Christmas Past

The fascinating stories behind your favorite Christmas traditions

Miniseries — My Dear Santa, Chapter 3: From a Cave to a Highrise

santa claus association at woolworths


Following the success of the first year, Gluck sought to expand and improve operations, and he proved that he wasn’t above some truth stretching, sneaky tactics, boasting, and naked opportunism to get there. Helping along the way was a credulous news media, hungry for feel-good stories from Santa’s Secretary. 

The Association incorporated, and set up a Canadian extension group. It was now the “International Santa Claus Association.” Other chapters cropped up in South Carolina, Nebraska, Boston, Cincinnati, Atlanta, Baltimore, Buffalo. And additional local field offices opened around New York City.

Moving into the Santa Claus Cave

The Hotel Astor offered space in a wine cellar. Gluck called it the “Santa Claus Cave.” Gluck himself moved into a new place near Broadway, which allowed him to rub elbows with the theater crowd. 

the crowd at a theater fundraiser
the crowd at a theater fundraiser

Rubbing elbows with the stars

A Broadway producer helped when Gluck falsely claimed the Association was facing debt. Sales for a theater performance (the cast of which included John Barrymore) would go to the Association’s operating costs. It was good publicity for everyone, and it raised $46,000 in today’s money. The cast visited the Cave, along with movie star, King Baggot, whom Gluck convinced to wear a Santa suit for a publicity shot. 

Gluck and King Baggot
Gluck and King Baggot

Gluck later helped with another Broadway promotion, a sampler show held at the hotel Astor. Some of the shows would donate tickets sales to the Association. There, he met Symona Boniface, an actress whom he would marry soon after.

While working with the USBS, Gluck learned that offering people an honorary VP title was effective for attracting high-profile people to lend their name and credibility. Gluck even reached out the governor of New York, who accepted the title. Meanwhile, the USBS and its rival, the Boy Scouts of America were publicly feuding. Gluck helped promote a show that was designed to upstage the BSA. When the effort failed, the USBS started to spread rumors about the BSA, partly with Gluck’s help. Like that the BSA was sponsored by the YMCA and wouldn’t admit Jewish or Catholic boys. 

Gluck hires artists to create promotional commemorative stamps

Gluck also took a cue from the American Red Cross, and commissioned prominent artists to design commemorative stamps. The Red Cross threatened an injunction upon hearing this. But an artist donated a painting to the Association, which was displayed at the Cave. The painting was stolen, and the scouts were recruited to find it. It re-appeared with a note of apology from the thief, which attracted media attention. Some speculated that the episode was staged for just that purpose. 

sample commemorative stamp
A commemorative stamp for the Santa Claus Association

Moving on up

In 1915, Gluck convinced Woolworth’s to let the Association operate from the 30th floor of their new high rise. (Gluck had done customs work for the company’s treasurer.)  That same year, the Association bought a billboard. 

As its successes grew, a boastful Gluck criticized larger charities for being less efficient, even calling for some to be investigated. Around this time, the New York Times published an article stating that organizations like Guck’s were basically inviting people to make stuff up for free things. Gluck saw this as a slap, because the Times had always been friendly to his cause.

Gluck continued to ask for money, and constantly changed the story about operating costs and supposed debt. Eventually, the post office itself helped out. The Brooklyn postal clerks offered to pay for the Association’s postage out of their own pockets. 

santa claus association billboard
The Santa Claus Association had its own billboard

Where was the money really going?

Other than the billboard, stationery, and postage, where was the money going? Was Gluck getting rich off the Association? Part of the answer came after the end of the 1915 season, when Gluck announced that the Association needed its own building. A “real life Santa’s workshop” to be built in New York City, that would cost about $7.5 million in today’s money. 

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Links

Music in this episode

  • Revelation” — Dave Depper, via Needledrop
  • An Opus in A Flat” — Blue Dot Sessions, via Free Music Archive
  • Nesting” — Blue Dot Sessions, via Free Music Archive
  • The Poplar Grove” — Blue Dot Sessions, via Free Music Archive
  • Toothless Slope” — Blue Dot Sessions, via Free Music Archive
  • Ragtime Dance” — Scott Joplin, via Free Music Archive
  • Blue” — Podington Bear, via Free Music Archive
  • Golden Hour” — Podington Bear, via Free Music Archive
  • Saltines” — Podington Bear, via Free Music Archive

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