The Rise and Fall of a Jazz Age Con Man and the Invention of Christmas in New York
"Engaging...intriguing...highly recommended for history fans."
— Library Journal
— New York Post
"A solid read for those who enjoy Santa Claus culture, crime, and history from the streets of Manhattan."
"Palmer deftly weaves in cultural touchstones such as the genesis of the Boy Scouts, Clement Clarke Moore’s “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” and the WWI Christmas Day armistice to tell the larger story of America’s adoption and adaptation of Christmas that endures to this day...[It's] highly readable."
— Publishers Weekly
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.
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 Santa Claus Man is a holiday tale with a dark underbelly, and is out now from Lyons Press — just in time to stuff the stocking of any fan of NYC history, Christmas stories, and tales of colorful con artists. Order a copy at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, or IndieBound.
New York Times
"'Mama Says That Santa Claus Does Not Come to Poor People'"
KCRW's To the Point with Warren Olney
The Unlikely War Over Santa Letters
BBC History Magazine
The Con Man Who Saved Christmas
A Brief History of Santa Letters
Gift Guide: The Perfect New Christmas Books
New York Post
Meet the Con Artist Who Popularized Answering Letters to Santa
Nonfiction book review
"Palmer (Weird-o-Pedia) offers an engaging history of early 20th-century New York City and the modern notion of Santa Claus...Intriguing stories of stolen art, gun-toting Boy Scouts, a child’s kidnapping, Clement Clarke Moore’s writing of A Visit from St Nicholas and the World War I Christmas Day armistice are among the many stories woven into Palmer’s larger account of how Christmas evolved into the celebration we now know. Verdict Highly recommended for history fans."
No Tricks, Just Treats From Bright Christmas
"Palmer traces the exploits of a talented public relations man of the early 20th century from his well-intentioned formation of the Santa Claus Association to his eventual exposure as a con man who is fleecing the public in the name of Christmas."
Conversation with Alex Palmer About The Santa Claus Man
"This fascinating and often entertaining work of popular history describes the so-called Santa Claus Association, which thrived in New York City in the 1920s, while also depicting the origin and development of Christmas itself as the modern-day, consumer-driven juggernaut that we're all quite familiar with now."
The Sacramento Bee
Stocking Stuffers Between Two Covers
How the Santa Claus Con Man Gave Christmas to New York
"Palmer said he was struck by the fond memories of Gluck that lived on, even after the Santa Claus Man himself became enmeshed in one well-publicized scandal after another. This may offer incentive for today’s aspiring confidence men and women, though one might hope that the better inspiration is that it gives each of us, and our guilt, reason for hope and personal redemption."
The Santa Claus Man Who Conned New York
New In Books
6 True Crime Books That Keep Us Awake at Night
Top Office Holiday Gift: New Book Gives History of Santa Letters
The Bowery Boys
10 Favorite New York City History Books of 2015
Alex Palmer: Uncovering a Ghost of Christmas Past
praise for the santa claus man:
"The Santa Claus Man is a Christmas pudding of a book, studded with historical nuggets and spiced with larceny. John Duval Gluck's conniving lends new meaning to the adage ‘Charity begins at home.’”
— Gerard Helferich, author of Theodore Roosevelt and the Assassin
"Gun-toting boy scouts? Baby cribs hung from skyscraper windows? A Christmas building with a giant stained-glass Santa Claus in midtown New York? Those are a few ploys of scam artist and quasi-philanthropist John Gluck, as told in Alex Palmer's lively and well-researched biography of him. The Santa Claus Man draws a picture of an era in New York when the pockets of the wealthy were open to anyone offering kind-hearted promises of help to the poor. Gluck's greatest success, the Santa Claus Association, attracted society ladies and movie stars by promising to fulfill the wishes of children who wrote to Santa begging for gifts, until it was investigated by an alert and suspicious public welfare official. Palmer's book is fun to read and raises questions about gullibility and fraud even more relevant today than they were in the 1920s. “
— Jean Ashton, New-York Historical Society's Library Director Emerita
"What do you get when you cross thousands of poor children writing letters to Santa Claus with a silver-tongued con artist and his big dreams? You get a rollicking true story of Christmas in New York City in the Roaring Twenties, complete with kind-hearted millionaires, corrupt politicians, crusading reformers and a man, not entirely a crook, who wanted to make needy kids a little happier. Alex Palmer’s The Santa Claus Man is a fascinating look at how Christmas tugs at both the heart and the wallet and how a dapper advertising genius with a waxed moustache used Santa to make himself, for a moment at least, rich and famous. Lovers of the world’s favorite holiday will find enjoyment and enlightenment in this entertaining new history.”
— Gerry Bowler, author of Santa Claus: A Biography and The World Encyclopedia of Christmas
"Palmer superbly recounts the trials and tribulations of Gluck and his organization as well as placing the Christmas holiday and the invention of Santa Claus into historical perspective. I suggest that while you’re dashing through the snow you pick up a copy of this inspiring book as a present for you and your whole family.”
