Is There a Santa Claus? was the title of an editorial appearing in the September 21, 1897 edition of The Sun of New York. The editorial, which included the famous reply "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus", has become an indelible part of popular Christmas folklore in the United States and Canada.
In 1897, Dr. Philip O'Hanlon, a coroner's assistant on Manhattan's Upper West Side, was asked by his then eight-year-old daughter, Virginia O'Hanlon (1889–1971), whether Santa Claus really existed. Virginia O'Hanlon had begun to doubt there was a Santa Claus, because her friends had told her that he did not exist.
Dr. O’Hanlon suggested she write to The Sun, a prominent New York City newspaper at the time, assuring her that "If you see it in The Sun, it's so." He unwittingly gave one of the paper's editors, Francis Pharcellus Church, an opportunity to rise above the simple question, and address the philosophical issues behind it.
Church was a war correspondent during the American Civil War, a time which saw great suffering and a corresponding lack of hope and faith in much of society. Although the paper ran the editorial in the seventh place on the editorial page, below even an editorial on the newly invented "chainless bicycle", its message was very moving to many people who read it. More than a century later it remains the most reprinted editorial ever to run in any newspaper in the English language.
In 1972, after seeing Virginia O'Hanlon's obituary in The New York Times, four friends formed a company called Elizabeth Press and published a children's book titled Yes, Virginia that illustrated the editorial and included a brief history of the main characters. The book's creators took the book to Warner Brothers who eventually did the Emmy award-winning television show based on the editorial. The History Channel, in a special that aired on February 21, 2001, noted that Virginia gave the original letter to a granddaughter, who pasted it in a scrapbook. It was feared that the letter was destroyed in a house fire, but thirty years after the fire, it was discovered intact.
Some people have questioned the veracity of the letter's authorship, expressing doubt that a young girl such as Virginia would refer to children her own age as "my little friends." However, the original copy of the letter appeared and was authenticated by an appraiser on the Antiques Roadshow in 1998. Its value was appraised by Kathleen Guzman, at $20,000–$30,000.
Virginia O'Hanlon's full name was Virginia O'Hanlon Douglas. She was born on July 20, 1889 in Manhattan, New York. Her marriage to Edward Douglas in the 1910s was brief, and ended with his deserting her shortly before their child, Laura, was born. Virginia was listed as divorced in the 1930 United States Census.
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