting
with Edward's Santa suit
On April 12, 1982, Mr. Snow passed away at the age of 79.
He was the author of over 90 books, as well as a teacher, historian,
lecturer, radio personality, photographer, treasure hunter, WW
II veteran, husband, father, grandfather and not least of all
Flying Santa to generations of lighthouse families. His works
and adventures live on and continue to be enjoyed by those of
us who travel the paths of the New England coast. Whether exploring
the islands of Casco Bay, searching the outer Cape for remnants
of shipwrecks or climbing the ladder of Minot's Light, it is
a sure bet that the footsteps of Edward Rowe Snow are being crossed.
Edward and Anna-Myrle Snow
THE MUSEUM YEARS
The Hull Lifesaving Museum opened its doors in the spring
of 1982. Its mission was to preserve the maritime heritage of
Boston Harbor and its vicinity. Judeth Van Hamm and the other
founding members of the museum believed that the Flying Santa
tradition was an important part of this heritage. Through their
efforts, and others that came along over the years, the program
would continue on as a favored New England tradition. In the
first few years, the role of Santa would be played by a number
of museum members. Ed McCabe, Ben Blake and George Morgan were
a few of the hardy soles to suit up for the Santa flights.
Ed was most remembered for his dark beard, reminiscent of
the famous lifesaver Joshua James. The small children that greeted
him at the lights often asked him why this Santa did not have
a white beard. His response was simple - Santa's beard did not
turn white until Christmas Eve. That seemed to be enough of an
explanation for even the most inquisitive minds. On a number
of the Maine trips Ed was joined by Mrs. Ona Jones, a museum
volunteer, as Santa's dutiful helper. Over the years, Ona became
one of the programs many diehard supporters. Whether helping
to knit a fundraising quilt or wrapping some of the hundreds
of individual gifts, Ona, and volunteers like her, helped ensure
the success of each year's flights.
In 1982, George Morgan had seen an article in the local Hull
paper looking for volunteers to assist the lifesaving museum
with their new endeavors and decided to offer his assistance.
Besides his experience and organizational skills he brought with
him an important feature - his own white hair and beard. Proving
to be a natural for the role, he began sharing the Santa duties
with Ed McCabe. George would fly the southern route as well as
parts of Maine while Ed would continue with the northern leg.
As the years went on, George's involvement in the program
would continue to grow. He would eventually become the director
of the museum's Flying Santa program. His wife Jean and their
children would donate much of their time and talents to making
each year's flights a success. Their tireless efforts were put
into fundraising events, gift wrapping, securing product donations
and so many of the elements necessary in preparing for the holiday
A key supporter of the flights during the 1980's was pilot
Russ Johnson of East Coast Helicopters. On many of the trips
he would donate his time while the museum paid the fuel costs.
On a number of occasions he made arrangements with his employers
to wave the fuels costs as well. Mr. Johnson's good nature and
generosity made the flights all the more pleasant for everyone
involved, in the air and on the ground.
By 1987, the automation of many of the Maine lighthouses resulted
in the discontinuation of the Flying Santa visits up north. Ed
McCabe moved on to spend more time with the museum's successful
rowing program while George continued the trips in southern New
England. There were only 15 lighthouses visited that year. It
was expected that within a few years, Boston Light would be the
last manned light in the country. The future of the Flying Santa
program looked as though it would only entail a ceremonious drop
to that last lonely outpost.
Santa at Boston Light
The flights continued at this reduced schedule. Although the
era of lighthouse keepers was coming to an end, the boat stations
remained and many of the lights continued to be used for Coast
Guard housing. There were also the beginnings of new policies
that would transfer guardianship of some of the structures over
to civilian organizations and caretakers. The need and interest
in the Santa flights were still apparent. The basic elements
of the Coast Guard's mission warranted the continuation of the
Christmas visits. So as long as there were personnel connected
to the lights, the Flying Santa would make the Yuletide visits.
In the late 1980's, the museum was fortunate to have WCVB-TV
5 step in as the provider of helicopter services for the Boston
area flights. This was welcome transportation and at the same
time increased the program's public exposure with the evening
broadcasts of the lighthouse visits.
