Benjamin Ellsworth was appointed keeper of the Ipswich Lighthouse by Abraham Lincoln in 1861 and remained in the post until his death in 1902. His daughter Susan lived with him and also tended to the light.
The last keeper was LeRoy Lane, who lived at the station with his wife, Angie (Harris) Lane and their three children. Being the keeper of a lighthouse was a lonely job, but every Christmas eve Mr. and Mrs. Lane would host a party at the lighthouse for the children of Ipswich as they waited for the “Flying Santa” to drop his presents.
The Flying Santa tradition started in 1929 with William Wincapaw of Friendship, Maine. As a gesture of gratitude to the lonely lighthouse keepers, he loaded his plane with packages of newspapers, magazines, coffee, candy, and tobacco and dropped them, one by one, to the lighthouse keepers in the Rockland, area. By 1933 he and his son, dressed in Santa suits, were dropping Christmas presents to almost one hundred lighthouses along the New England Coast.
When the Wincapaw family moved to Winthrop MA in 1936, Bill Jr. and Edward Rowe Snow dropped presents to 25 lighthouses in southern New England while Bill Sr. flew the northern route. The Ipswich lighthouse was on the list. Edward Snow loved it, and got his pilot’s license. He, his wife and daughter continued as Flying Santas through 1981, and the tradition survives today.
In 1939 the children were all assembled at the Ipswich Lighthouse, waiting for Flying Santa Edward Snow, who was running a bit behind schedule. Hearing the sound of an airplane the keeper called up to his wife, “Has Santa arrived yet, dear?” Immediately he heard the Christmas bundle crashing through the skylight, upon which his wife yelled down, “Yes, dear. We can start the party now.”
The era of the Ipswich Lighthouse was soon to end. Drifting sand began to envelop the structure, and in 1939 the Coast Guard floated the entire cast-iron lighthouse to Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard to replace a lighthouse that had been damaged by the 1938 hurricane, and a steel skeleton light was erected at Crane Beach.
Keepers of Ipswich Light
from the records of the Lighthouse Service
- Captain Thomas Greenwood, 1838 to 1852
- Captain Benjamin Ellsworth, 1852 to 1902
- M. Gunderson, March 27, 1902 to Oct. 31, 1910
- T. J. Creed, Nov. 12, 1910 to March 31, 1912
- G. A. Howard, April 1, 1912 to Apr. 30, 1916
- A. A. Howard, May 1, 1916 to Apr. 30, 1919
- G. F. Woodman, Jr., May 1, 1919 to June 8, 1922
- Carl. D. Hill, June 9, 1922 to Nov. 12, 1932
- Frode Nordquist, 1932 to 1934
- Leroy F. H. Lane 1934 to 1942
- New England Historical Society: The Flying Santas
- Boston Magazine: When Flying Santa Would Drop Presents to New England Lighthouse Keepers
- Lighthouse journal
- New England Lighthouses: A virtual Guide