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This past September marked the one hundred and fifteenth anniversary of the most reprinted newspaper editorial of all time in the English language. The back-story is just as important, if you’ll follow me after the jump …..

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In my early twenties I encountered the famous editorial with words Yes, Virginia as the answer to the question “Is there a Santa Claus?”  A few writers have gone so far to blame it for encouraging government dependence – for myself, I simply thought it was trite, banal.

Well, it took two decades before I re-read it ...... and saw the error of my ways.

Indeed, I now see this editorial as taking its place alongside other Yuletide stories that …. in reality, are about much larger issues than Christmas. A Christmas Carol, for example, is Charles Dickens’ take about the treatment of the poor (more akin to "Hard Times"). And the film It’s a Wonderful Life deals more with an individual’s life than Christmas – and George Bailey has been cited by the Move Your Money campaigns on both sides of the Atlantic. And thus the "Yes, Virginia" editorial is saying in in my mind's eye, "Blessed are those who are moved by more than sight and touch, and the power of the unseen".

Laura Virginia O’Hanlon was born on July 20, 1889 in New York. An avid reader with a quizzical mind as a child (which would stand her in good stead later in life, as we will see), she would often send-in letters to a Q&A column in the New York Sun newspaper.

On her 8th birthday in July, 1897 she asked her father Dr. Philip O’Hanlon (a coroner’s assistant in Manhattan) the very delicate question of whether Santa Claus existed:

Quite naturally I believed in Santa Claus, for he had never disappointed me. But when less fortunate little boys and girls said there wasn't any Santa Claus, I was filled with doubts. I asked my father, and he was a little evasive on the subject.

It was a habit in our family that whenever any doubts came up as to how to pronounce a word or some question of historical fact was in doubt, we wrote to the Question and Answer column in The Sun. Father would always say, "If you see it in the The Sun, it's so" and that settled the matter.

"Well, I'm just going to write The Sun and find out the real truth," I said to father. He said,

"Go ahead, Virginia. I'm sure The Sun will give you the right answer, as it always does."


This she did, which may have seemed like a strange question to be asking during the mid-summer heat of the big city. For the editor of the Question and Answer column also punted on the subject, bucking it up the chain until - three months later - it finally reached the desk of one of its editorial writers.

Francis Pharcellus Church (born in 1839) had a father who was a Baptist minister and journalist who founded The New York Chronicle. Francis Church been a war correspondent for the New York Times during the American Civil War and was an unsentimental man whose personal motto was, "Endeavor to clear your mind of cant." At age 58 when he wrote the editorial (unsigned, as was the paper's policy), Church married shortly after it appeared.

The editorial appeared on September 21st, 1897 - one hundred and fifteen years ago this autumn. And while it appeared alongside other editorials, of seeming unimportance: this one - in today's parlance - went viral given the limitations of the day (use this link if the below is not legible):

Francis P. Church died in 1906 at the age of sixty-seven - interestingly enough, he did not have children of his own - and was not revealed as the author of this editorial until after his death. Yet despite the notoriety of the editorial, The Sun did not begin to reprint it each year until the 1920's. The Sun folded in 1949 (although the title has been revived in more recent years by a conservative publisher).

Virginia O'Hanlon went on to a master's degree at Columbia and even referenced the editorial in her doctoral dissertation ("The Importance of Play") at Fordham University in 1930. She taught in the New York City schools and eventually became a principal at a school for handicapped children.

She answered letters she received over the years with a copy of the editorial (pointing out that "All I did was ask a question; it was Mr. Church who wrote the editorial") and drawing on her childhood discomfort about the subject, she once wrote:

Some little children doubt that Santa still lives because often their letters, for one reason or another, never seem to reach him. Nurses in hospitals know who some of these children are. Teachers in great city schools will know others.

Dear children of yesterday: won’t you try to seek out these trusting children of today and make sure that their letters in some way reach Santa Claus so that "he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood?"

She was briefly married and had one son. Virginia O'Hanlon Douglas died in May, 1971 ... two months short of her eighty-second birthday.

But the legacy lives on, as many newspapers reprint the editorial each year. In 1991, there was a made-for-TV movie (starring Charles Bronson and Richard Thomas), books have been written on the subject and in 2003 the department store Lord & Taylor dedicated one of their Christmas windows (with mechanical figurines moving) to the story. And to this day, you will read OpEd pieces, essays and editorials which will use the phrase "Yes, Virginia" for effect.

One additional legacy comes from The Studio School in New York which was founded in the same year that Virginia O'Hanlon died (1971). In the 1980's, they moved to the Upper West Side and in 2003 (needing extra space) purchased a building at 115 West 95th Street .... the building in which Virginia grew up in. Virginia O'Hanlon's granddaughter sent a check to help defray capital costs, and the school erected a plaque to mark the spot. Four years later in 2009, the school announced a Virginia O'Hanlon Scholarship - which her descendants noted that "A full circle has been completed".  

