EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 23, 2013

Boy asked for football, air rifle in 114-year-old letter to Santa

By Mark E. Vogler
CNHI News Service

— Harry Hyland, age 8, wrote in his loopy cursive on Dec. 21, 1899: "Dear Santa Claus, Please bring me a football, an air rifle and a golf stick. Your little friend, Harry W. Hyland."

A reflection of the times -- and maybe Harry's behavior -- comes in a follow-up letter two weeks later: "Dear Santa Claus, Thank you for my top, my cap, my handkerchief, my gloves, my candy and my nuts and my hook and ladder.”

The letters Harry wrote in his third grade class at the Wingate School in Haverhill, Mass., 114 years ago are rekindling the spirit of Christmas for one family. Harry’s grandson, 63-year-old Joseph P. Blanchette, believes them to be the oldest “Dear Santa” letters on record, based on information from the Miami, Fla.-based World Record Academy.

For nearly a decade at Christmas time, Blanchette – a native of Lawrence, Mass., who now lives in Vermont -- has broken out the two letters to share with his family.

“I hang them up on the wall or set them up in the house,” Blanchette, 63, a retired high school history teacher, said of the letters — both of them preserved in picture frames.

“It’s always kind of an interesting discussion point this time of year. It triggers people to start telling stories on their own — about what Christmas Eve was like, or writing letters to Santa or what Santa brought them,” Blanchette said.

The earliest date of verifiable letters to Santa belongs to two children from Dublin, Ireland in 1911, according to World Record Academy. The children asked Santa for a baby doll, a waterproof with a hood, a pair of gloves, a toffee apple, a gold penny, a silver sixpence and a long toffee.

That record still stands, Tom Howard of the academy confirmed in an email to The Eagle-Tribune.

Meanwhile, another old “Dear Santa” letter — written by a 7-year-old child from London, Ontario in 1915 — captured national attention earlier this month on ABC’s Good Morning America.

“Will you please send me a box of paints, also a nine cent reader, and a school bag to put them in,” Homer Mellen wrote in his letter. “And if you have any nuts, or candy, or toys to spare, would you kindly send me some.”

Homer’s son, Larry Mellen, 79, shared the letter with Good Morning America, to show how many children of today take Christmas for granted because they receive so many more gifts.

Blanchette said his mother — the late Nancy Hyland Blanchette — gave him an old folder about 15 years ago that contained his grandfather’s grammar school papers. Included was the “Dear Santa” letter.

“His simple and polite letter, in remarkably clear penmanship, reflects the wishes of most every young boy over the past 100 years; a football, a golf 'stick,' and like Ralphie in the 1983 film classic 'A Christmas Story,' an air rifle,” Blanchette said.

“Harry’s ‘thank you’ letter to Santa Claus, written the first week in January 1900, tells us of a young boy whose wish list went unheeded by Santa, but who was thankful nonetheless for the simple gifts that he found under the tree Christmas morning: candy and nuts, a toy top, a winter cap and gloves, a handkerchief and, thankfully, a hook and ladder fire truck,” Blanchette said.

Children writing letters to Santa Claus has been an American holiday tradition, one that has been embraced by the U.S. Postal Service for more than a century. Hundreds of thousands of children each year send letters to “Santa Claus, North Pole, Alaska.” Postal “elves” sort the letters, choosing the most needy ones. The public, charitable organizations and corporations team up with USPS to answer the dreams of many children.

Blanchette believes he’s got the oldest of such letters — and one that will be passed down to future generations of his family.

Details for this story were reported by The Eagle-Tribune in North Andover, Mass.