Everybody knows about little Virginia O’Hanlon’s 1897 letter to the New York Sun, asking if Santa Claus is real. Francis Pharcellus Church’s response – “Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus” – deftly elevated magical thinking, delivering a double blow to journalism and parenting from which neither ever recovered.* The Sun, which also gave us the Great Moon Hoax, died in 1950.
Unlike Virginia, who was the subject of news stories throughout her long life, nobody remembers little Wilbur Kent and his letter to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, in which he asked whether there were two Santa Clauses because that’s how many he saw — on the very same day! He was deeply troubled because his “pap an mamma” said there was only one Santa, just like “they is only 1 god.”
The reason Wilbur’s letter has been forgotten could be because the Post-Dispatch, a paper not in New York City, invoked science in its editorial response. Its response also wasn’t even addressed to Wilbur, who may or may not be a real person (given I couldn’t readily find any records of his existence). And, with a war raging in Europe, perhaps people had other things to worry about in 1915.
But Wilbur’s letter deserves to be immortalized, so here it is again:
pap an Momma tel me alwey they is onnly 1 Santi Claws like they is only 1 god but Cosan ed took me yisturdy morning doun to The big stoar wher Santi Claws keapes all his presants for Good boys and gerls too see him. He was a green one, but 12 oclok i saw 2 Santi Claws a red one come up and the gren one wen awy and I doant no what to beliv in, did my pap and Momma tel a ly about only 1 Santi Claws like 1 god? My sundae School teecher sed the same but I saw 2. I want to be a good little boy this year and beliv what they tel but I am balled up, I saw 2 Santi Claws plese tell me what to do and is it wrong to right and ask you, cosan Ed tel me too, he ses he is all balled up 2, he doant no what to belive.
(Originally posted Dec. 16, 2022)