Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Lyons Press (October 1, 2015)
The Wolf of Wall Street in this true crime adventure, set in New York City in the Roaring Twenties.
Before the charismatic John Duval Gluck, Jr. came along, letters from New York City children to Santa Claus were destroyed, unopened, by the U.S. Post Office Department. Gluck saw an opportunity, and created the Santa Claus Association. The effort delighted the public, and for 15 years money and gifts flowed to the only group authorized to answer Santa’s mail. Gluck became a Jazz Age celebrity, rubbing shoulders with the era’s movie stars and politicians, and even planned to erect a vast Santa Claus monument in the center of Manhattan — until Gotham’s crusading charity commissioner discovered some dark secrets in Santa’s workshop.
The rise and fall of the Santa Claus Association is a caper both heartwarming and hardboiled, involving stolen art, phony Boy Scouts, a kidnapping, pursuit by the FBI, a Coney Island bullfight, and above all, the thrills and dangers of a wild imagination. It’s also the larger story of how Christmas became the extravagant holiday we celebrate today, from Santa’s early beginnings in New York to the country’s first citywide tree lighting to Macy’s first grand holiday parade. The Santa Claus Man is a holiday tale with a dark underbelly, and an essential read for lovers of Christmas stories, true crime, and New York City history.
Other holiday highlights found in The Santa Clause Man:
* The secret history of Santa letters, including a trove of original Santa letters and previously unpublished correspondences between the post office and charity groups arguing whether Santa’s mail should be answered.
* The surprising origins of Christmas as we celebrate it today. From “Twas the Night Before Christmas” to the image of Santa Claus popularized by Coca-Cola, this book outlines how modern Christmas came to be, and includes a standalone timeline of holiday milestones.
* The rise of modern-day charity—and charity fraud. Unchecked giving exploded after the First World War and this book follows this growth, as well as some of the most egregious exploiters of the country’s goodwill (including the Santa Claus Man himself), and how they were finally exposed.
* Dozens of original vintage holiday photos, including a sculpture of Santa Claus made of 5,000 pulped letters to Santa, and a detailed sketch of a proposed Santa Claus Building, planned but never built in midtown Manhattan.
“Highly readable” — Publishers Weekly
“Required reading” — New York Post
“A rich, sensational story of holiday spirit corrupted by audacity and greed, fueled by the media at the dawning of the Jazz Age.”— Greg Young, cohost of Bowery Boys NYC history podcast
“A Christmas pudding of a book, studded with historical nuggets and spiced with larceny.”— Gerard Helferich, author of Theodore Roosevelt and the Assassin
The Santa Claus Man was featured in this New York Times post entitled "Mama Says That Santa Claus Does Not Come to Poor People".
On Thursday, December 22, 1927, as Gluck was in the thick of association operations, Coler summoned him to his office. Receiving the summons, it likely struck Gluck as a mild annoyance. He had been investigated by at least a half dozen agencies and officials, none of whom had been able to definitively prove anything amiss about the group. His biggest concern was that this was the most important week of the year for the association, with checks and gifts coming in fast. But it was not a request he could ignore. So Gluck donned his expensive trench coat and bowler to protect him from the chilly winter day and made his way to the Manhattan Municipal Building. He wore round spectacles, gloves, black shoes and spats, and sported an impeccably waxed mustache.
Coler invited Gluck in and offered him a seat. Unmoved by Gluck’s usual gestures of bonhomie, the commissioner wasted no time on niceties. He had a long list of questions and other business to handle this Christmas week and he was sure Gluck did as well, so he got down to business. The commissioner explained that he had concerns about the Santa Claus Association’s finances and fund-raising, and he hoped that the group’s founder could illuminate the workings of the group. With that, Coler began.
How much money is the Santa Claus Association generating from all these fund-raising letters? Gluck could not say. Can you name the group’s officers? Gluck could not name them all offhand, nor did he know exactly how many were employed to investigate letters or buy the gifts. He would have to check back at headquarters. Could you name the members of the board of directors? He’d have to get back to Coler on that question. Can you at least tell the Commission how many officials receive salaries? He could not. Well, then, who is in charge of the group’s finances? Gluck admitted that at the moment, despite his inability to answer the man’s most basic financial questions about the association, he alone oversaw the group’s finances.
Astounded by Gluck’s stonewalling, Coler switched lines of questioning. How many names are on the group’s mailing list? Gluck had no idea. Well, where did you get their information? From the Capital & Labor Bureau for Economic Research. Who can we contact at this bureau for more information? Well, he explained, as the founder and president of the Capital & Labor Bureau for Economic Research, Gluck himself would probably be the best person to ask, but he did not have access to the list at the moment. With what other organizations are you associated? Promotion and investigation were “his life work,” Gluck explained—he could hardly list every group he organized or assisted when put on the spot like this.
The stalling, dissembling, and nonanswering continued for two hours. It became plain to Coler that Gluck could not, or almost certainly more likely would not, provide the information he sought. His obfuscations made it difficult for the Public Welfare man to even understand how the group ran, let alone where all the money went. He demanded Gluck provide him with the organization’s documents, including a full list of the donations received and gifts distributed. Gluck protested: doing so would be an enormous inconvenience for the association at the moment, right in the midst of its busiest week. He described for Coler the vast operation he was running, painting a picture reminiscent of the group’s massive second and third years: hundreds of volunteers rushing through the association headquarters, ladies in floral hats addressing envelopes, and celebrities dropping by. But instead of providing his much-needed help to these activities, Gluck was stuck in the municipal building, answering questions.
“It would interfere with the organization” mere days ahead of Christmas, he complained. Irritated, the commissioner threatened to get the district attorney involved. This threat did not worry Gluck. He had gone toe-to-toe with the DA a decade earlier and knew that he was operating, if barely, within the city’s laws. He demanded that, unless Coler had any more evidence against him, the commissioner let him get back to the more important work of fulfilling the city’s Christmas wishes. Knowing he had pulled all he could from Gluck for the time being, the commissioner reluctantly thanked him for his time. As soon as the Santa Claus Man left his office, Coler discussed with a few of his trusted advisors how to proceed. If Gluck refused to bring his books to them, he decided, they would get them from him.
Special blog tour Christmas gift: Get a free Santa bookplate signed by the author, plus two vintage Santa Claus Association holiday seals. Just email proof once you buy The Santa Claus Man (online receipt, photo of bookstore receipt, etc.) along with the mailing address where you'd like the gift sent to santaclausmanbook[at]gmail[dot]com. Email before 12/21 to guarantee delivery by Christmas.
Author Alex Palmer has written for Slate, Vulture, Smithsonian Magazine, New York Daily News and many other outlets. The author of previous nonfiction books Weird-o-Pedia and Literary Miscellany, he is also the great-grandnephew of John Duval Gluck, Jr.
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Thanks to TLC for including
me on the Excerpt Tour.
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