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December 19, 2023 9 mins

Sometimes all it takes is a single person to make an impact on the world. Both of the subjects in today's tour are shining examples of that.

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Speaker 1 (00:04):
Welcome to Aaron Manke's Cabinet of Curiosities, a production of
iHeartRadio and Grimm and Mild. Our world is full of
the unexplainable, and if history is an open book, all
of these amazing tales right there on display, just waiting
for us to explore. Welcome to the Cabinet of Curiosities.

The man we all know today, the one who slides
down our chimneys every December twenty fifth and leaves presence
under our trees, is something of a historical Frankenstein, sorry,
Frankenstein's monster. In fourth century Greece, for example, there was
a Christian bishop named Saint Nicholas, who often gave gifts
to the poor. After his death, people in the Middle

Ages would give presents to children during December as a
way to honor him. Over time, other cultures started to
develop their own similar figures. England had Father Christmas, the
Dutch had Center Claus, and the Germans had Wodin, a
bearded figure most commonly known as the God Odin. But
in America, as well as many other places around the world,

we have Santa Claus. His fluffy white beard and big
red suit are iconic, but many people don't know that
at one time, Santa Claus really existed and he came
from Missouri. It was April fourth of eighteen eighty eight,
and William and Henrietta Clause of Sailine County, Missouri, were
a static. They'd just given birth to a bouncing baby boy.

But when it came time to fill out his birth certificate,
they could only think of one name that would fit
their surname, Santa. That's right, Santa Claus had just entered
the world. Now. Of course, someone named after a figure
of joy and goodwill should have inspired the same in
people he met growing up, but kids can often be cruel.
Clause was picked on a lot as a child because

of his name, no doubt, earning his tormentors a spot
on the Naughty List. But he didn't grow up to
run a workshop full of elves or steer a sleigh
driven by eight magical reindeer. Clause grew up to be
a family man and a ditch digger. You see, life
got expensive with seven kids and a wife at home,
so he worked several jobs to get by. Among them,
he worked part time as a minister as well as

a laborer along the Missouri River, but in nineteen twenty nine,
everything changed. One day, he'd been working on the river
when he suffered an accident and broke his leg. He
was rushed to the hospital, where his name caused quite
a stir because honestly, it isn't every day that Santa
Claus ends up in the er. Right. Newspapers got wind
of the story and published articles about Clause, who was

in dire need of a pick me up. After all,
the sole breadwinner for his large family was now out
of work. And so the children who heard about the
accident did what they did best when it came to
Santa Claus. They wrote him letters. Soon, thousands of letters
from all over started to pour in. The recuperating Clause
finally embraced his identity and started answering the letters. And

it became more than a hobby too, This was a calling.
He grew out his beard and worked for months writing
back to every single child. That meant responding to at
least six thousand letters each year. And remember, Santa Claus
was poor. He didn't have much money to spend on
things like paper and postage. For those items, he relied
on donations from his town's Chamber of Commerce. Everyday Americans

looking to help, and even movie star May West. She
sent him two hundred and fifty dollars to spend on stamps.
But not everything was rosy cheeked for dear old mister Clause.
While his name may have encouraged young children to believe
in Christmas magic, it also caused him problems in his
daily life. Banks often turned him away because they didn't
believe that his identity was real. Some people thought that

he was mentally ill, and even the post Office wouldn't
deliver the occasional package to him because they didn't believe
Santa Claus really existed. But he did did, and he
continued to answer letters from children for the next thirty
years using his real name. After his wife died in
nineteen forty four, he remarried four years later, and the
new Missus Claus filled her role perfectly. She assisted Santo

with his letters as he slowly became ill. On April
first of nineteen fifty seven, Clause passed away, three days
shy of his sixty ninth birthday. The world may have
lost Santa Claus the Man, but thanks to his dedication
to thousands of children who wrote to him, the spirit
of Christmas that he embodied still lives on today. Many

jobs can seem thankless. The restaurant cook making your food,
or the mechanic fixing your car are all people that
we interact with all the time, but we rarely show
gratitude for the services they provide, and the same goes
for teachers, farmers, and even stay at home spouses. But
perhaps one of the most unfairly thankless jobs in any
industry is that of the lighthouse keeper. Lighthouses signal to

ships using bright lights and loud horns that there are
shallows in rocky shores nearby, and they don't just warn
captains of dangers ahead either. They also help ships navigate
in and out of harbors safely. But they wouldn't be
able to do any of that without help from the
people responsible for their care and maintenance, the lighthouse keepers.
A lighthouse keeper does more than just light the lamp.

