River views: Letters to Santa reflect needs of 100 years ago

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“The Christmas Store-room is packed to the doors, crowds waiting outside to receive their dinners. Santa Claus, too busy to write, wishes everybody in Lewiston and Auburn and ’roundabout and everywhere in the world the best Christmas ever.”

That’s the beginning of a news story printed 100 years ago today when the Lewiston Evening Journal building on Park Street was Christmas Central. For the previous several weeks, updates were printed about the generous donations that poured in, the kids’ visits to Santa and the preparations by local agencies and volunteers to spread Christmas cheer throughout L-A.

Letters to Santa were special newspaper features of 1914 and earlier, and a few of them are reprinted below. Some are said to be in the young writers’ own words and spelling, but reporters of that time were inclined to be a bit imaginative with quotations. Nevertheless, those letters provide us with a fascinating look back.

Obviously, someone helped a 5-year-old with this letter:

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“Dear Santa Claus, I’m five Christmas and I want a doll, a big one. All I had was my sister’s old ones and they ain’t got any heads on ’em. I had one but it’s busted and its eyes is out and the straw is runnin’ out. And I want a sled ’cause mine is broke and goes crooked and I’ll give mine away ’cause it was my sister’s and she’s a big girl and I want a Christmas book ’cause my papa has gone away and we won’t have any Christmas tree. I don’t want to use up all my paper ’cause this block is all I’ve got but I should like some little dishes. The Lewiston Journal said I could write and send to Santa Claus and you needn’t tell it all over the neighborhood.”

Fred wrote:

“Dear Santa: For Christmas I want a pencil box, a pair of mittens and a game and a watch fob and a necktie and clasp and a book named Dan the Newsboy or Haste and Waste and I thank you for last year. From your friend, Fred.”

In his own spelling, Melvin wrote:

“Dear Sandylos, I am a little boy seven years old and I have a brother four years old and I would like to have you send me some presents to me an my little brother to. I am a poor little boy and my father layde up with a sore foot and I would like to have you send me some toys and games for me and my little brother to. Do, please, Sandylos. I am a pore little boy. Don’t forget me.”

No name on this one:

“Dear Santa. I got hoopin cough and I am 8 and I have a brother that is 10 he is a crippel and a little brother that is 4. We didn’t have any Christmas presents last year as my Papa went on crutches he had dumistism in feet he has it this winter to so he can’t work so we wont have any Christmas … and if you have anything you can spare, pleas send something.”

Here’s one from Mabel in Auburn:

“Dear Santa Claus. I would like to have you send me something for Christmas. I have got three sisters and three brothers. I don’t expect Santa Claus to come to my house this year. My sister wants a doll. I want a dress and shoes and a big doll. I am eleven years old. My sisters are 7, 2, and 1. My youngest brother is six years old and he wants a blue suit and he would like a sled.”

Isabel‘s letter to Santa was short and sweet:

“I am going to send ten cents which I would like to have you get something for some poor child who has no papa and mama.”

A letter from a 12-year-old girl in the seventh grade at Frye Grammar School said:

“Dear Santa Claus. I am the oldest one of six children and my father is the only one to work and we cannot get all we need. I would be very pleased if you could get me a pair of shoes. My sister wants a doll, the one six years old wants a pair of mittens, the other two little girls, two and four, send them what you think is best for them.”

The Christmas Store-room stories made several references to help provided by the local Salvation Army, by social services and churches, and by the Lewiston Police Matron. Several residents offered the use of their automobiles or horse teams for delivery of the gifts on Christmas Eve.

Dave Sargent is a freelance writer and a native of Auburn. He can be reached by sending email to davidsargent607@gmail.com.

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