From the Pens of Babes . . . : * Holidays: Letters to Santa Claus that appeared in the Orange County Herald in 1895 prove that kids will be kids, regardless of the era.
Yes, Santa, there was a little girl named Gertrude, and this was her carefully composed plea:
Dear Santa Claus I want a doll I want to B promoted I want a ring I want a bag of candy I want a doll what says papa and mama.
Estella Fox’s directive was just as succinct, but at least with a token effort at restraint:
I do not want to be greedy and ask you for all your things. I want a bicycle and a few books.
And while Viola Hill’s want list was more extensive, she dutifully made note of the troubled state of the economy:
When you come to our house if you please, I would like to have you bring me a live canary bird, a doll trunk, a doll buggie with a top, a little duck that would squeek. I would like a bicycle, but I expect times are too hard this year.
All three Yuletide entreaties--reprinted here verbatim--were written by children of the ‘90s, a time when the nation’s economy was depressed, when the banks and other financial institutions were collapsing by the hundreds.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Surely, we’re talking about the not so ho-ho Christmas of 1991.
For all the striking historical parallels, these letters were written a century ago--in the pre-Nintendo 1890s--when Orange County was still a rustic backwater of 16,000 people, small towns, dirt streets and rolling farmlands.
But as the above sampling suggests, kids will be kids regardless of the era, especially when communicating directly with the Great Jolly Merchant of the North Pole.
And thanks to a newspaper of that earlier era, the Orange County Herald, 114 such little compositions from the “Dear Santa Claus” class of 1895 have been preserved for posterity.
In that year just before Christmas, explains historian Jim Sleeper, the weekly newspaper invited “the little ones of Orange County” to submit their requests by way of the Herald’s Santa Ana office, with a promise to publish the whole batch.
The letter writers, ranging in ages from 5 to 13, came from all over the county, including Anaheim, Santa Ana, Tustin, Bolsa, Alamitos, Villa Park, El Toro, Yorba, Trabuco and Capistrano.
And true to its word, the Herald on Dec. 21 devoted two whole pages to the letters, including the front page itself, relegating news accounts of the County Grand Jury and President Cleveland’s foreign policy to the inside, next to the ads for dry goods, lumber supplies, stables, cough medicines, liniments and cathartics.
Sleeper, who keeps a rare copy of this 1895 issue, points out that one of the letter writers was Herald editor Linn Shaw’s own daughter, Faith: “I want a doll like Cora Harris has and a trunk full of close for it.”
There were letters also from Robbie and Mary Spurgeon, whose father, William, not only founded Santa Ana but also was the first chairman of the County Board of Supervisors in 1889. And from Genevieve Nickey, whose father, Franklin, was chairman of the county board in 1895.
Regardless of a family’s standing in Orange County of 1895, all the young letter writers obviously were authorities--even then--on these matters of flying reindeer and the generous rotund spirit in the red suit.
Indeed, some of Santa’s 1895 pen pals seemed to approach him with the respect due elders. After asking for a “pretty doll with a nice dress and a drum that will make a big loud noise,” this girl closed with:
I think I am a good girl most all the time. I hope to hear from you Christmas morning. I am six years old .
Consider this young man, apparently a visitor:
I am a little boy who lives in Chicago where its very cold and I would like a pair of Rubber Boots and Some Ice Scates and a sled. I am not very big maby I would like Roler Scates the best. I am a very good boy I go to bed very early. So Santa please dont forgett me this is my
name Raymond Gearhart.
Or this boy, who tempers his demands with a smidgin of politeness:
Pleaze give me a football and pleaze get me some candy little doll to and pleaze give me a woach if you will and pleaze give me a wagen if you will and pleaze give me a jumpen jack and a dog and a bird and a cage and a fire wagen.
Some were even more pleading and laced with sweetness:
I would like a knew doll, my old one is quite torn. And besides I want some dresses to, my old ones are quite worn, and dearest Santa Claus, don’t forget to put some hats in to. I’ll go to bed at seven o’clock and not open my eyes till daylight. I’ll hang my stocking by the stove. Now don’t foregt to come. I will be so disappointed.
Your dearest friend, Faith Roberts
Willard Smith, 13, who grew up to be a bank vice president and a 30-year member of the County Board of Supervisors, was both courteous and pragmatic:
Mr. Santa Claus--Please come to Villa Park if you have any presents left when you leave Santa Ana. I want a light colored four-in-hand neck-tie, an Esquimau dog, a pair of russet shoes, and a dog collar for my cat. There is no snow for your sleigh so you can come on a bicycle.
Willard wasn’t the only pen pal concerned about Santa’s safe Christmas Eve passage.
