Monday, January 2, 2017

The Santa Claus Man: The Rise and Fall of a Jazz Age Con Man and the Invention of Christmas in New York


Rating: 4 Stars

I received a digital copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Okay, truth time: I had this books for MONTHS before I finally finished it, back in July. I am not quite sure why it has taken me so long to review. Maybe because it took me a bit to get into in the first place. Once the author got into the story specifically about Gluck and the Santa Claus Association, my interest was piqued and I could not put it down. It just took a bit. And I understand the WHY, as we had to get to know who Gluck was before swindling money out of the New York City elite, but it still was not nearly as interesting as the scheme he ended up running.

To be totally honest, you kind of have to admire the lengths that Gluck went to in order to run the Santa Claus Association as a legit operation. Yes, stealing money was wrong and he deserved the consequences of his actions, but the association itself seemed to really do a lot of good for the children they served - while he unfortunately lined his pockets with fundraiser money. I don't understand why any of the wealthy people who donated to Gluck's association for postage - giving more than enough to cover postage for the season - never noticed or asked why he continually asked for funds for postage. I mean, come on. That should have been the first red flag. I suppose people only wanted to see the good Gluck was doing in providing toys and gifts for the poor children of the city, and did not want to believe he would use the association to then enrich himself. There came a point even when Gluck had grand plans to build a new massive headquarters to house the Santa Claus Association and all the volunteers who helped out, yet he had just been $3,000 in debt. The author states, "At such a thrilling time in New York City, it did not seem ridiculous to trust the Santa Claus Man but rather, ridiculous to doubt him" (40%).

I would agree with the author's statement that Gluck did not solely care about the money itself. Instead, he wanted to be perceived as a great man. This is why he added 'Esquire' to his name, the extra L to Duval, and so on. Unfortunately to be a 'great man', he needed money to help give the illusion of greatness.

There are so many twists and turns to this story, you may not even believe me if I were to include them all here. Gluck went all out in order to fund-raise for the association and it is sometimes jaw-dropping to see what he got away with. It took 15 years for the Santa Claus Association to come under intense scrutiny and investigation. And yet again, as the investigation went on, no one who donated money to the building fund asked why no progress had been made, despite a number of years passing since Gluck's announcement of his intention to have a new headquarters. Literally nothing had been done, despite huge donations pouring in.

In addition to focusing on Gluck and his scheme, this book is an interesting look at how Christmas really came to be celebrated in the US, starting in NYC. We see this, as well as the first Christmas tree for the entire city and Macy's first large parades. There is much to learn here about how we came to celebrate in the way we do today.

The text ended at 81% and the rest of the book contained a timeline of Santa Claus in New York, as well as tidbits about Santa and NYC starting in 1804. After the timeline, from 81% to the end, contained a lengthy notes section. The author clearly did his research about all aspects of the subject and it shows. Definitely recommended.

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