When pilot Captain William H. Wincapaw piled a dozen packages of gifts into his seaplane and dropped them at Maine lighthouses on Christmas Day in 1929, he couldn’t have dreamed he was inaugurating a tradition that would still be going strong three-quarters of a century later. Today the Friends of Flying Santa maintain the tradition, visiting lighthouses and Coast Guard stations in the Northeast by helicopter primarily as a means of showing appreciation to Coast Guard
personnel and their families.
On November 13, 2004, a 75th Anniver-sary Dinner held by the Friends of Flying Santa attracted close to 100 people to the Coast Guard station in Boston. The event was MC’d by Chief Warrant Officer Dave Waldrip, who is a trustee for the nonprofit group and also has played the role of Santa for many of the present-giving flights for the past decade. Also present was CWO Tom Guthlein, who’s been playing Santa for seven years.
A letter from Dolly Bicknell, daughter of historian and longtime Santa Edward Rowe Snow, was read at the dinner, as she was unable to attend. Dolly flew with her parents on the Santa flights from 1951 through 1980. “Eventually I realized that not every family celebrated Christmas this way,” she wrote, “and very few children could claim that their father was a Santa Claus!” Dolly also said that she is very pleased with the efforts of the Friends of Flying Santa under the leadership of President Brian Tague.
I had the privilege of giving a multimedia presentation on the rich legacy of these flights. Ed McCabe of the Hull Lifesaving Museum, who became the first Flying Santa after Edward Rowe Snow, gave an entertaining talk and told how any cynicism he harbored when embarking on his Santa
role was quickly dispelled by the innocence of the children at the lighthouses. Rear Admiral David P. Pekoske, Commander
of the First Coast Guard District, spoke about the Coast Guard’s expanded role in today’s world and expressed deep gratitude for
the Flying Santa visits each holiday season.
At the evening’s climax, Admiral Pekoske and Maine’s “Mr. Lighthouse,” Ken Black, director of the Shore Village Museum, unveiled a rendering of a memorial plaque in honor of Captain Wincapaw.
A number of New England helicopter pilots and companies have donated the costs of the flights in recent years, and several
of the pilots attended the dinner. The pilots are an indispensable part of the Flying Santa program. As Brian Tague says, “Without the pilots, we’d be the Driving Santas!” The dinner was capped by a raffle featuring
many items donated by Lighthouse Depot, Harbour Lights and others.
To learn more about the Friends of Flying Santa and their fundraising events and tours, visit their website at www.flyingsanta.org.
This story appeared in the
Jan/Feb 2005 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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