“At such a thrilling time in New York City, it did not seem ridiculous to trust the Santa Claus Man, but rather, ridiculous to doubt him.”
In 1913, a man named John Duval Gluck Jr. requested that the General Post Office of New York City direct all letters to Santa to his small office in the back of a local chop house. For the past two years, the Post Office had been looking for an organization to properly handle these letters, saddened by the idea of them sitting in the Deal Letter Office going unanswered and waiting for disposal. There had been unsuccessful attempts in the past to meet the wishes of these letter writers, but all fell short. That was not the case with Gluck’s “Santa Claus Association”. He and his volunteers worked to pair willing donors with a child in need. The organization itself did not buy gifts or fulfill the requests in the letters, instead they handed off the letter to the donors and allowed them to provide for the child in whatever way they saw fit. The organization was built on a system of checks and balances, employing the United States Boy Scouts (not to be confused with the Boy Scouts of America) to visit the homes of the letter writers to ensure they were actually people in need rather than families trying to take advantage of charity. The irony is that while taking pains to make sure the letter writers were not running a scam, no one noticed the Santa Claus Man himself was the true con artist.
“Gluck’s catalog of organizations and campaigns floated around law enforcement groups like a swarm of fast-moving flies. One could be swatted, but before you could check if it had been terminated, another caught your eye.”
Many things drew me to this book: The Jazz Age, dead Letters, and a good old fashion con story. I will admit to being somewhat underwhelmed as I read. While the book was full of interesting facts and anecdotes about early 20th century New York City, I found Gluck’s story to reveal him to be more of an arrogant blowhard rather than a clever grifter. It just didn’t meet my “Catch me if you Can”/ “White Collar” fantasy. Perhaps that is the difference between fiction and nonfiction.
If you are an avid fan of Jazz Age or New York City history, this book is worth a read. It takes on a new angle, highlighting the early life of charitable giving and of what we know as traditional Christmas in America. While it wasn’t exactly what I had been looking for, it was an intriguing and informative tale.