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My family had a close connection to the New York Sun in the period around the turn of the 20th Century. My great grandmother’s uncle, William Laffan, owned the paper and was its editor, my great grandfather was the circulation manager, and my grandfather Phillip Bolger and his brother William both worked on the paper, William “Billy” Bolger having a long and successful career as a journalist and adman.
William Laffan, born in Dublin, owner of the New York Sun, was one of America’s foremost intellectuals, intimate friend of Mark Twain and JP Morgan, for whom he bought large amounts of antiquities, founding trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art which holds much of his collection. He was considered one of the leading figures in the New York art scene and politicians feared his tremendous command of the language and biting wit, his five word endorsement of Teddy Roosevelt one of his finest examples, “Teddy, with all your faults.”
In 1897 a young Irish girl from New York, Virginia O’Hanlon asked her father if Santa Claus really existed. Her father told her to ask The Sun. One of Laffan’s hardened, agnostic war correspondents, Francis Church, was given the task of responding to little Virginia’s letter, and something about her letter opened his heart, and his quick, unsigned response is probably the most important legacy of the paper, still read and remembered long after bankers and President’s “important” speeches are long forgotten. More than a century later it remains the most reprinted editorial ever to run in any newspaper in the English language. May this Christmas season open your heart as this young girl’s letter opened his. All the best to you and yours. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
“DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.
“Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
“Papa says, ‘If you see it in THE SUN it’s so.’
“Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?
VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except [what] they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.
Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.
Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.
You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.
No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.