They have to fill the lamp with kerosene each day,
trim the wicks to prevent smoking, clean the lens and
windows so the light shines brightly, perform basic repairs, and
even act as tour guides for visitors. A lighthouse keeper's
job is so important. It goes on twenty four to seven,
with no sick time and no days off, and because
they have to live in the lighthouses at all times,

it can get pretty lonely, especially around Christmas. Edward Snow
so as Well. Born in nineteen oh two, Snow grew
up in Winthrop, Massachusetts, near the shores of Boston Harbor.
He came from a nautical family. His grandfather was a
sea captain for much of his life, and his mother
accompanied him on many voyages. Even Snow got in on

the act. After graduating high school. He spent nine years
on various ships and oil tankers, learning all that he
could about life on the high seas. He wrote forty
books about his travels, one of which became a common
sight in many East Coast homes. It was titled The
Lighthouses of New England. But after seeing the world for
all that time, Snow decided to settle down. He enrolled

at Harvard at the age of twenty seven and accelerated
through his courses, graduating after only three years. One month
after earning his diploma, he married Anna Merle Hague, a
woman that he met during a trip to Montana. Together
they moved back to Massachusetts and built a life there.
Snow took up teaching at Winthrop High School, and it
was there that he met a young man named Bill Winkop.

Bill was a student whose father did something nice for
the lighthouse keepers and their families every Christmas. He flew
overhead and dropped presents from above. He was dubbed the
Flying Santa. Snow was only too happy to help, especially
as Bill's father included more lighthouses each year. Even Bill
himself had to pitch in. He was the youngest licensed

pilots in the state at only sixteen years old. So
mister Winkepaw would fly his plane north while Edward and
Bill Junior would fly along the southern New England coast
dropping presents down to lighthouse keepers below. After several years, however,
the Winkapaus could no longer perform their yearly task. Who
would step up and become Flying Santa Now? Why Edward Snow.

Of course, Snow couldn't fly his own plane, though, so
he and his family would charter a plane loaded up
with dolls and toys and copies of his books, and
do the whole route themselves. He even put on a
red Santa suit and fake beard for those occasions. After
his daughter was born, she he went with them. Every
flight was an experience she described as bumpy, rough and scary.

Snow didn't take any money or donations to finance these trips.
Everything was paid for out of his own pocket, and
when the plane had to refuel he would come out
and meet with the lighthouse keepers and their families. It
was in their smiles and gratitude that he saw how
important his yearly pilgrimage was to them, especially to the children.
Snow died in nineteen eighty two and only missed a

single Christmas flight in the forty five years that he
delivered presents. His one off year was nineteen forty two,
wild World War two was happening, so you know, a
very valid excuse. Today, his legacy lives on thanks to
the friends of Flying Santa, who fly helicopters to lighthouses
all over New England. They continue the tradition started by

the Winkipause and Edward Snow, delivering joy and Christmas cheer
to the men and women who keep the harbors lit
all year round. I hope you've enjoyed today's guided tour
of the Cabinet of Curiosities. Subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts,
or learn more about the show by visiting Curiosities podcast

dot com. The show was created by me Aaron Mankey
in partnership with how Stuff Works. I make another award
winning show called Lore, which is a podcast, book series,
and television show, and you can learn all about it
over at the Worldoflore dot com. And until next time,
stay curious.

Aaron Mahnke's Cabinet of Curiosities News

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