Monday, November 30, 2015

TLC Excerpt Tour: The Santa Claus Man

About The Santa Claus Man: The Rise and Fall of a Jazz Age Con Man and the Invention of Christmas in New York

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Lyons Press (October 1, 2015)
Miracle on 34th Street meets 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  •        The secret history of Santa letters, including a trove of original Santa letters and previously unpublished correspondences between the post office and charity groups arguing whether Santa’s mail should be answered.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“.
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Eager for a firsthand look at how Santa answered his mail, Zoe Beckley, a reporter for the Evening Mail, dropped in on Henkel’s Chop House a couple of days into the group’s operations. After winding her way to the back office, squeezing past a few well-dressed men and young secretaries, through a maze of small tables, Beckley reached Gluck’s desk. He popped up from a pile of envelopes, wishing her a hearty welcome and offering to walk her through each step of the association’s process.
Gluck was a natural showboat, and in the first days of the association’s operations, he had proven adept at delighting the handful of reporters who dropped by the headquarters. But he may have been grandstanding a bit more than usual under Beckley’s attention. She had recently joined the Mail after working as a secretary on Wall Street and was by all accounts an attractive, flirtatious, and artful conversationalist. A colleague who worked with her at the time described Beckley as “buxom, apple-cheeked, with a zest for life and an infectious laugh,” who brightened the often dull newsroom. This vivacious spirit had helped her move swiftly from “sob-sister sub,” writing overtly sentimental takes on the news of the day, to producing more prominent features bearing her byline. Getting one’s name in print was still a rare distinction at the time, reserved only for those whom the editors felt could attract regular readers. She had Gluck’s attention.
He moved swiftly through the room as Beckley tried to keep up, arriving at the envelope-scanning table covered with unopened Santa letters, many stamped Insufficient Address by the Post Office Department. A young woman sat at the desk going through the pile. It was here that each day the postman dropped the new mail, and it was up to this volunteer to ensure that each letter explicitly read “Santa Claus.” The 1910 Census listed at least three people with the name “S. Claus” living in Brooklyn alone, not to mention several families of Kringles. Opening their mail, or that of any other nonmythical recipient, would put the association in violation of federal postal law. Gluck didn’t want anyone going to jail on Santa’s behalf, he joked.
Next to this station was the letter-opening table, where a pair of young ladies methodically opened every approved envelope, giving each letter a quick review to confirm that the request and return address were legible enough to answer. They also checked that none included any money, which legally went back to the sender or the Post Office Department (in the first eight hundred letters examined, just two pennies turned up). For each letter she could discern, the volunteer wrote the child’s name on a card and assigned it a number to be filed. If she found the child’s name already on file, the letter would be flagged; no clever kids should be taking advantage of Santa’s generosity.
Next Gluck walked Beckley, dazzled by how many steps were involved, to the letter-reading table, where several older volunteers sat. These women thoroughly reviewed each missive. They determined the number of children for whom each writer requested gifts, jotting this number on the paper’s top right corner. If the child described starvation, homelessness, or abuse, the volunteer set it in a special stack, which was forwarded to the Public Charities Commission for further investigation. If the writer asked for excessive gifts or gave some other indication of not really needing Santa’s help, it was put in the investigation stack. If the missive passed all these tests—Gluck estimated 70 percent of them did—the letter was finally ready for a response.
All these steps for every single envelope? It struck Beckley as very time consuming. But Gluck explained that such precision was necessary. In years past, groups in other cities had created more lackluster operations to answer Santa’s mail and it had not only caused waste and inefficiency but had driven the Post Office Department to revoke the privilege. He would not allow the Santa Claus Association to suffer a similar fate.

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. 


Heather J @ TLC Book Tours said...

Thanks for being a part of the tour!

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