Transcribed from the Denton Record Chronicle (1909-1923)
Writing letters to Santa Claus is a delightful childhood tradition. Most of the time the letters are simple lists of toys, candy, or other much dreamed of items. But mingled among the requests for dolls and firecrackers one can find a glimpse into history.
Letters to Santa, published from 1909-1923 in the Denton Record-Chronicle, have been transcribed and are now available on the library’s Genealogy and Local History resources page. The project was started by retired Librarian Kathy Strauss and completed by Ethan Seal as his Eagle Scout project. The index lists: the name of the child who wrote the letter, their address (if given), the content of their letter, and the citation for the issue of the DRC in which it was printed.
Each December the children of Denton would write their letter to Santa and send it to the Denton Record-Chronicle. The editor would then publish the letters and “send a copy of the paper to the North Pole for Santa to read.” The DRC was not the only business in town to support and encourage the letter writing program. In one example from 1913 Evers Hardware hosted Santa himself in a visit to the store with candy and a present for every child that wrote a letter in care of Evers Hardware.
The letters are both predictable and surprising. The children ask for items for themselves, but many also include family members and friends in their wishes. Events in the community or world-wide troubles are also mentioned in the children’s letters.
In 1915 the children were not only writing letters to Santa, but actively campaigning to have sidewalks installed by the Sam Houston School. A number of the children’s letters ask Santa for the sidewalks. Miss Elsie Wynn’s request put it quite nicely:
“Dear Santa Claus: Please bring the Sam Houston School some sidewalks. Better bring them in a boat so you won’t sink in the mud. Bring them from the Sam Houston School to Oak Street, and if you have any left, lay one on the south. Your friend, Elsie Wynn.”
Interestingly, also in 1915 there must have been a Scarlet Fever outbreak in Denton. Quite a few letters from that year mention that they, or someone they know, has had the disease. Annie Laura Cannon wrote:
“Dear Santa Claus: please bring me a bottle of perfume, a pretty doll, a little umbrella, a little sewing machine, a popcorn popper, a little piano, beauty pins, crochet hook, two packages of sparklers, oranges, apples, bananas, nuts of all kinds. Your little friend. P.S. – You need not bring us any candy. We are going to make our Christmas candy. We have the scarlet fever, and if you are afraid to come in, just leave the things on the front porch.”
Many of the letters ask Santa to “remember the orphans”. This is especially evident in the letters from 1916-1920, as the children recognize the communities ravaged by WWI. There are many letters that ask for Santa to remember children without families closer to home. Bennie Margaret Klepper wrote in 1914:
“I want you to go to Buckner’s Orphan Home and take all the little children something, and be sure and go where they are playing war, and take all the little children something. I have three brothers. Be sure and come to see them. One of my brothers is in heaven. Bring me something to go on his grave, and don’t forget my mamma and papa, and if you have anything left, I would like a cow-girl suit and a sleepy doll. I go to Sunday school every Sunday and help mamma work. I thank you ever so much. You are so good, I know I will get all I ask for.”
Not only do the letters provide a glimpse into history, they may also have clues for people researching their family history. Occasionally people disappear leaving no trace about what happened to them. Did they move away, did they change a name, or did they die? Sometimes these questions are never answered. The children often write about their life in the letters, like in the one written by Cate and Robert Maples in 1914 which provides a clue about the death of their mother.
“We are two little orphan children. Our mamma is dead. She died not long ago. Send us anything you have for us. I guess Christmas will be dull with us so bring us some candy, fruit and nuts and anything else.”
Since the index transcribes letters from multiple years, for some children there are letters published in sequential years. Such is the case for the Shepard family. Harwell Shepard’s letters were published from 1912 to 1918. I wonder if he got this little car from Santa Claus?
Harwell Shepard, 1908. Photo courtesy of Sandy Shepard.
During December, the Emily Fowler Central Library is hosting a display in the Special Collections Department featuring Letters to Santa. Come by and visit, or take a look at the document online. You just might find someone you know.
Special Collections – Emily Fowler Central Library