Monday, December 7, 2015

The Santa Claus Man: The Rise and Fall of a Jazz Age Con Man and the Invention of Christmas In New York by Alex Palmer - Guest Post

Hi, everyone! Today I'm hosting author Alex Palmer as part of the TLC book tour for The Santa Claus Man.

Before I hand things over to Alex, here's a bit about The Santa Claus Man from Goodreads:

Before the charismatic John Duval Gluck, Jr. came along, letters from New York City children to Santa Claus were destroyed, unopened, by the U.S. Post Office. Gluck saw an opportunity, and created the Santa Claus Association. The effort delighted the public, and for 15 years money and gifts flowed to the only group authorized to answer Santa’s mail. Gluck became a Jazz Age celebrity, rubbing shoulders with the era’s movie stars and politicians, and even planned to erect a vast Santa Claus monument in the center of Manhattan — until Gotham’s crusading charity commissioner discovered some dark secrets in Santa’s workshop.

The rise and fall of the Santa Claus Association is a caper both heartwarming and hardboiled, involving stolen art, phony Boy Scouts, a kidnapping, pursuit by the FBI, a Coney Island bullfight, and above all, the thrills and dangers of a wild imagination. It’s also the larger story of how Christmas became the extravagant holiday we celebrate today, from Santa’s early beginnings in New York to the country’s first citywide Christmas tree and Macy’s first grand holiday parade. The Santa Claus Man is a holiday tale with a dark underbelly, and an essential read for lovers of Christmas stories, true crime, and New York City history.

If you were expecting a heartwarming holiday tale, you now know that's definitely not the case!  It's a bit more self explanatory with the subtitle in there, I know.

And now I'll hand things over to Alex Palmer!

How New York Invented Christmas
By Alex Palmer

My new book, The Santa Claus Man: The Rise and Fall of a Jazz Age Con Man and the Invention of Christmas in New York, tells the true story of a colorful huckster who used a Santa letter–answering scheme to make himself rich and famous. But it also tells the larger story of how New York City invented modern Christmas, from the earliest conceptions of Santa Claus as a jolly man in a sleigh to the first Christmas-tree farm in the U.S., here are some of the highlights of how Santa, and Christmas, evolved in New York City:

1804—John Pintard and ten other city elites founded the New-York Historical Society. The group aimed to preserve important documents, as well as to reignite the “virtuous habits and simple manners” of Gotham’s forgotten Dutch culture, including the veneration of St. Nicholas.

1809—Washington Irving publishes A History of New-York under the pseudonym “Diedrich Knickerbocker.” A satire, it adds comical overtones to the ecclesiastical St. Nicholas.

1810—Pintard commissions a woodcut of St. Nicholas, the first known depiction of the character in the United States, and distributes it at the New-York Historical Society’s first annual St. Nicholas Day dinner.

1821—William Gilley publishes The Children’s Friend, the first known depiction of Santa with reindeer (though in this picture book he only has one).

1822—Clement Clarke Moore composes “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” drawing together elements from Irving’s book, Pintard’s woodcut, and The Children’s Friend to create a cheery, merchant-like character. The poem is published the next year in the Troy Sentinel and this version of Santa, and of a domestic Christmas, quickly takes off.

1851—Mark Carr opens the first Christmas tree market in Washington Market. Many additional markets follow, helping spread the popularity of Christmas trees in the home.

1863—Thomas Nast publishes his first illustration of Santa Claus for Harper’s Weekly. It begins a hugely popular annual tradition that will establish his version of Santa Claus, complete with workshop and assistant elves, as the definitive version of the character.

1870s—Earliest reports by newspapers of children using the Post Office Department to send letters to Santa.

1897—Eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon sends letter to the Sun telling of her friends who don’t believe in Santa Claus. Editor Francis Church confirms that “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”

1907—The United States Postmaster General releases Santa’s mail for one holiday season but cancels the practice the following year.

1911—The new postmaster general again releases Santa’s mail. The practice is made permanent two years later.

1912—New York City holds the first city-sponsored public Christmas tree gathering, in Madison Square Park. At least fifty more cities will adopt the practice the next year.

1912—Christmas giving has become so excessive that concerned citizens, including Teddy Roosevelt, form the Society for the Prevention of Useless Giving.

1913—The new parcel post law allows for packages to be sent more cheaply and efficiently, opening floodgates of Christmas gifts. John Gluck launches the Santa Claus Association, charged with answering all of Santa’s New York City mail.

1924—Macy’s hosts the first “Christmas Parade.”

1933—The New York City Christmas-tree lighting moves to Rockefeller Center, the same year the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Show began (which would grow into the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, featuring the Rockettes). While the first lighting occurred at Rockefeller Center in 1931, when demolition workers at the site erected a twenty-foot balsam fir, 1933 was the year the official event left Madison Square Park.

1939—Robert L. May writes Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, which is published and distributed by Montgomery Ward. A decade later, May’s brother-in-law Johnny Marks, working from New York’s Brill Building (named after Santa Claus Association honorary president Samuel Brill’s clothing store on the ground floor), would adapt the book into a song.

1947—Fox releases the film Miracle on 34th Street.

1962—New York City Post Office launches Operation Santa Claus, a formal program to answer the letters Gotham children send to Santa.

2006—Operation Santa Claus goes nationwide, with branches throughout the country.

About the author: Author Alex Palmer has written for Slate, Vulture, Smithsonian Magazine, New York Daily News and many other outlets. The author of previous nonfiction books Weird-o-Pedia and Literary Miscellany, he is also the great-grandnephew of John Duval Gluck, Jr.

Big thanks to Alex for being here today as part of the tour! As a little bonus, he has a great holiday offer for you:

Special blog tour Christmas gift: Get a free Santa bookplate signed by the author, plus two vintage Santa Claus Association holiday seals. Just email proof once you buy The Santa Claus Man (online receipt, photo of bookstore receipt, etc.) along with the mailing address where you'd like the gift sent to santaclausmanbook[at]gmail[dot]com. Email before 12/21 to guarantee delivery by Christmas.

To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here. For more on Alex Palmer and his work you can visit his website here. You can also friend him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter

Amazon | IndieBound | Barnes & Noble


Heather J @ TLC Book Tours said...

Thanks for featuring Alex for the tour!

Literary Feline said...

This was such an interesting book, and I am glad I got the chance to read it. Even today there's still a lot of concern about which charities actually do the most good and which coat the pockets of those running them. While sad that certain people so easily took advantage of people's good natures (then and now), it's heartwarming that so many people are willing to give and help out.