Man's Search for Girl who Wrote 1907 Letter to Santa
CBS NEWS - On the night before Christmas back in 1907, a 10-year-old girl in a New York City apartment wrote a letter to Santa. Following an Irish tradition, she sent it up the chimney.
A man found that letter nearly 17 years ago when he was renovating his fireplace. Ever since, heâ€™s been working to learn more about the little girl. His long journey came to a satisfying conclusion just last week, reports CBS News correspondent Dana Jacobson.
â€œAs Iâ€™m bringing bricks out, I find this little blue envelope written to Santa Claus in Reindeer Land,â€ Peter Mattaliano recalled. â€œAnd I open it up. And hereâ€™s this letter from â€“ from Mary.â€
â€œAnd you say, â€˜Mary,â€™ like you know her. But at the timeâ€¦â€ Jacobson said.
â€œI know,â€ Mattaliano said. â€œItâ€™s funny.â€
Mattaliano did not know anything about 10-year-old Mary McGann when he discovered her partially charred letter in his fireplace. He was struck by the last line of Maryâ€™s note.
â€œMy little brother would like a wagon that I know you cannot afford,â€ she wrote.
â€œShe doesnâ€™t ask for anything for herself and then says, â€˜Please, do not forget the poor.â€™ I mean, you know, the spirit of Christmas, that generosity and maturity â€“ sheâ€™s 10,â€ Mattaliano said.
So he set out to find Mary. The census records he dug up only told part of the story. Thatâ€™s when the New York Times got involved.
â€œThey found where she was buried in four days. Mary McGann married George McGahan, OK?â€ Mattaliano said, laughing. â€œWe get to the stone. And there it is, George McGahan. But Maryâ€™s not on the stone.â€
There was a space, but no name. Mary, who never had children and worked as a stenographer, died in 1979 at age 82.
â€œA little girl who had that kind of emotional depth and generosity, has to be acknowledged,â€ Mattaliano said. â€œEven if thereâ€™ll be nobody to go visit, she has to be acknowledged.â€
Mattaliano couldnâ€™t add Maryâ€™s name because he is not related; but someone else could.
â€œLast January, an article appeared in our local newspaper here in Ireland,â€ Brian Dempsey recalled.
Dempsey is a physics teacher who lives outside of Dublin. He recognized his motherâ€™s maiden name and discovered heâ€™s a distant cousin of Maryâ€™s.
â€œIt clicked,â€ Dempsey said â€œI know that. Amazing.â€
As Maryâ€™s relative, Brian passed the right to add her name to Mattaliano in the form of a notarized letter.
â€œI mean, look at it â€“ it was obviously meant to be here,â€ Mattaliano said, standing beside her grave.
Thirty-seven years after her death, Mary McGannâ€™s name was engraved on her tombstone.
â€œYou got Maryâ€™s name on that tombstone. What else has she given you?â€ Jacobson asked.
â€œAnytime things seem to be going south I still take a look at the letter. And I say, â€˜All right. OK,â€™â€ Mattaliano said.
â€œItâ€™s more than the Christmas spirit,â€ Jacobson said.
â€œItâ€™s the Christmas spirit personified,â€ Mattaliano said.
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