When Santa met the Nautilus

Sarah Fritz watches over her children, Rex, 5, left, and Vinny, 2, as families take part in a free showing of the movie 'The Polar Express' on Friday. The movie was hosted by the Historic Ship Nautilus and Submarine Force Library and Museum at the museum in Groton on Christmas Eve.
Sarah Fritz watches over her children, Rex, 5, left, and Vinny, 2, as families take part in a free showing of the movie "The Polar Express" on Friday. The movie was hosted by the Historic Ship Nautilus and Submarine Force Library and Museum at the museum in Groton on Christmas Eve.

Groton - Many children would love to chat with Santa Claus, to share their Christmas list and ask about life at the North Pole.

The crew of the USS Nautilus had the chance to do just that about a half-century ago, when their submarine became the first ship to cross the North Pole.

Crew members still vividly remember their meeting with Santa. They had gathered in the crew's mess to celebrate reaching the North Pole at 11:15 p.m. on Aug. 3, 1958.

"Following person embarked at North Pole: CLAUS, Santa, affiliation Christmas Club's Representative, Northern Area," a Nautilus officer wrote in his record of the day.

In the midst of the celebratory photo-taking and cake eating, Santa entered the crew's mess. He first chastised the sailors for interrupting his summer vacation, recalled Jack Kurrus, an engineman on the trip, during a phone interview.

"This time of year, he was resting, and he didn't have time to give over to discussing issues with the general public," Kurrus, of Mystic, said. "He wanted his time off."

But Santa let the sailors off the hook as long as they promised that their children would be good for the rest of the year, said Al Charette, also of Mystic, a sonarman on board.

"Here we were, not only getting to the North Pole but having a chat with Santa Claus," Kurrus said. "Great stuff."

The officer's log states that Santa assured them that "this will be a Merry Christmas for all," and he left the ship after having a piece of cake and a Coke.

The Submarine Force has had an affinity for the region ever since the Nautilus' history-making journey to the North Pole.

In that spirit, the Submarine Force Library and Museum, which is home to the Historic Ship Nautilus (SSN 571), did two screenings on Friday of "The Polar Express," a movie about a boy who boards a magical train headed to Santa Claus' home.

The Naval Submarine Base, in announcing the event, said, "Certainly stealth and secrecy prohibits any confirmation or denial of Santa's Castle, workshop and operation, but let's just say many submariners believe."

After the movie, dozens of children and their parents filled plastic bags with oats and then tossed in glitter to create "reindeer food" that they could sprinkle on their lawns on Christmas Eve.

Wearing a Santa hat, Nathan Holmes filled a bag for his son, Jackson. Holmes, of Oakdale, said he thought the movie would be a fun way to get Jackson, 2, out of the house. Jackson said, "Ho, ho, ho."

Close friends Gianna Newman and Jordan Brown agreed that it was "so cool" that the Nautilus sailors spoke to Santa. Gianna, 10, of Norwich, said she dreams of meeting Santa, whom she called the "best person in the world."

Jordan, 9, of Uncasville, said she would like to say hello, too, so she could make sure her Christmas list got to the right person.

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