And finally, for those of you in the New York area: each Christmas, a veteran newsman recounts the story of this editorial. Gabe Pressman is a senior correspondent for the local NBC affiliate - who gave a quite prescient commentary in 1987 about how the Gary Hart scandal news coverage would drag down journalism - and who records (a shortened) version of the Yes, Virginia story that appears on the Channel 4 evening news on Christmas Eve (both at 6 and 11).

Now, on to Top Comments:

From Noddy:

Cat Nappe has achy fingers when trying to recommend certain comments on Ozy's diary On Name Calling

bubbanomics gave his take on the War on Christmas in Hunter's diary The Daily Kos Official War on Christmas Fundraiser 2012. Susan Gardner and FishOutOfWater's responses are equally priceless.

From Land of Enchantment:
Having been absent for months, Got a Grip very much checked-in to the tribute by SusanG to the Rescue Rangers - it's great to hear from her, even if she's had quite the (difficult) year this year, full of trials and vicissitudes. A few more hugs and words of support for her would be nice.
From dwayne:
I nominate this comment from rightiswrong .... based in his misread of the title to Richard Myers' diary, The second largest hamburger chain pulled ads from Rush this week. It was my first big laugh of the day.
From blueoregon:
I'd like to nominate Hugh Jim Bissell's comment in Tom P's apt diary .... because i think it addresses the real issue there is so much gun violence in our country.
From nomandates:
In the diary by BeninSC entitled Kilroy Was here - gizmo59 posted this mindful comment regarding posting on the internet ..... in it, he even quotes Oscar Wilde: but you'll have to click on the link to read that, as well as the rest of his comment :-)
And from Ed Tracey, your faithful correspondent this evening ........
In the front-page-story about the next moves from Jim DeMint and how he'll change the Heritage Foundation - JBraden notes how the Susan G. Komen organization ran into "Hallelujah Handel" ... and lost.  

December 13, 2012

Next - enjoy jotter's wonderful PictureQuilt™ below. Just click on the picture and it will magically take you to the comment that features that photo.

(NOTE: Any missing images in the Quilt were removed because (a) they were from an unapproved source that somehow snuck through in the comments, or (b) it was an image from the DailyKos Image Library which didn't have permissions set to allow others to use it.)

And lastly: yesterday's Top Mojo - mega-mojo to the intrepid mik ...... who rescued this feature from oblivion:

  1) Sounds like fraud, taking advantage of by TomP — 334
  2) Congratulations and go get 'em!!  nt by HoosierDeb — 201
  3) someone has a vacation to pay for, by AlyoshaKaramazov — 176
  4) Before His Tax Skyrockets Hundreds of Dollars nt by Gooserock — 151
  5) Well, asking them to read 28 pages by johnel — 143
  6) Won't someone please think of the boat payment!? by citizenx — 121
  7) That's about 29 pages by Deward Hastings — 113
  8) And now is NOT the time to talk about it. by crystal eyes — 100
  9) Rescue Rangers/Community Spotlight by Andrew C White — 100
10) I think the GOP'ers want Obama to offer their plan by leftreborn — 89
11) Obama does not need a deal by TrueBlueMajority — 88
12) My thanks to him for fathering Norah Jones. by MTmofo — 88
13) OMG by high uintas — 88
14) To the point where I wonder about the hip: by 4CasandChlo — 86
15) Fascist  n/t by RJDixon74135 — 85
16) Again, this frenzy to kill by jfromga — 81
17) Yep.  The WH holds the cards in this game and.... by LiberalCanuck — 81
18) It would seem to me that if by Overseas — 78
19) Low rates on income under $250,000 would be by leftreborn — 75
20) I agree with that, because I would abandon this by mumtaznepal — 72
21) No right is unrestricted by Dallasdoc — 69
22) It's a problem and people by TomP — 68
23) I watched this Press Briefing by Alan Arizona — 68
24) You did not get an anonymous subscription by Catte Nappe — 66
25) Republicans are willing to let the 1% by citizenx — 65
26) And Anoushka Shankar by Tod — 64
27) Now We Must Sell This Story by bink — 61
28) Horrible. Petraeus gives his girlfriend what is un by ivcrdavid — 60
29) Ravi played a big role in (re) introducing by Free Jazz at High Noon — 60
30) Easy offsets to satisfy by gchaucer2 — 60

Originally posted to Top Comments on Thu Dec 13, 2012 at 07:00 PM PST.

Also republished by Shamrock American Kossacks, DKOMA, and History for Kossacks.

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