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Out of the Morgue
Slow news and Skydiving Santas in 1937
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Dressed as Santa Clause, U.S. Army Corporal Harold J. Kraner, 33, veteran of 100 parachute jumps, leaped from a plane over Bostons oceanside airport for the entertainment of Army mens wives and children. Wind blew the floating Santa into the sea to his death. - photo by Tribune file photo

Each week we’ll take a step back into the history of Great Bend through the eyes of reporters past. We’ll reacquaint you with what went into creating the Great Bend of today, and do our best to update you on what “the rest of the story” turned out to be.

Eighty years ago, Walt Disney’s full-length animated feature film, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” the first of its kind, premiered at the Carthay Circle Theatre in Hollywood, California. Six weeks later, it would be released to theaters nationwide. Children in Great Bend this week were treated to a day at the movies courtesy of The Plaza Theater. This happened a few days before Christmas, as reported in the Tribune article, “600 at Free Show.”

Six-hundred children attended the 6th annual free picture show given this morning for boys and girls under 14 years of age at the Plaza theater as a Christmas treat, according to Lloyd Morris, Manager of the theater.
The feature picture was “Lawless Lands,” a western romance, with a comedy, “Here Comes the Circus,” and a color cartoon, “Don’t Look Now,” Warner Bros. “Merry Melodies” production.

Last minute presents
In 1937, for the most part it was up to a person to shop and then do their own shipping to make sure gifts arrived in time for Christmas. With just four days left before the big day, Dec. 21, 1937 had Great Bend Postmaster Nat Walker expecting the heaviest Christmas mail of the entire season. Crowds in the post office lobby had been increasing daily, and postal employees were working overtime all week up to that point, caring for one of the heaviest Christmas mailing seasons on record:

“Persons loaded with Christmas packages had to wait their turn at the two mailing windows for several minutes before they could be accommodated yesterday. At one time, 28 persons were counted in one of the lines.”
Keep in mind, they had to get all those packages into the post office, which in 1937 was located on the corner of Broadway and Main Street where today the Family Crisis Center is located.
Once the packages were weighed, postage paid, and sorted, they were taken to the train station on South Kansas Street.
“A ton-and-a-half truck has been used to transport the mail to and from the post office to the station during the past two weeks and during the past week the truck makes five or six loads to the station where it formerly made one, Mr. Walker said.”
The large increase in mail was beginning to cause the trains to run late. “The number of passengers at the station have also increased to a great extent.”

‘Dickens’-on Lunch
One Great Bend diner figured out how to increase its appeal to customers so well other area businesses also got in on the act.

According to story “Free Coffee popular at Dickinson Lunch,” Mrs. Martha Hadley, proprietor of the Dickinson Lunch at 1901 Lakin, stated this week that the “free coffee and doughnuts” offer Sunday at the local restaurant drew a large crowd throughout the day.
Approximately 50 pounds of coffee, furnished by the Arnholz Coffee Co., were consumed Sunday, while 20 dozen doughnuts, furnished by the Great Bend Baking Co., were distributed among guests. Nearly two gallons of cream, donated by the Bartholomew Dairy, were used.
Large and colorful bouquets of flowers for the event were received at the Dickenson Lunch Sunday from Spruill Motors, Great Bend Flower Shop, Cedric Flower Shop and J.S. Dillon & sons. A large basket of fruit was presented by the Grovier-Starr Produce Co.
Hadley’s little diner was located where Rosewood Wine Cellar stands today, next door to the Crest Theatre. A tiny little diner in the thick of the business district of a thriving mid-Kansas city in the 1930s. There was no explanation for the largess, or any indication of whether or not it was to be a regular affair, or simply a one-time observance of the holiday season. Nonetheless, who can pass up free coffee and doughnuts before or after church? A pound of coffee will make about 48 6 oz. cups, so that’s a lot of cups of coffee to be poured in a morning.

Skydiving Santas...
Slow news days are a blessing. And these local stories from Great Bend the week of Christmas, 1937, are typical slow news. Not like the two Associated Press reports from Boston the same week. The contrast was striking. Warning: playing Santa can be hazardous to your health.
“Parachute Jumper, Flying gas Santa Claus, falls into sea”
Army planes and police boats searched Boston harbor today for the body of U.S. Army Corporal Harold J. Kraner, 35, of Winthrop, Mass., whose parachute descent as a flying Santa Claus turned to tragedy last night over Boston’s oceanside airport when a freshening wind blew him into the water.
Veteran of more than 100 successful jumps within eight years, Kraner plunged to his death while his young wife and their eighteen-month-old son looked on in the midst of a group of army wives and children to whose Christmas party he was making his annual contribution.
Kraner bailed out over the airport at 1500 feet from a plane piloted by Captain Richard E. Cobb. Carried seaward by the wind, Kraner sideslipped his ‘chute desperately, but only a few spectators realized he was in danger.

“Body of missing parachute jumper found in harbor” was in the next day’s paper.
Captain Richard E. Cobb, from whose plane Corporal Harold Kraner, 35, of Winthrop, fell in a Santa Claus suit to his death, today found Kraner’s body just off the Boston airport. It was entangled in the shrouds of a sodden parachute.
The aviator, flying low over the harbor on the second day’s search for Kraner, saw the body in about 15 feet of water.
The parachute cords were tightly wrapped around Kraner’s neck, indicating he might have strangled.
A police boat took the body to the harbor police station.
Horrified children saw Kraner disappear into the dusky waters of the harbor Wednesday, Dec. 22, as he floated downward to open a Christmas party. Two enlisted men rushed a skiff into the sea, but the skiff overturned and the two would-be rescuers were rescued.

“Santa of the Air” likely had readers scratching their heads the next day, wondering about the sanity of New Englanders.
New England’s “Santa Claus of the air” swung his big aerial sled northward today to drop Christmas packages to his winter-locked friends, lighthouse keepers from West Quoddy Head to New York City.
His plane stocked with well-wrapped packages, the “flying Santa,” Captain William H. Wincapaw, re-enacted for the ninth time a good-will mission which he began while operating a seaplane base in Rockland, Me. His route has grown so large that he is devoting today and tomorrow to the pleasant task.

We had to find out what all this “flying Santa” business was about. It turns out, Wincapaw wasn’t a parachuting Santa. Instead, he simply tossed packages from the plane. He continued this unique tradition until he died of a heart attack in 1947. Wincapaw‘s story is shared on the blog site Coast Guard Compass: Official Blog of the U.S. Coast Guard. Today, the tradition continues with the support of the nonprofit organization Friends of Flying Santa. Lighthouses are now automated, so Santa has time to deliver gifts to Coast Guard shore stations from New York to Maine.
As it turns out, Santa and skydiving continue to be a popular combination. For the past 40 years, the city of Quincy, Mass., has welcomed a skydiving Santa who arrives to kick-off the “Light up the Holidays” celebration. Note, last year he sprained his ankle when he landed.  Also, we found a recently posted viral video of a skydiving Santa crashing into a palm tree as he attempted his stunt in order to deliver a nine-year-old an Elf on the Shelf in Florida. No joke. Google it.