The traditional gift boxes continued to be enjoyed by the
lighthouse families. Many of the original items such as La Touraine
coffee and Gillette razors were still included along with items
from new sponsors. Products from the Cape Cod Potato Chip Company
were especially enjoyed. The inclusion of the traditional Bell's
Seasoning was an item whose aroma readily announced its presence
amongst the other contents. Other items ranged from dog biscuits
to toothbrushes, as well as toys from McDonalds and gift certificates
from Bickfords restaurant. One delightful addition to the packages
was the annual bundle of letters from the children of the Lillian
Jacobs School in Hull addressed to the families at each lighthouse.
These letters were much anticipated by the lighthouse residents
and replies were promptly sent.
Greeting for Santa - Chatham
I joined the flights for the first time as a photographer
in 1991. For a number of years, I had specialized in photographing
lighthouses and the New England coast. I was thrilled with the
opportunity to view so many of these lighthouses from the air.
I was also honored to be able to participate in this gesture
of appreciation to the Coast Guard families. I had spent a great
deal of time working with various Coast Guard units throughout
New England and had seen firsthand their dedication and professionalism.
Whether maintaining aids to navigation, patrolling inshore and
offshore waters or tackling less glamorous administration responsibilities,
they well deserve this recognition for their efforts. My participation
in these flights has grown over the past two decades and I am sure
I will never grow tired of the experience. I have seen firsthand
how these Coast Guard families genuinely enjoy coming out for
the annual visits. I hope that for many years to come their children
will continue to grow up with fond memories of the Flying Santa
and his helicopter.
Stratford Point Light
The flights to the lighthouses are a whirlwind experience.
Beside the spectacular scenery that is viewed along the way,
there is the unforgettable experience of seeing the celebrations,
large and small, that occur at each landing. An apt description
would be to compare the experience to that of crashing ten Christmas
parties in a single day. By arriving with the guest of honor,
a warm reception is always guaranteed. The stops are brief. Depending
on the number of children, they average 15 to 20 minutes. At
many of the stops, a smorgasbord of cakes, candies, cookies and
hot beverages are laid out for the event. We sometimes wonder
if we take off with as much weight in food as we have left behind
in gifts. Dale Hardy of Wiggins Airways, who flew us for over a decade, became somewhat of a holiday dessert
aficionado. A close inspection of his helicopter controls at
the end of the day would most surely reveal traces of powdered
sugar and cinnamon.
Pilot Dale Hardy & Dave
Waldrip at Cape Cod Light
At every light, Santa calls out the name of each child in
attendance and presents them with a small gift. The smiles on
the children's faces are only equaled by the smiles of their
parents. For some, this is their first opportunity to photograph
their child with Santa. Their isolated locations can make a trip
to the mall Santa a bit out of reach. The children ask Santa
the usual questions - "Where are your reindeer?" -
"How fast is your helicopter?". If time allows, and
it usually does, Santa tells the story of the original Flying
Santa, Capt. Wincapaw and his successor Edward Rowe Snow. After
a brief tour of the helicopter, the families shout their holiday
greetings and wave goodbye as Santa takes off for his next stop.
It is a wonderful experience and helps set the mood for the Christmas
season. I only wish that all those involved in making this annual
event possible could have the opportunity to experience it firsthand
as I have.
Santa Dave Waldrip
In 1994, Chief David Waldrip of the Coast Guard's Boston Aids
to Navigation Team, filled in when an injury forced George onto
the sidelines. Dave's Coast Guard responsibilities involved maintaining
the operation of the coastal buoys and lighthouses from New Hampshire
to Cape Cod. Notwithstanding his son Greg's crack about his father
not needing any pillows to fill out the Santa suit, Dave's family
was in full support of his new lighthouse duties. His personable
nature and familiarity with many of the lighthouse residents
lent a unique personal touch to the flights that year. Hidden
behind an impermeable white beard, he had quite a few of his
fellow Coasties perplexed at how this red-suited fellow knew
so much about them and their stations. Dave well earned his place
as the program's auxiliary Santa and would return to the role
in 1995 to fly to the Boston area lights. His departure in 1996
for duty in Kodiak, Alaska was made with assurances that his
spot on the Flying Santa sleigh would be open upon his return.
