EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


December 22, 2013

An 1899 Christmas story lives on

Haverhill boy's Christmas wishlist may be oldest existing letter to Santa Claus


If it weren’t for his grandfathers’ old grammar school papers, Blanchette said he would never had known about the Wingate School or the “harsh financial realities” that often dwarfed a young child’s wishes for Christmas gifts from Santa.

Harry, an only-child, was born in the Bradford section of Haverhill in 1891, to an Irish mother, Mary Ann Mullen, and John Barden Hyland, a shoemaker of English descent. He lived at 6 Curtis Street in Haverhill in 1899, about a half-mile walk from the Wingate School.

“As with many families then and today, the Hyland family lived modestly and decisions about Christmas gifts often had significant financial implications,” Blanchette said.

Blanchette, who was born and grew up in South Lawrence, later moved to Vermont to attend St. Michael’s College from which he graduated in 1971.

Along with being a history teacher, he dabbled with genealogy. Growing up with a “French” identity, he traced “that side” of the family all the way back to the 15th century.

His dad, Joseph C. Blanchette of Lawrence, now 91, has a French last name, but is also half Irish. In the early 1980s, while traveling from Vermont for a family cookout, Blanchette said he got acquainted with his family’s Irish history. In search of those roots, he invested a decade of research that led to the publishing of his book, “The View From Shanty Pond: An Irish Immigrant’s Look at Life in a New England Mill Town.”

What about Harry?

Harry later followed in the footsteps of his father, grandfather and great-grandfather — all who worked in the shoe industry, according to Blanchette’s history of the Hyland family. After marrying Marion Franklin in 1922, he lived in Andover, where he later owned Hyland’s Shoe Store at 14 Main St. They had two daughters, Janice Hyland Johnson and Nancy Hyland Blanchette. Harry was 72 when he died of heart attack at Hale Hospital in Haverhill.

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