It’s almost impossible to overstate the thrill that once raced through Lewiston’s youngsters each year when Santa Claus arrived in Lewiston.

We’re not talking about the sleigh and the reindeer, or Santa slipping down the chimney, though.

A lot of what got everyone hyped up for the holiday involved the promotional skills and hefty advertising budget of the four-story B. Peck & Co. department store on Main Street, which sponsored the occasion for decades.

For generations, the arrival of the jolly, bearded Saint Nick drew hordes of children to gawk and squeal as the magical symbol of Christmas stepped out of an airplane or leaped ashore from a side-wheeler on the Androscoggin River or chugged into the city aboard a Maine Central train.

Let’s just drift back in time to some of those moments and see, through the words of Lewiston reporters who were there, what it was like.

In 1948, reporter Rose O’Brien, captured the scene like this:


“Don’t shove,” pleaded the Lewiston police.

“You come back here,” screamed the parents.

“Quit pushing!” yelled the Boy Scouts.

Children waiting to see Santa Claus at the train station in Lewiston in 1948. Lewiston Evening Journal

The kids paid no attention. They surged with a roar to greet Santa Claus as he stepped off the 9:30 train this morning at the Lewiston Maine Central Station. They swamped him.

It took a police escort to get Santa to his big red and white sleigh, but everybody was happy.

Escorted by bands and Boy Scouts, pulled by a big Peck truck, Santa led a sea of whooping, delirious children down Main Street to Peck’s, where Santa waved and headed inside to begin weeks of listening to youngsters tell him what they wanted for Christmas.


Two years earlier, in 1946, reporter Arch Soutar snagged an interview with the longtime local Santa, rosy-cheeked and appropriately plump Joseph Langley, 63.

Santa Claus at Peck’s department store in Lewiston in 1946. Lewiston Evening Journal

“I love children and I love working with them,” said Langley, a former chef who’d been the store’s lead Santa for two decades by then. “I couldn’t be Santa if I didn’t.”

“I live just for Christmas,” Langley added.

Soutar said Langley would talk to as many 1,200 children in a single day. They’d come, he wrote, from all over Maine because Peck’s Santa had that kind of sway.

Now let’s jump to 1931 for a story about a different arrival by the jolly old elf.

Whiz-z-z-z-z! Whir-r-r-r!


Overhead a yellow airplane raced from out of the North at exactly 10 o’clock, Saturday, and from the throats of nearly a thousand children on Garcelon field rose an exultant whoop of greeting.

“There’s Santa!”

“Here he comes!”


The crowd milled close to the rope fence that marked off the landing field south of the old circus grounds. Dads grabbed their youngsters and hoisted them aloft to watch Santa arrive. A hundred motor-cars shed their occupants who had waited inside until the last minute to avoid fighting the blustering northwest wind that raked the tiny knoll under the birches and elms the crowd had jammed for its loo-off.

Circling to the East and then turning sharply into the wind, Santa’s Lindbergh Aviator swung his big plane and dropped it neatly on the frozen earth just over another knoll and out of sight of the throng.


For a moment, there was a hush of disappointment. Then the wings of the plane came scaling up over the crest, and quickly appeared the body, within which the crimson costume of Santa could be dimly seen.

This was a signal for another whoopee from everyone under 20 years of age, and from some over.

The arrival of Santa Claus by plane in 1931. Lewiston Evening Journal

“Hurrah! It’s Santa!” was the common voice.

“Look!” warned the fond mamas and papas, as the plane slid slowly to rest within 50 feet of the ropes, where the crowd pressed taut against them.

Policemen, Boy Scots and a few officials spurted into the field beside the plane.

Santa was climbing out, his face wreathed in smiles.


“Hello! Hello, everybody! You bet I’m glad to be here!” he said.

And, no doubt, they were.

Santa seemed to have a fondness for airplanes during the Great Depression.

In 1939, he landed in the middle of Farwell Street before joining the parade to Peck’s.

Fast-forwarding to 1959, let’s follow reporter R. Bruce Huntington’s account of Santa’s arrival in a very different spot.

“The sea-going Santa has made it again!” Huntington told readers. He continued:


The placid backwaters of the Androscoggin River today were churned by the prop of a gaudy-colored, red-smoke-belching riverboat, which landed Santa Claus at the Chapel Street parking lot and kicked off one of the year’s most-awaited seasons.

Christmas is upon us again, as witness the parade and crowds of milling, screaming children in Hulett Square this morning.

Peck’s department store at Christmas. Private collection

The arrival of the B. Peck Co. Santa was watched by throngs of children who stood foot-stamping and chaffing while they waited for the first sight of the large, flat-bottomed boat which carried Santa down the Androscoggin on the last lap from the North Pole.

When exactly Santa’s arrival became a big deal in Lewiston is a little unclear, but it appears that the phenomena began sometime in the 1920s.

In a 1928 Peck advertisement, readers were told that Santa’s train would arrive on a December Saturday at the Bates Street station. It urged folks to greet him, which implies it wasn’t a given, as it became in later years.

That year, Santa had an American Legion detachment and a band on hand to lead him to City Hall. He planned to pay his respects to business along Lisbon Street before setting up for the season that day at Peck’s Toyland display, where he would “reign over all.”

Five years earlier, in 1923, the store wasn’t touting the presence of Santa. Instead, it claimed that Santa, a “wise old shopper,” came to Peck’s to buy gifts.

In 1963, Peck’s handed off Santa’s arrival fete to others, where it continues even today, but with far less interest from a generation that is less enthralled by it all.

The grand old days never last forever.

Comments are no longer available on this story