The Santa Claus Man: The Rise and Fall of a Jazz Age Con Man and the Invention of Christmas in New York, by Alex Palmer.
The title and tagline of this book pretty much tell you all you need to know about it–they drew me in, at least. But if you’d like more, here’s a summary from Goodreads:
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. 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 Christmas tree and 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.”
I don’t know where to start with this book. I guess I’ll start with my critique, although this isn’t necessarily a bad thing: there’s a lot of information in this book. I’m not sure that it was all necessary for this particular story, but it was all fascinating and you can see how it ends up tying together. Still, there was a lot of information to wade through and I realized pretty quickly that due to all of the information, it was going to take me longer to read this than I had anticipated.
Other than that, this is a really fascinating story. Palmer is a relative of Gluck’s and I thought that connection gave a different feel to the book. Palmer isn’t just an author investigating this man and this time period, he’s sharing the story of someone that he has a connection to, even if it’s just a family tree. Maybe that’s why Gluck came off as being somewhat sympathetic in this book. As I read I had to remind myself what the book was about. I was expecting an account of Gluck and his time spent answering children’s letters, but Palmer brought the character to life.
I also loved the information he included about what life in New York was like throughout the holiday season. I haven’t been to New York around Christmas, but I’ve heard about it and it was fun to read about the beginnings of what the celebration is like today. Just like Palmer brought Gluck to life, he brought the city to life as well.
History buffs, those interested in the history of Santa Claus/Christmas and those who just want a break from all the heart-warming holiday stories will love this book.
Alex Palmer even has a special gift for those who are interested in picking up a copy of the book within the next few days!
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.”