Mailboat jumpers continue deliveries during 99th season

July 4, 2015

       

In this June 17, 2015, photo, mail jumpers Thomas Peck and Joanie Williams stand with Capt. Neill Frame in front of the Walworth II in Lake Geneva, Wis.

BELOIT — A rainy first day made for a fun start to the 99th mailboat delivery season.

Thomas Peck, a second year jumper, said he grew up watching the mail boat sail along Lake Geneva. His sister also was a mail jumper.

"The rainy days make it more fun," said Peck.

Rain or shine, mail jumpers have to jump from the boat — which never stops moving— hustle to the mail boxes, and then leap back to the boat without falling, the Beloit Daily News (http://bit.ly/1LKREWu ) reported.

Capt. Neill Frame has been piloting the boat since the early 1970s and said there is a method to the moving madness.

"The main reason I keep moving is so that I can steer and avert crashing into the dock," said Frame. "If I'm standing still, it's easy to lose control."

       

In this June 17, 2015, photo, after a successful delivery, Thomas Peck walks along the side of the Walworth II before entering the boat to get his next mail package in Lake Geneva, Wis.

Frame only slows the boat down to five miles per hour during delivery.

The 99-year tradition began as a necessity in the early 1900s, when lake house owners would have to travel into town to collect their mail. This presented travel problems and congestion for boat owners, who had long boats and not enough dock room. The tradition has continued as a form of entertainment and summer employment for students.

"I learned you have to jump with the boat," Peck said, who recalls falling in the water during tryouts this year.

Peck isn't the only member of the team who joined after a family member. His co-jumper for the day, Joanie Williams, also came from a long line of jumpers. Williams' mother and sister were jumpers before her.

Like Peck, Williams said she also grew up seeing her family members jumping on the boat and thought when the time came she'd try out, too.

"I like that I have something to do with the community," said Williams. "It's a really big deal that I can connect with the community and that traditions can still carry on for nearly 100 years."

During the tour, Frame said the first female jumper, Elaine Kanelos, was hired back in 1974. Kanelos published a book based on her experiences in 2014, titled "Mail Jumper! The Story of the First Mail Girl."

       

In this June 17, 2015, photo, Thomas Peck and Joanie Williams pose for a photo atop the Walworth II in Lake Geneva, Wis., as they prepare for mail delivery to homes along the lake shore.

Since then, he said there have been years where only one gender was a jumper. This year, there is an even mix.

The boat is the only mail delivery service in the country that delivers mail via the water. The two-hour tour features more than 60 mansions along the lake, often owned by famous Chicago business families, including the Swifts, Maytags, Bordens and Wrigleys.

At one dock, a golden retriever dashes to the end of the pier to carry the Sunday paper up to his master. Santa Claus also makes a rare summer time appearance at one of the piers.

Ellen Burling, office manager for Lake Geneva tours, was a mail jumper in 1984.

"We didn't have try-outs," said Burling of her time as a mail jumper.

Unfortunately, Burling sprained her ankle during the Fourth of July weekend of her first year and wasn't able to complete the season. She never jumped again, but did become the first full-time employee at the company. Her own children are now carrying on the tradition, and her son and daughter are both mail jumpers for this season.

Even though the new season just began June 15, the company is already planning its centennial celebration next year.

"We're going to have reunions and prizes," Burling said. "We may ask people around the lake to decorate their piers according to different decades."

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Associated Press