In 1897, Francis Pharcellus Church, 58, a lead editorial writer on his brother’s newspaper, the New York Sun, wrote words that are still cherished by readers 123 years later.
Church, who had no children, picked up a letter to the editor one day in September 1897.
“Dear Editor,” it read. “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?”
It was signed, “Virginia O’Hanlon.”
Church, who had been a war correspondent during the Civil War, sat down to write a reply in an editorial.
The newspaper thought so little of the piece that it ran it as the seventh editorial in the Sept. 21 edition — more than three months before Christmas.
But the words Church wrote struck a chord with Americans.
And nobody remembers what those other, supposedly more important, editorials said that day.
The Sun folded in 1950, but Church’s editorial is still being read today.
Here it is:
“We take pleasure in answering thus prominently the communication below, expressing at the same time our great gratification that its faithful author is numbered among the friends of The Sun:
“Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except 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 external 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 have men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you 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 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 men, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernatural 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 lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.”
In Owensboro, the Goodfellows Club, founded 19 years after Church wrote those words, is again trying to bring Santa Claus to the needy children of the community.
The Goodfellows Club of Owensboro has been helping the underserved in Daviess County for more than 100 years.
It was founded by Lawrence Hager Sr., publisher of what was then the Owensboro Inquirer, and the club was carried on by Hager family’s Public Life Foundation and the Messenger-Inquirer.
Every dollar that is raised by Goodfellows goes to assist children in need.
Contributions to the Goodfellows Club can be mailed to: Goodfellows Club, Messenger-Inquirer, P.O. Box 1480, Owensboro, KY 42302 or made online at www.goodfellowsclubofowensboro.org/donate.
Another link to donate online is https://app.mobilecause.com/form/3ebhXQ?vid=eoq13.
Because of Covid-19, in-person donations at the Messenger-Inquirer are currently unavailable.
Or, text RollCall to 41444.
Goodfellows Roll Call, Dec. 5
Previously reported … $24,198.14
Ellen Basham … $500
In honor of our “Greats”, Iona, Etain,
Rhett, Zoe, and Jean Bea by Elise and
Norris McDivitt … $500
In loving memory of our parents, Bob
and Shirley and G.C. and Sister,
sister, Libby, and nephew, Jay … $200
Anonymous … $200
In memory of Ralph O. Freer by
Markley Freer … $100
Doris Black … $100
In memory of our parents, Mr. and
Mrs. John S. Fulkerson, and Mr. and
Mrs. John D. Byrne, Sr. … $100
In memory of my siblings, Larry
Fulkerson, Bill Fulkerson, Doug
Fulkerson, Norma Medley,
Anna Clements, Mary Kennedy, Lola B.
Whitesides, and Gladys Peters … $100
In memory of my siblings, John D.
Byrne, Jr., and Sister Elaine Byrne … $100
Total as of Dec. 5… $26,098.14