"The Santa Claus Man Who Conned New York"
Posted on December 29, 2015
Had a fun chat with Patrick Sauer over at Signature Reads (formerly Biographile) about The Santa Claus Man. We touched on how Gluck was a pioneer of crowdsourced fundraising, the charms of Christmas in New York, and who might play Gluck in the movie version of the book. On a separate note, Patrick wrote this excellent piece for Smithsonian about the country's first mass shooting. I'd read it ahead of our interview without realizing he was the author, so it was cool to be able to discuss it with him. Here is a chunk of our conversation about The Santa Claus Man:
SIG: Were you able to discern whether the Santa Claus Association was fraudulent from the get-go, or did Gluck have legitimate intentions in the beginning?
AP: From what I can tell, it was not a con from its conception. Gluck had motivations for starting it that were slightly selfish, but not criminal. He had been a customs broker and was against a lot of governmental interference, felt it was too bureaucratic, and wanted to show how effective his private philanthropy group could be free of red tape and oversight. The Santa Claus Association would be a direct connection between giver and recipient, which he used to promote himself as a savvy businessman. In the early press coverage, he calls himself an “efficiency expert.”
Gluck didn’t really like being a customs broker, he wanted to be involved in fun projects, which the Santa Claus Association was. It’s hard to tell if he had deviant plans from the start, but it seems like a hard way to go about it if all you want to do is steal people’s money. What he loved more than anything was the attention. He had a hunger for fame that seems to be his tragic flaw. Gluck can’t help himself in that way, but I don’t think greed for money was the driving factor.
SIG: One truism I’ve found living in New York City all these years, is that it really is amazing during the holiday season, but I was unaware at just how much of our current Christmas sensibility comes from here…
AP: Researching the Christmas history was a lot of fun, especially the early stuff, all the ways Washington Irving, John Pintard, and of course, Clement Clarke Moore helped in the evolution of Santa Claus. The modern Christmas was shaped in New York City: The first Christmas tree farm was near where the World Trade Center is now, the first public tree was lit up in Madison Square Park, the Coca-Cola Santa claus ads that came from Madison Ave…It’s fascinating and New York City has really earned its reputation as the best place for Christmas. Although it’s been a weird season, I’m flying to California and I think it’ll be colder than New York.
Read the rest at Signature Reads.