Sunday, November 26, 2017

Yes, Virginia

If the title of this post rings a bell, you already may know about the most famous editorial ever written in an English-language newspaper. But you may not know the backstory.
Virginia O'Hanlon

In September, 1897, classmates teased 8-year-old Virginia O'Hanlon because she still believed in Santa Claus. They told her there was no Santa, so she asked her dad. Instead of answering her, he urged her to write to a local newspaper called the Sun, because "if you see it in the Sun, it's so." When her note arrived in the newsroom, it simply asked, "Please tell me the truth. Is there a Santa Claus?" The editor passed it off to a sardonic veteran Sun editorial writer named Frank Church. A former Civil War correspondent who'd seen lots of suffering in the war, Church reportedly "bristled and pooh-poohed" at first, but under deadline and in fewer than 500 words he composed an editorial which would later be translated 20 languages and even set to music. Since editorials are not signed, Church's authorship was not revealed until his death is 1906.

Raised on New York City's upper east side, Virginia O'Hanlon Douglas was the daughter of a doctor. She pursued a career in education, earning a PhD from Fordham University. Throughout her life, she often received inquiries about her letter, and invitations to read Church's editorial. She died in 1971 at age 81. In 2006, Virginia's great-granddaughter brought the original letter to Antiques Roadshow, where it was appraised at $20,000. To read her letter and Frank Church's famous reply, visit

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