Tuesday, November 24, 2015

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 Name

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 Name


GENRE: History/True Crime



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.



The Santa Claus Association was an enormous hit. By Dec. 24, 1913, the association had coordinated the delivery of gifts to 13,160 kids in the city. Two years later, that number had ballooned to 50,000 in 16,000 families. The papers were filled with stories of delighted kids receiving gifts in the tenements.

The city’s richest families were eager to give to the organization because they saw the results of their charity firsthand — the Santa Claus Association sent them specific letters, letting them deliver the gifts themselves if they wanted.

The group moved, first to donated space at the Hotel Astor, then to the Woolworth Building, then the tallest in the world. As the group’s work wound down on Christmas Day 1915 and the piles of letters in the office dwindled, suddenly the space began filling with reporters. Gluck stopped his volunteers and informed them he was going to make an announcement. He dropped his big news: “The peculiar nature of our work calls for a building of our own.”

Gluck had commissioned architects George and Edward Blum to create “the most unique building in America.”

The Santa Claus Building, in Manhattan, would be made of white marble, with a massive arched portal, nearly 20 feet deep as a front entrance. The fa├žade would depict versions of Santa Claus from all the countries of the world, each created by an artist native to that country.

The ground floor would house the offices of the association as well as other willing charities. On the second floor would be the Lilliputian Bazaar — a huge market where toys from around the world would be sold or given away. “The proposed Santa Claus Building will be a national monument,” Gluck declared — a real-life Santa’s workshop, as well as a place of international celebration of the “Christmas spirit.”

Every detail seemed to have been carefully considered and provided to the press — except how to pay for the $300,000 building.


AUTHOR Bio and Links:

Alex Palmer is the author of The Santa Claus Man: The Rise and Fall of a Jazz Age Con Man and the Invention of Christmas in New York, called "required reading" by the New York Post and "highly readable" by Publishers Weekly.

Available at:

It tells the history of Christmas in America through the true-crime tale of a Jazz Age hustler who founded an organization to answer children's Santa letters -- and fuel his own dark dreams. Palmer curated an exhibit about this Santa Claus Association for Brooklyn's City Reliquary Museum, earning attention from the Village Voice, Time Out New York, and inspiring a memorable segment on WNYC (

The son of two teachers, Palmer's love of learning and sharing surprising stories behind familiar subjects has led him to become a secret-history sleuth. In addition to The Santa Claus Man, he is the author of Weird-o-pedia: The Ultimate Collection of Surprising, Strange, and Incredibly Bizarre Facts About (Supposedly) Ordinary Things, published in 2012 by Skyhorse Publishing. it offers up a wealth of unexpected facts of familiar things. His first book, Literary Miscellany: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Literature, takes a look at some of the more colorful aspects of great writers and their works, and was published in 2010 by Skyhorse.

He is a full-time freelance journalist whose work has appeared in Slate, Rhapsody, Smithsonian, Vulture, the New York Daily News, Publishers Weekly, and The Rumpus, among others.

See more at and follow him @theAlexPalmer.



Alex will be awarding a $20 Amazon or B/N GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour, and a $10 Amazon or B/N GC to a randomly drawn host.