Niagara Gazette

December 22, 2013

GLYNN: 'Sun' editorial still popular for decades

Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — For Francis Pharcellus Church, an editorial page writer for the The New York Sun, it was just another night in the newsroom that fall of 1897.

Little did he realize what an impact his next assignment would have in the world of journalism. The managing editor had handed him a copy of a “Letter to the Editor” from eight-year-old girl Virginia O’Hanlon. Church was directed to reply to it.

Virginia was upset because friends at school had teased her that there was no Santa Claus. When she asked her father to settle the matter, he just said, “If you see it in ‘The Sun,’ then it’s so.”  Taking his advice, the girl wrote to the editor: “Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?”

Church retreated to his corner office that evening and, in a sort span, turned out one of the most memorable editorials ever published. It started ... “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 it’s 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.”

Ironically, the Sun was not the kind of newspaper to embrace Santa or anything else extolling the seasonal spirit. Usually the newspaper was on the attack, like lashing out at public corruption or at the latest scandal at city hall, as media critic W. Joseph Campbell found in his exhaustive research. In fact, for years it rejected readers’ requests to reprint the Santa editorial. In 1902, however, the Sun agreed to run it once again. It seemed as if the editors were actually annoyed by having to reprint it.

Campbell cites several reasons for the editorial’s prolonged popularity: It’s a cheering and upbeat story without villains or sinister elements; Adults can remember the time when they,too, were believers; It’s been a way for generations of parents to address the skepticism of their children about Santa.

The author of the editorial was virtually unknown until after his death in 1906. At that point, the newspaper even described Church’s work in what was an eloquent and posthumous tribute.

For decades, Scripps-Howard, a major newspaper chain, adopted a policy of reprinting the editorial every year. It was a splendid example, the paper stated, of Church’s fine nature, mellow wisdom and sound craftsmanship. (Editor’s note: look for the editorial in Christmas Day’s Gazette.)

Virginia pursued a teaching career and later married Edward Douglas who deserted her shortly before their daughter was born. The woman who brought special meaning to Christmas died alone in 1971 at a nursing home. She is buried in North Chatham, a town south of Albany.


CLASS ACTS: Talk to anyone there —for the unveiling of the Tuscarora Heroes Monument in Lewiston Thursday night — and you’ll heard the same comments. It was a well-planned and impressive performance that also was part of the bicentennial commemoration of the War of 1812. The monument at Portage Road and Center Street was created by Susan Geissler, a Youngstown-based sculptor. Lee Simonson, a former Niagara County legislator and longtime community booster, had the prime role in producing the memorable event.

Meanwhile, earlier that day, nearly 200 re-enactors portraying the British and American troops during the attack at Old Fort Niagara, were treated to a full breakfast at the Youngstown Fire Hall. It was catered by Cathy Pasquantino  and her staff from the Village Diner. That was a tall order to serve 130 victorious ‘Brits’ and about 60 American troops recovering from the sneak attack at 5 a.m. But everything went off without a single glitch, attendees said.

A special salute to Bob Emerson, executive director of the Old Fort Niagara Association, and the staff at the historic site for staging an accurate and colorful pageant, despite all the concern that the Canadians were outspending the Americans on bicentennial activities.


TRIVIA QUIZ:  (Answer to Thursday question): Beir’s Department Store was the first anchor in the former Rainbow Centre shopping mall, the renovated building that now houses the Niagara Falls Culinary Institute.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Contact Reporter Don Glynn at 282-2311, ext. 2246.




Contact Reporter Don Glynn at 282-2311, ext. 2246.