Opening Reception: Saturday December 1, 6-9pm
Exhibit On View: December 1, 2012 – February 10, 2013
Celebrate the holiday season with a new exhibit about The Santa Claus Association, a New York City-based philanthropic group that answered children’s letters to Santa Claus. The show, will appeal to anyone interested in learning about NY’s quirky Christmas history and the story of a real-life Santa Claus.
For decades, letters that kids addressed to Santa Claus went unanswered, ending up in the post office’s Dead Letter Office But in 1913, an eccentric New York publicist and Christmas obsessive named John Duvall Gluck Jr. devised a way to answer these wishes. Thus was launched The Santa Claus Association.
The group’s dozens of volunteers matched each letter to a donor who delivered the child’s Christmas wish — be they toys, treats, warm food, or in one case, an artificial limb. In its first year, the Association brought gifts to 28,000 children and was dubbed a “revolution in methods of distributing charity” by The New York Times. The Association flourished for 14 years and Gluck exulted in his role as the Santa of New York City with frequent press appearances and high-profile parties. But when Gluck’s fundraising practices came under scrutiny in 1928 and a public scandal resulted, the group was forced to close up operations, never to be heard from since.
The show is based on the research and artifacts collected by Gluck’s great grandnephew, Alex Palmer, who first learned about the Santa Claus Association two years ago. Through family members he had met for the first time during his research, Palmer acquired Gluck’s scrapbooks, photos, and the original Santa Claus Association annuals that are on display in the show. He is now at work on a book about the organization.
Among the findings on display are photos of the group and Gluck processing Santa’s mail, as well as original Santa letters from New York City’s children. The exhibit also showcases the celebrities of stage and silent film who worked with the Association— including John Barrymore, Mary Pickford, and Douglas Fairbanks — as well as politicians like New York Mayor Jimmy Walker, New York Governor Al Smith, and President Warren G. Harding.
Alex Palmer is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in the New York Post, Time Out New York, The Brooklyn Eagle, and The Queens Times Ledger. He is the author of the books Weird-o-Pedia and Literary Miscellany [both from Skyhorse Publishing].