I just finished reading a book titled “The Santa Claus Man: The Rise and Fall of a Jazz Age Con Man and the Invention of Christmas in New York.”
The author is Alex Palmer and the main subject is John Duvall Gluck, Jr., a distant relative of the author.
Palmer traces the exploits of a talented public relations man of the early 20th century from his well-intentioned formation of the Santa Claus Association to his eventual exposure as a con man who is fleecing the public in the name of Christmas.
Prior to the Santa Claus Association, letters to Santa received by the main branch of the Post Office in Manhattan were discarded. Gluck took it upon himself to have the Post Office designate his group as the recipient of those letters and he then tried to match up worthy requests with well-heeled citizens.
Along the way, Palmer takes the reader on an interesting and informative history of how Christmas has become the monster holiday that it is in New York. The reader is treated to stories about bull fights in Coney Island, the origins of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, the creation of the Boy Scouts of America, the beginnings of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, originally named the Christmas Parade, and many other interesting tidbits about life in New York.
Eventually, the PR man allows greed and excess to get in the way and after about 10 years, the Santa Claus Association becomes the subject of various investigations that eventually blow the lid off the charismatic figure as a con man and paves the way for the exposure of the Santa Claus Association as a money-making scheme that mostly profits Gluck.
I was intrigued by the story because we here at The Tablet are in the midst of our Bright Christmas Campaign that seeks to ensure a Christmas celebration for the neediest kids and families in the diocese. Thank God, there has never been any question about how we use the donations sent to us by readers. We have been transparent about how we distribute the funds. The money is sent to priests, sisters and lay leaders in diocesan organizations in Brooklyn and Queens to assist those in their care at Christmas. For the past several weeks, we have been telling you about the different parties, pageants and presents that Bright Christmas sponsors.
So far this season, we have collected more than $67,000 – slightly behind last year’s pace –but we expect to be able to surpass the $100,000 mark again this year. Less than 6 percent of the amount received is used to pay for postage and printing costs. The rest goes to the parishes and agencies that are in direct touch with moms and dads and children.
While we are still in the process of sending out checks, we already are receiving thank-you notes like the one from Sister Woohee Sofie Lee, S.F.M.A., at Trinity Human Services in Williamsburg.
“Your grant will help us provide Christmas gifts for many children in our neighborhood,” she writes. “This year, we are planning to serve over 400 children at our Christmas party.”
The Santa Claus Man met his demise but fortunately, people like yourselves enable us today to brighten Christmas for many families and children in Brooklyn and Queens. We are still collecting funds. If you haven’t already contributed, send your check – made out to DeSales Media Group with a notation for Bright Christmas – to The Tablet’s Bright Christmas, 1712 Tenth Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11215.