I am going to watch for you so I can thank you. I will have Papa to clean the chimney so you can come down all right. Your loving friend,
Alas, far more frequent, even in 1895, were requests that dispensed with any such niceties. Rather, these messages were no-nonsense and stripped to the absolute essentials.
I want a bible and a drum and a horn and a goat with bells.
Frankie Heil .
I would like a nice knife and one hundred and fifty marbles and a book, Robinson Crusoe . . . . Your loving gift wanter, Chas. Artz.
Will you bring me a rocker horse and a wheel barrow and a hand organ and a monkey to sit beside me . . . .
Percy Griffin (that’s my name).
However, these pale beside correspondents whose directives are far more exhaustive.
I would like to have a little pearl handle nife and a little black suit very tiet and a cap and I would to have a little horese and sadle and bridle. I would like to have a little wagon with four men and they are playing with all kind of fiddles and I want a pear of glasses four my ise is getin very dim and a big turky and a pet bagger this is my letter, Carl Lowell.
Still, others can be precise to the point of being bossy.
I will write to you and tell you what I want for Christmas. I want a pretty little gold watch, also one of Miss Alcott’s books. You may put them on a chair in my bed-room. I will listen for your sleigh bells about eleven o’clock. Your friend, Ethel Shatto.
The first is a beautiful diamond ring, the second a doll with beautiful blue eyes and a very fair face tinted with pink. I wish you would dress her in a pink gown made of silk....You must bring lots of candy and a large picture book and sled. I guess that is all this time, your loving friend, Josie Wilkes.
In case Santa ran out of stock at his North Pole digs, there were instructions of just where to find things locally.
I want a bible and a frig and an air gun and some shot and a drum. The Bible is at the book store and the frog is at the candy kitchen and the drum is at the Racket. If you will please give them to me I will thank you.
If that wasn’t enough to ruffle Santa’s pride, he was also told to bring petty cash with him.
Please send me one doll with blue eyes, light hair purple dress . . . and a carriage with white blankets and . . . . Send it to Olive Heights by express and you have to pay the express. Yours truly, Teresita Cooper.
Granted, many requests were for generations-spanning gifts that are clearly timeless, such as dolls and bikes, dresses and suits.
But 1895, after all, was still the agricultural heyday of Orange County, when the county-seat city, Santa Ana, was only just then getting its first paved streets.
And the leisurely gentleness, the frontier-rugged spaciousness of life then, were reflected in these letters.
I want for Christmas a whip for my goat and some marbles and a pony and cart and lots of other things.
Will you bring me a whistle so when I am driving the cows I can whistle loud and the cattle will hear me. Do not forget me dear Santa Claus.
Your loving, Ferdinand Mendoza.
On Christmas, our Lord’s birthday, I want you to bring me a large horse that I can plow with. ery truly your friend,
One young man could just as well have drafted his list at the nearest general store:
I want a black hen and roster. I wish to have a pig and donkey and milking machin and lumber wagon and a pet rat and giney pig. I wish to have 100 cows. And a mining mashine and 100 yards of cloth. And a load of grees wood. And 100 pear of shoes and gang plow and 100 horses and a spring wagon.
In 1895, Orange County was still feeling the effects of a national depression, which had left several of the county’s banks closed for a spell, some of the newest hotels empty or dismantled.
“All in all, though, Orange County survived the panic of ’93 better than most. It was still too far away from all the action and bright lights. It was still pretty isolated and sheltered,” historian Sleeper explains.
Nonetheless, childhood concerns for the needy surfaced in some of the letters published in the Herald. In most, the altruistic thoughts were postscripts to the usual personal wish list, but their cause was clear.
I want a new book called the “Shipwrecked Girl,” also a picture of my sister . . . .
I would also like to have a pony and side saddle to ride to school on . . . . I would like to have some money to help the sick and poor people . . . .
Please bring something to the poor little children who have no fathers or mothers. Bring them some very nice things . . . .
Harold Keran, age 9 years.
This writer went straight to the point:
Dear Santa Claus--I do not wish anything this year, but would rather you give the things to children who have no money to buy things with. If you please, give them clothes and a few toys.
Your friend, Velda Medlock.
The most touching of the 114 letters the Herald received was published separately on the paper’s editorial page. It came from a girl who lived in Trabuco Canyon.
Dear Old Santa Claws--Will you send me a big doll and a little cradle to lay it in I am a preachers little girl and I am poor and you know I will not get any Christmas presents this yer so I will be very thankful to you for it and the postoffice is Oronge Conty Cal
Jessie Jones, Trabuca box.
Jessie had enclosed 15 cents to pay for postage for mailing the gifts to her. This was just in case St. Nick was too busy with the other kids to make the trip to Trabuco that Christmas Eve.