Meet Peter Mattaliano, an acting coach and screenwriter who lives in Manhattan. He's holding a framed letter to Santa and its envelope, which he found sealed in his chimney while doing some apartment renovations 15 years ago. The letter is dated Dec. 24, 1907, and was written by a 10-year-old girl named Mary McGann, who used to live in Mattaliano's apartment. The chimney also contained another letter to Santa, this one from 1905 and written by Mary's brother, Alfred McGann.
Mary's letter is particularly poignant. It reads:
Dear Santa Claus:
I am very glad that you are coming around tonight. My little brother would like you to bring him a wagon which I know you cannot afford. I will ask you to bring him whatever you think best. Please bring me something nice what you think best.
Your loving friend,
P.S. Please do not forget the poor
Both letters have been damaged somewhat by moisture, smoke, and time, but they're still legible. Mattaliano keeps them displayed on the same chimney inside which they once resided (click photos to enlarge):
With the help of census records and online genealogy tools, Mattaliano has been able to trace the outlines of Mary and Alfred's lives, and has even located Mary's burial plot at a cemetery in Queens. He'd like to give the letters to one of their descendants but has so far been unable to locate a living blood relative. So for now he keeps the letters, thinks about these two children who once lived in the apartment he now calls home, and honors their spirit by purchasing little presents for them, just like the ones they asked Santa to bring.
You can read more about all of this in this tremendous article by the great New York Times reporter Corey Kilgannon, who's really good at telling this type of story. There's also a nice little video clip here:
Incredibly enough, there's another story floating around about an old letter to Santa found in a chimney. This time the letter-writer was a six-year-old British boy named David, who wrote his letter in 1943. The letter was recently found by a builder named Lewis Shaw, who was renovating the fireplace of a house in Berkshire. It reads:
Dear Father Christmas,
Please can you send me a Rupert annual, and a drum box of chalks, soldiers and Indians, slippers, silk tie, pencil box, and any little toys you have to spare?
Shaw — the builder who found the letter — asked residents of neighboring houses, who had lived on the block for many decades. They remembered David and were able to provide his full name: David Haylock.
Shaw then tracked down Haylock, who's now 78, and arranged for a meeting, where he gave Haylock the letter — and also gave him the presents he had asked for. Nice.
Happy Christmas to all Permanent Record readers, and may we all find treasures and stories lurking in unlikely places in the new year.
(Special thanks to reader David Sonny for lettering me know about the David Haylock letter.)