Digest>Archives> December 2010

Flying Santa Flight Delayed While War Was Raging in Europe

By Timothy Harrison


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In the 1940s it was quite common for newspaper publishers to post headlines and partial stories in front of their offices. Crowds of people, especially in larger cities would gather to read the “On the Spot” news briefs before the full story would come out in the print edition.

In this case, it was the signs about the war in Europe that were probably getting the most attention. One sign titled “Prince Calls on Roosevelt, Olav of Norway arrives by Clipper Plane” would have been about the Norwegian leader asking for help for his country after Hitler’s German forces invaded and took the country over. The other one titled, “War News,” tells about Winston Churchill, who had recently become Prime Minister of Great Britain when Chamberlain was ousted after the German invasion of Norway, reporting that Churchill was calling on Italians to rise up and overthrow the dictatorship of their fascist ruler, Benito Mussolini.

However, the war in Europe was a long way away and many Americans were hoping we would not get drawn into it. That may be why the notice titled, “Flying Santa Behind Schedule,” telling how ‘Christmas Flights Along NE Coast May Not be Finished Until Christmas Morning,’ was posted so high up on the window display.

In those days, everyone was familiar with the story of Capt. Bill Wincapaw who had served as the Flying Santa to New England lighthouse families since 1929. However, it had also been widely reported in the news that Wincapaw would be unable to make it back from South America that year and that his good friend, noted author and historian Edward Rowe Snow, who had helped him in previous years, would be doing all the flights that year. Exactly why the flights were delayed might have been because Snow would be doing the entire route by himself that year, or perhaps weather conditions may also have played a role.

However, little could anyone have imagined then, that the Flying Santa would not be able to continue to drop Christmas presents to the lighthouse keepers the following year. On December 7, 1941, a few weeks before Christmas, Japan attacked the United States and the Flying Santa’s flights were grounded, not to resume again until the conclusion of the Second World War.

Today, the tradition of the Flying Santa delivering Christmas presents to lighthouses is kept alive by the Friends of the Flying Santa, a nonprofit group of dedicated volunteers. To learn more, you can visit their website at www.FlyingSanta.org.

Our thanks go out to Lighthouse Digest subscriber Jack Graham for sending this December 1940 photograph to us of the Brockton Enterprise Newspaper storefront in Brockton, Massachusetts.

This story appeared in the December 2010 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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