The following is a precise transcription of an article published in Chicago Daily Tribune on December 26, 1883. The digital scan of the 133-year-old newspaper is difficult to read. To make it easy on the eyes, I’ve provided a careful, word-for-word recounting (with everything spelled, capitalized, and punctuated as originally published).
OLD LADIES’ HOME.
The devout faith of a little boy in the traditional Christmas saint was answered yesterday in a way that ought to make the inmates of the Old People’s Home implicit believers in Santa Claus for the rest of their lives. Monday night, as the story goes–for the reporter had to take it at third or fourth hands–a little chubby 5-year-old named Alphonso Chandler, who has the good fortune to live in a wealthy home, sleepily expressed the very benevolent wish that Santa Claus would bring him money instead of toys for his Christmas presents. His aunt translated the wish into the following letter, which was deposited in the chimney–the orthodox letter-box of the old gentleman with the reindeer team:
DEAR SANTA CLAUS: This year I should like you to leave me money, as you know I have so many beautiful toys, and I think I can give great joy to the poor people by distributing my money among them. With lots of love, from ALPHONSO.
The next morning came a reply in the very substantial shape of sixty-six silver dollars, with the accompanying notelet:
For the Old Ladies’ Home, according to your request. SANTA CLAUS:
There are some knotty questions that might be asked just here as to how Santa Claus knew the precise number of inmates of the home, when he never takes any interest in those who do not believe in him and who have outlived the illusions of their youth, and how he came to write in a h and that bore so strong a resemblance to Alphonso’s parents; but, passing all these, the money came, and yesterday afternoon Alphonso bumped his precious nose on the icy front steps of the home as he went to distribute his presents. Each woman was the recipient of one dollar, which was placed in an envelope and laid by her plate at dinner. Of course the boy’s agency was revealed and duly recognized, and he was the recipient of enough attention to turn his head for the rest of his life. Whether the story can be accepted as a whole or not, certain it is that there are sixty-six old women who will testify to the genuineness of their silver dollars. Besides this very welcome present each inmate of the house received a pretty Christmas card from the Flower Mission. The donations for the table were also very beautiful, and altogether the inmates enjoyed an exceptionally good time.
HOW MUCH WAS ALPHONSO’S GIFT?
$1 of 1883 dollars would be worth: $23.81 in 2015 (latest year available)
To multiply that $23.81 comparison by the 66 inmates that Christmas Day of 1883, totals $1,571.46. That’s certainly more than “walking about” money for a five-year-old (or for anyone I know; I must not know any wealthy people). Santa was incredibly generous to young Alphonso that Christmas to indulge his whim, and most generous to the 66 old ladies who ultimately benefited. I’m willing to bet Alphonso’s request for money to distribute among the poor arose from some coaching his parents (or perhaps the mentioned aunt) had done. Perhaps a conversation or two or three between parent and child had planted the seeds of awareness that not everyone was as well-to-do as Alphonso and his family, and others struggled to have enough to meet their basic needs. It’s a conversation I certainly had with my children when they were young and we contributed what we could to the “Angel Tree” at our Credit Union or to the “Giving Tree” at our church. Like Alphonso’s parents, I wanted my children to learn the joy of giving (though mine never saw the recipient unwrap their gift and mine remained fully anonymous). I wanted my children to comprehend that Christmas, to us, was at least as much about giving to others as it was about receiving. In my experience, that’s a lesson little ones don’t come by spontaneously.
SECRET (or not so secret) SANTA
My most recent post, Victorian Letters to Santa, shared some true-to-history stories (at least as far as newspapers reported accurate, truthful information) about what we would call “Secret Santas” today. This newspaper-shared story of 5-year-old Alphonso and his ridiculously expensive Christmas gift-giving to “the poor” Old Ladies’ Home inmates (anyone else surprised by the use of that term in such a context?), in an only marginally private manner–we don’t know Alphonso’s surname. There were plenty of wealthy people in Chicago in 1883, if, indeed, that’s where Alphonso’s story took place. All it would take was a bit of familiarity with what well-to-do family had a little one named Alphonso, and the cat’s out of the bag.
Have you subbed for Santa? What memories of the experience stick out as valuable to you?
Have you donated publicly (more like Alphonso) at Christmastime? How did you feel about the experience?
I’d genuinely like to know! Please scroll down and leave a comment. It’s easy to do! I promise to reply (to all legitimate contributions to the conversation; I’m sure you can understand I ignore spam).
Copyright © 2016 Kristin Holt LC