Santa's helicopter off Portland
1995 also marked the return of the Santa flights to New Hampshire
and Maine. There were now enough families connected to these
northern lights to once again warrant a full day of flights.
Tom Clegg and Paul Ellis piloted an Augusta 109 to the 9 lighthouses.
The lights on this trip have some of the most difficult landing
situations of all the flights and it was due to the skills of
these two pilots that we were able to make all our stops. This
has been the case with the succession of our New Hampshire and
Maine pilots over the years. Thanks to the efforts of Tom and
Paul, as well as pilots Tony Liss, George Louzek, Art Godjikian,
LaRay Todd, Leo Boucher and Greg Harville Flying Santa has been
safely delivered to these remote locations. The generosity of
this company and the good-natured spirits of its employees have
ensured the success of these annual visits along the coasts of
New Hampshire and Maine.
Pilots LaRay Todd & Art
The Santa flights continued to expand. Many times it was thought
that the schedule had reached the maximum number of lights that
could be visited in a single day. Somehow it was always possible
to squeeze a few more minutes out of the schedule and another
stop would be added. The practice of bringing along an elf on
some of the flights was initiated to assist Santa with the growing
number of children at each stop.
By 1997, the Flying Santa program had outgrown its position
within the museum. A small group of volunteers banded together
to form the Friends of Flying Santa, Inc., a non-profit educational
entity. This was done to help ensure a long term financial future
for the program. Founding board members Inga Hanks and Richard
Boonisar were invaluable in helping to deal with the legal and
financial concerns of the newly formed organization. Staffed
entirely of volunteers, the Friends set forth with a renewed
energy in continuing the expanded lighthouse visits. The funds
necessary for the program's operation were raised through a variety
of fundraisers. During the museum years, numerous boat cruises,
bus tours and other activities were conducted for fundraising.
These successes were carried over to the newly formed Friends.
Always looking for new and exciting ways to raise funds, the
Friends also began sponsoring a number of raffles that included
helicopter tours, boat cruises and overnight stays at lighthouses.
The Friends began publication of the Flying Santa News as well
as a website to assist in informing the program's supporters
of these fundraising events, narratives of the holiday flights
and other activities. The Friends also developed the first official
logo of the Flying Santa program, incorporating some of the main
elements of the Santa flights. This logo was soon attached to
hats, mugs, magnets and sweatshirts to assist with fundraising
Santa Tom Guthlein
In 1997, CWO Tom Guthlein stepped into the Santa role on the
flights to Massachusetts' North and South Shore lighthouses.
As executive petty officer at Coast Guard Station Gloucester,
Tom had been residing at the Annisquam Lighthouse and was well
acquainted with this holiday spectacle. His oldest son Joshua
had his first visit from the Flying Santa six years earlier when
Tom and his wife Vicki were stationed at Chatham. For the past
few years, the family, with the addition of little Patrick, had
been enjoying Flying Santa's Christmas visits to Gloucester.
Tom did an excellent job and was welcomed back to repeat the
role in 1998.
The Guthlein Family - 1997
1999 saw the return of CWO David Waldrip and his family from
Kodiak, Alaska and the departure of the Guthleins to Virginia.
Dave eagerly jumped back into the role of Flying Santa to once
again assist the Friends with the Boston area flight. While away,
Dave had kept in practice for the role by performing as Santa
for the children of the small villages on Kodiak.
Dave Waldrip at Annisquam Harbor
Light - 1999
In 2002 and 2003, the Friends were most fortunate to receive
the generous donation of helicopter services from two Massachusetts
pilots. Evan Wile flew the Massachusetts route and Glenn Hanson,
along with his co-pilot Lou Belloisy, flew the RI-CT-NY route.
