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
Author’s website: http://alexpalmerwrites.com/
Brought to you by OBS reviewer Una
The true story of John Duval Gluck, Jr., who in 1913 founded the Santa Claus Association, which had the sole authority to answer Santa’s mail in New York City. He ran the organization for 15 years, gaining fame for making the myth of Santa a reality to poor children by arranging for donors to deliver the toys they requested, until a crusading charity commissioner exposed Gluck as a fraud. The story is wide in scope, interweaving a phony Boy Scout group, kidnapping, stolen artwork, and appearances by the era’s biggest stars and New York City’s most famous landmarks. The book is both a personal story and a far-reaching historical one, tracing the history of Christmas celebration in America and the invention of Santa Claus.
I was pleasantly surprised that I actually enjoyed this book. Following the rise and fall of Duval Gluck Jr. aka “the Santa Claus Man “Alex Palmer gives the reader an insight on how some of the Christmas traditions of today evolved.
Gluck started out humbly by addressing letters to Santa by local children with the best of Christmas ideology, however as with most power situations, corruption reveals its ugly head and before long Santa Gluck is imbedded into a web of deceit.
Palmer along with the Gluck story gives the reader an insight into New York City and America’s changing Christmas traditions. I for one was not aware of two Boy Scout groups (one which was gun toting for a time). Santa went from a rather nasty feared person and a punisher of naughty children to a Santa who rewarded good behavior. Mail trucks were also allowed to speed to get the mail delivered on time and of course the lighting of a main Christmas tree in the city spread the joy for everyone and soon was carried out in most American cities.
The Santa Claus association was disbanded in 1928 but not before the reader has the opportunity to see how Gluck , a man whose birthday fell on Christmas day and who was always cheerful ,who possessed a knack for telling stories as well having modern day PR skills, is painted sympathetically as a man who aspired to be more. Palmer does condemn Gluck’s vices however the reader is drawn into how Gluck constantly outwits the people who want to close his association down. The names of these groups really boggled my mind. The one that stood out for me was the group known as The Useless Giving group. Completely Bah Humbug in my opinion.
Letters from children still get answered at Christmas but by a much reformed system, and of course volunteers are still needed to respond to them. I think this book would appeal to both believers and those who are a bit like Scrooge. A definite Christmas read for those who like nonfiction.