Reminisce: Santa jumps from plane, lands in Lima’s Square

On November 30, 1929, as the world learned Admiral Richard E. Byrd had flown over the South Pole in what was hailed as a “new triumph of the air,” a visitor from the North Pole made a triumphant entry into Lima’s Public Square after, according to the Lima Morning Star and Republican-Gazette, jumping out of an aircraft.

Under the headline “Lima Children Learn Truth About Santa,” the Republican-Gazette wrote, “Santa Claus, Kris Kringle, St. Nicholas – or what have you – made an advance call in Lima yesterday. The occasion was an auspicious one, with the patron saint of Christmas dropping via parachute from his airplane at the outskirts of the city to ride to the Public Square colorfully enthroned atop a city railway flatcar.”

The truth about Santa was that this was not the first time he’d stepped out of an airplane into thin air over Lima. “Completing a five-day non-stop flight from the frozen north, Kris Kringle’s plane circled the city several times, but the pilot was unable to sight a landing field,” the Lima News wrote November 30, 1928, “so the jolly old Santa jumped from the plane in a parachute.”

Although neither the News in 1928 nor the Republican-Gazette the following year provided details of the undoubtedly startling sight of a heavily laden Santa Claus floating to earth on the outskirts of town, there was copious coverage of his arrival in the Public Square, where he would be greeted by enthusiastic throngs of frozen children and the warm embrace of Lima retailers. Santa Claus, the News reminded its readers in 1929, had already sent “large shipments of toys” from his North Pole workshop to Lima, adding that “boys and girls should visit the stores to see all the wonderful new toys.”

The Public Square had been the focus of Lima’s Christmas celebration since 1914 when the city’s first community Christmas tree, hauled from woods near Gomer and thawed with fires on every side, was erected and quickly decorated a few days before Christmas. For three days, the community gathered around the tree for caroling, concerts and giving to those in need; the Public Square became the center of the community’s Christmas celebration.

Soon, Santa began visiting the Square after Thanksgiving to kick off the Christmas shopping season. Until the 1920s, he simply appeared in one store or another’s toy department, with no explanation of how he got there. In December 1927, for instance, Santa Claus showed up for a parade after a long journey from the North Pole, presumably by sleigh, with a girl named Mary Christmas, some elves and an Eskimo family in tow.

By the late 1920s, however, as Americans thrilled to the exploits of aviation pioneers like Charles Lindbergh and Admiral Byrd, Santa took to the air in something other than a sleigh powered by eight tiny reindeer. With the imaginations and willing complicity of reporters, the jolly old elf began arriving in the Public Square at the beginning of the Christmas shopping season after an airplane flight from the North Pole and a short ride in a streetcar or automobile.

In a story titled “Wonders of the New Toyland” published in November 1925 in the Republican-Gazette, author Winifred Van Duzer foresaw the future, proclaiming that “good old Santa Claus himself has become modern. He’s even junked the limousine that took the place of his reindeers and now does his errands by fast airplane – or so they say.”

Three years later, in mid-November 1928, when representatives of the chamber of commerce, the better business bureau and the city’s newspapers met to plan Lima’s Christmas celebration, the matter of Santa’s transport came up. “Efforts will be made to have a municipal Santa Claus who will have done away with the reindeer and adopted the airplane as a mode of locomotion,” the News reported.

Two weeks later, on the day after Thanksgiving, an impatient Santa made his impromptu parachute jump, during which, the News reported, he was carried by the wind northeast of the city but managed to keep “his big bag of toys and candy” safe. “As Santa and the reception committee came in sight on Main Street with Chief (John) Mack’s siren screaming, hundreds of boys and girls – and grownups too — gathered in the Public Square shouted with glee,” the News wrote.

“The arrival of Santa Claus marked the formal opening of the Yuletide shopping season in Lima,” the newspaper added. “Thousands of multi-colored lights strung over the sidewalks in the downtown district will be turned on for the first time Friday night.”

In early November 1930, the Republican-Gazette reported a plane would leave Lima several days before Thanksgiving to escort Santa Claus to Lima. “Kris Kringle hopped off from his North Pole headquarters in his big airplane last Tuesday night and is making a nonstop flight to Lima,” the newspaper wrote November 27, 1930. Unlike the two previous years, Santa stayed in the plane until it landed.

And so it went, year after year, Santa would arrive in Lima, usually by airplane, and be escorted to the Public Square to meet with happy throngs of children. “Just think of it!” the News declared in an editorial at the beginning of the Christmas shopping season in 1932. “Three thousand boys and girls anxious to see the man who showers them with good things on Christmas Day, thronged Public Square Friday afternoon when Santa made his triumphant appearance!”

Santa’s string of pre-Christmas visits to the Square was interrupted in November 1942, during the height of World War II. “Shortage of candy and lack of transportation facilities are among things which prompted Lima merchants not to impose on the jolly ol’ fellow for the usual pre-Christmas demonstration,” the News wrote on the day after Thanksgiving in 1943. “However, Santa confided that he will make periodic visits to Lima between now and the holidays as he finds time which he must take off from his part-time war job. Yes, Santa, too, is a true blooded American and he is doing his part on the production front for the boys on the fighting lines.”

In 1945, with the war over, Santa returned. “Wind and snow flurries failed to dampen the spirits of 5,000 Lima boys and girls during the official visit of Santa Claus in the Public Square Friday afternoon. The event marked the official beginning of the Christmas shopping season here,” the News wrote November 23, 1945. “Saint Nick, riding atop a State Highway trailer laden with the plane which had brought him to Lima, drew a tumultuous cheer when he rounded the corner of Market Street and the Public Square.”

Lima continued to celebrate Santa’s arrival into the 1970s. In November 1955, more than four thousand Lima children waited in a parking lot on North Elizabeth Street as Santa, escorted by police motorcycles and sheriff’s cruisers, “rode into Lima behind a team of six Shetland ponies,” the News wrote.

Ten years later, Santa was merely starting his annual visit downtown before moving onto the suburban shopping centers, where many former downtown businesses were now located. By the late 1970s, though Christmas parades still occasionally wound through downtown, Santa no longer stopped there.






This feature is a cooperative effort between the newspaper and the Allen County Museum and Historical Society.


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Reach Greg Hoersten at [email protected].