— J. North Conway, author of the New York City Gilded Age Trilogy: King of Heists, The Big Policeman and Bag of Bones
"From the very first page the reader is immersed in a bygone New York of celebrities and debutantes, impoverished children, colorful con men, crusading politicians, crass commercialism, and, above all, outsized ambition and striving self-invention; a historical city, come to think of it, not all that different than the New York City of today. One only hopes that in a hundred years’ time we will have a chronicler as skilled and entertaining as Alex Palmer to tell our tales.“
— Stephen Duncombe, co-author of The Bobbed-Haired Bandit: A True Story of Crime and Celebrity in 1920s New York
"The Santa Claus Man is a heartwarming story of an organization founded on altruism, but as with many tales from New York's past, it comes with a twist. This story connects to the real-life landmarks and legends of NYC's history and shows how our town served as the birthplace for the secular Santa Claus we now all know so well."
— Dave Herman, founder of the City Reliquary Museum and Civic Organization, Brooklyn, NYC
"John Gluck was the near perfect mix of shrewd huckster and canny sentimentalist to turn a Santa Claus charity into a lucrative swindle. With verve and vivid detail, Alex Palmer rescues Gluck's tale of striving, duplicity, and benevolence, a Santa Claus Man who wanted both to make children happy and to line his own pockets. In the process Palmer reveals a shadowy world of ill-regulated charity operations that found the American Christmas all too ripe for exploitation. Letters to Santa will never seem quite so innocent again.”
— Leigh E. Schmidt, author of Consumer Rites: The Buying and Selling of American Holidays and Heaven's Bride: The Unprintable Life of Ida C. Craddock, American Mystic, Scholar, Sexologist, Martyr, and Madwoman
"Alex Palmer’s lively historical account of John Gluck, founder of the Santa Claus Association and stand-in for Santa himself, adds a new chapter to the tale of New York’s most famous saint. It’s an early 20th century true story featuring corruption, a lawsuit, civic-minded haberdashers, and the many children whose letters to Santa would have gone unanswered if it were not for Santa’s helpers. Mr. Gluck, flawed, entrepreneurial, and kind-hearted, stands at the center of this finely researched and entirely engaging work.”
— Penne Restad, author of Christmas in America: A History
"In his heyday, Washington Irving might have willed John D. Gluck into being. Though their antic contributions to American lore took place in different centuries, both were unreligious New York City bachelors who brought Santa Claus to life. The sprightly St. Nick whom Irving bequeathed to American literature and Gluck further popularized is putty in Alex Palmer’s clever hands. The Santa Claus Man is a warmhearted and informative history, and a luscious tale besides.”
— Andrew Burstein, author of The Original Knickerbocker: The Life of Washington Irving
Order now at:
The Ultimate Collection of Surprising, Strange, and Incredibly Bizarre Facts About (Supposedly) Ordinary Things
Check out the weird and wonderful facts in this massive encyclopedia of alphabetized oddities
- Humans are the only animals that enjoy spicy foods (there’s a reason no one sells Tabasco-flavored cat food)
- Napping can save you from a heat attack (assuming you are not operating heavy machinery at the time)
- Psychologists can assess your personality from how you dip fries in ketchup (nice fries, sociopath)
- Surfing the Internet actually makes you smarter (but not as smart as reading this book will)
Now the next time someone tells you smugly that Pluto isn’t a planet, you can counter with any one of these hundreds of weird facts and remain king or queen of the cocktail (or kegger) chatter.
“Paging the Future: Focus on Reference” (PDF)
BUY IT ONLINE:
Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Literature
Literary Miscellany is a jaunty tour through the history of literature, from medieval bards to Oprah’s book club, with stops at all the strange spots along the way.
Who knew how much bitter controversy could generate from bestseller lists and children’s books? Or that even the biggest writers had to scrape by in their day, with odd jobs and inventions like the Mark Twain Self-Pasting Scrapbook?
Literary Miscellany guides the reader through the major eras in literature, how the process and business of writing changed, and the ways readers’ tastes developed as literacy proliferated and books became the center of mass culture.
As it tells this broad story, Literary Miscellany delves into odd pockets of literary history, such as the addictions of writers, from Honoré de Balzac’s habit of throwing back 50 cups of Turkish coffee a day to the Romantics’ love affair with opium. It looks at why so many great writers have made crummy screenwriters, and how literary villains have become more human—and odious—over time.
Packed with illustrations, odd lists and memorable quotes, Literary Miscellany examines the quirkier side of great authors and their works.
“The Oddest Odd Jobs of 10 Literary Greats”
St. Petersburg Times
“What’s Alex Palmer reading?”
Gotham Writers’ Workshop’s Writer’s Bookshelf
“Merchandising Mark,” “Money Quotes,” and “How Did Starving Writers Pay the Bills?”