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Santa Claus Comes to Town

Santa Claus arrives in 2015. Copyright Bob Leavitt.

Each year Libertyville residents gather in Cook Park for the holiday tree lighting the Friday night after Thanksgiving. Santa’s arrival by fire truck is the highlight of the evening for children of all ages. But in the late 1940s Santa arrived by another mode of transportation – an airplane.

Between 1946 and 1949, on the second Saturday in December, Santa gave his reindeer the day off. In their place, Libertyville resident and American Airlines pilot Captain Walter Steiner delivered Santa to Cook Park. According to the local newspaper, that first year Santa arrived at the Chicago Municipal Airport (now Midway Airport) on a DC-4, then transferred to a smaller plane for the journey to Libertyville [1].

The plane circled the area while Santa threw out leaflets inviting those below to meet him in Cook Park. It landed in a field outside of town and then taxied east on Rockland Road and north on Milwaukee Avenue to Cook Park accompanied by police, firemen, and the county sheriff. Over two thousand residents greeted Santa when he arrived in the center of town [2].

The plane parked in a roped off area on the northeast corner of the park. Santa emerged from the plane and led the crowd in a jolly rendition of “Jingle Bells” and other carols before distributing candy bars with the help of local firemen. Santa worked the crowd for an hour, shaking hands and gathering Christmas wish lists from children. As the plane was towed back to the landing field, Santa visited the homes of children who could not come to the park due to illness [3].

1949 Libertyville Village Directory

This inaugural event, planned by the Chamber of Commerce, was a success. Santa, assisted by Captain Steiner, repeated the journey through 1949. In 1950, Santa came by firetruck, perhaps because Captain Steiner had moved to the Long Grove area, or blustery weather kept the plane grounded. In either case, it appears Santa did not “fly” directly to Cook Park again. In the 1950s, a small plane or helicopter delivered St. Nick to the outskirts of town, at one point Butler Park, where he was picked up for delivery to Cook Park by fire engine [4].

Santa’s mode of transportation may have changed, but over 70 years later, Libertyville residents still flock to Cook Park to welcome in the holidays.

Sources:

  1. “Plane to Bring Distinguished Visitor.” Independent Register, December 5, 1946, p.1.
  2. “Thousands Greet Santa.” Independent Register, December 12, 1946, p.1.
  3. Ibid.
  4. “Santa Comes By Plane; Hundreds Greet Him at Cook Park.” Independent Register, December 11, 1947, p.1; “Crowd Greets Santa Claus in Libertyville.” Independent Register, December 16, 1948, p.1; “Santa Greets Children in Libertyville.” Independent Register, December ??, 1949, p.1; “Santa Comes to Town.” Independent Register, December 14, 1950, p.1; “Youngsters Crowd Cook Library Park to Welcome Santa.” Independent Register, December 13, 1951, p.1; “Santa Schedules Visits Saturday for Two Villages.” Independent Register, December 11, 1952, p.1; “Santa Schedules Visit Saturday in Cook Park.” Independent Register, December 10, 1953, p.1.; Small, Lou G. Jr. 2023. “Does anyone remember Santa Claus arriving by helicopter to the ball fields by Butler Lake and the Fire Department bringing him to Cook Park to greet the kids?” Facebook, November 23, 2023 posted. https://www.facebook.com/groups/116515778372382/permalink/7363405893683298/.

Categories: Local History

Tags: Local History

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