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December 22, 2013

An 1899 Christmas story lives on

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

A “Dear Santa” letter that 8-year-old Harry J. Hyland wrote in his third grade class at the Wingate School in Haverhill 114 years ago is rekindling the spirit of Christmas for one family.

Hyland died in 1963. The Wingate School, which once stood at the corner of Broadway and Hilldale Avenue, no longer exists.

But, the letter Hyland wrote on Dec. 21, 1899 has survived for more than a century and found new life as a family heirloom in the Vermont home of his grandson, Lawrence native Joseph P. Blanchette.

For nearly a decade at Christmas time, Blanchette has broken out the letter and a “thank you” note that his grandfather wrote to Santa Claus in January 1900.

“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

They may also be the oldest “Dear Santa” letters in existence today.

“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.

“A letter to Santa, written in 1911, was discovered by John Byrne while puttering about inside his home; penned by a pair of siblings (10-year-old Hannah and 7-year-old Fred), the letter miraculously survived inside a fireplace for 100 years, setting the world record for the Oldest Letter to Santa,” World Record Academy posted on its website Dec. 23, 2011.

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