‘Is There a Santa Claus?’: History’s Most Enduring Christmas Related Editorial Was Published in September.
By Ken Zurski
As brothers growing up in Rochester, New York, William and Francis Church were raised in a strict but loving household. Their father, Pharcellus Church, was a newspaper publisher and Baptist minister. He demanded nothing but the best from his boys, who in return, each earned a college degree and joined their father in the newspaper business.
In 1862, however, at the onset of the Civil War, the two brothers followed separate paths. William resigned his post at the New York Times to become a full-time soldier while Francis continued on as a civilian war correspondent.
William earned the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, but left after a year. His superior at the time, General Silas Casey, suggested he start up a newspaper and devote it strictly to the war. William liked the idea so he mustered out and asked his brother to join him. Together they published The Army and Navy Journal and Gazette of the Regular and Volunteer Forces, a weekly filled with articles on everyday applications of the war, soldier’s viewpoints, and a critical eye.
“There is not a shadow of a doubt that Fort Sumter lies a heap of ruins,” the first sentence of the first volume read on August 29, 1863.
While the two brothers continued to edit the Journal, and eventually collaborated on a monthly literary magazine, The Galaxy, their legacies are vastly different.
William would go on to become the founder and first president of the National Rifle Association (NRA), while Francis became posthumously known for an editorial he wrote in response to a little girl’s inquisitive letter and inquiry. “I am 8 years old…,” the letter began and ended with an ages old question, “Please tell me the truth. Is there a Santa Claus?”
It was signed: Virginia O’Hanlon 115 W. 95th Street
The editorial appeared without a byline and was buried deep in New York’s The Sun on September 21, 1897.
Only after Francis’ death in 1906 was it revealed that the former war correspondent penned the famous line:
“Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”