One of the iconic bits of twentieth century lore consists of a letter to the editor of a newspaper from a eight year old girl and the editor’s response. The letter written by Virginia O’Hanlon, daughter of a New City physician, was addressed to the editor of the New York Sun, a major New York broadsheet which published from 1833 to 1950. On September 21, 1897, the paper published the letter and a response in an unsigned editorial.
The response went “viral” (or the late 19th/early 20th century equivalent thereof), becoming perhaps the most famous newspaper editorial in history.
Laura Virginia O’Hanlon, the writer of the letter, became a schoolteacher in New York City as an adult. She was briefly married to a man named Edward Douglas and they had one daughter. She retired from teaching in the late 1950s. Laura Virginia O’Hanlon Douglas died on May 13, 1971.
The anonymous editorial writer was Francis Pharcellus Church, a veteran New York journalist who had been a war correspondent during the Civil War. Although Church was well-known for his editorials for The Sun [always unsigned in keeping with the paper's policies], the general public did not of his “Yes, Virginia” authorship until after his death in 1906.
Below: New York Times Editorial on the death of Francis P. Church, April 13, 1906
Question: Did the ironically-named Mr. Church actually believe what he wrote about Santa Claus, or have we, for more than 100 years, missed or ignored a certain sardony in his editorial?
December 24, 2009 Thursday at 7:07 pm