This was done at absolutely no cost to the Friends. In 2004,
Evan Wile began providing his services for all our southern New
England stops. His piloting skills and sense of humor have been
a wonderful addition to the Flying Santa experience. These gentlemen
combined with all the other dedicated volunteers and sponsors
are what make the continuation of the Flying Santa tradition
Pilot Evan Wile, Sally Snowman
and Santa Dave
Lou Belloisy, Santa Dave and
In 2003, Seamond Ponsart Roberts joined us for our Massachusetts
flight. 57 years after Edward Rowe Snow visited her by helicopter,
Seamond was able to experience her own flight with Flying Santa.
She returned to her childhood home at West Chop Light, accompanying
Santa Tom Guthlein as he brought new memories to the Coast Guard
children living at the light.
Seamond Ponsart with Santa Tom
at West Chop Light
To help mark the 75th anniversary of the first Flying Santa
flight, William Wincapaw III, the grandson of Capt. Wincapaw,
joined Santa Dave Waldrip for part of our 2004 NH/Maine flight.
Bill came all the way from Florida with his wife Denise and two
children, Madison and Billy. After his flight, Bill was able
to meet up with his family at Owl's Head Light where together
they enjoyed their first Flying Santa visit alongside the Coast
Guard families of the Rockland area.
William Wincapaw III with Santa
Dave at Portland Head Light
In October 2006, Friends of Flying Santa dedicated a memorial
plaque in honor of Capt. William Wincapaw in the exhibit hall
of the new Maine Lighthouse Museum in Rockland, ME. In a corner
of the museum overlooking the original location of Capt. Wincapaw's
seaplane base, a brass plaque depicts Capt. Wincapaw's plane
flying over the Owl's Head Light. A long overdue tribute to this
remarkable gentleman and his role as the first Flying Santa to
In 2007, Edward Rowe Snow's daughter Dolly, flew along on
the Massachusetts flight assisting Flying Santa just as she had
done with her father. Evan Wile's helicopter provided a much
smoother "flying carpet" ride than the turbulent airplane
flights she recalled on her earlier trips. It was an honor to
have a member of the Snow family back in Santa's sleigh.
Brian Tague, Dolly Snow Bicknell, Santa Dave and pilot Evan Wile
2007 also marked the year that JBI Helicopters came on board
to sponsor our NH/Maine flight. With Leo Boucher as our pilot,
we were able to reach all our northernmost stops.
Pilot Leo Boucher and Santa Tom
Package drop at Hospital Point Light
In 2008, Granite Sate Aviation came onboard as the new owners
of the Agusta 109e we had previously used on on our NH/Maine
flight. Pilots Greg Harville and George Louzek did an outastanding
job of guiding Santa around some early season snow squalls.
Pilots Greg Harville and George Louzek with Santa Tom
In August 2009, the 80th anniversary year of the first Flying
Santa flight, pilot Evan Wile and Cannon Aviation helped deliver
Santa to the annual Edward Rowe Snow Day on George's Island in
Boston Harbor. Santa joined Dolly Snow and her family in celebrating
Mr. Snow's birthday at the Edward Rowe Snow memorial pavilion.
Laura and Patrick Carbone, Santa Dave and Dolly Snow Bicknell
Friends of Flying Santa still stops at many of the same lights
and stations visited by Capt. Wincapaw over 84 years ago. The
aerial Santas, as well as the modes of transport, have changed
over the years, but the end results remain the same. The people
involved with Flying Santa are honored to be a part of this tradition
of appreciation for the Coast Guard personnel and their families.
In return, these deserving recipients continue to show their
heartfelt gratitude for the annual visits of the "Santa
of the lighthouses".
Annisquam Harbor Light
"See you next year Santa!"
| (This report on the history of the Flying Santa would not
have been possible without the assistance of the following individuals:
William Wincapaw III, Dolly Snow Bicknell and Jeremy D'Entremont.)
The information on this page is
copyrighted - All Rights Reserved
related to the history of FLYING SANTA
If you have any old photographs
or news clippings concerning the Flying Santa tradition and would
like to share them with us, we would be glad to hear from you.
Digital copying and photo restoration would be done by us to
help preserve these items. We are especially interested in items
from the 1930's to 1980's. Please contact:
Requests for information and photo use can also be made to
the above address.
FRIENDS OF FLYING SANTA,
PO BOX 80047
Stoneham, MA 02180-0001
Tel: (781) 438-4587