"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?
"115 WEST NINETY-FIFTH STREET."105 years ago Virginia sent the above letter to the New York Sun. In those days The Sun was a big New York Daily competing with the newspapers of Hearst and Pulitzer on the eve of the Spanish American War. In fact her letter arrived six months before war was declared in 1898.
Most of us know Virginia's letter and the answer she received from newspaper reprints. or TV. At this time of the year the September 21st 1987 front page of the Sun can being found on many refrigerator doors. .The preferred method of attachment is magnets that feature such things as pizza delivery phone numbers or zoo animals.The magnets are an indication of a permanence worthy of other treasured Christmas ornaments that appear and disappear with the season. The reprint at the top of this page devotes the whole front page to Virginia's letter and the reply.That is called editorial licence. In actuality her letter was one of seven published that September day and the newspaper's answer was unsigned. The letter and the reply did did however get good ink as the red rectangle on the left indicates. The Newseum tells us the reply was.....
|The work of veteran newsman Francis Pharcellus Church. It has since become history's most reprinted newspaper editorial, appearing in part or whole in dozens of languages in books, movies, and other editorials, and on posters and stamps.|
Unfortunately some of the more recent TV specials give short shrift to the New York Sun. One even has the paper ignoring the letter all together (because it's not news) until an ex-employee turned street corner Santa, bell ringing, pan handler shames the newspaper into responding.
In reality the Sun took Virginia's letter quite seriously. The father's "if you see it in the Sun it must be so " put them on the spot. Today it is easy to imagine a modern day newspaper not wishing to offend anyone or any group, rejecting the letter as too controversial.
The Sun assigned the reply to veteran editorial writer Frank Church. He was a graduate of Columbia University where every holiday season Virginia's letter and his reply are read in a special ceremony. He was also a Civil War Correspondent who had seen much of life's unpleasant side. In fact he was still recovering from the death of his first wife. The paper usually went to Church when they had an editorial topic of a religious or theological nature. He did not disappoint.