What’s Happening at the Library? History of the Santa Claus Association

By John Maruskin

Clark County Public Library

Last week, Book Lunch participants discussed “The Santa Claus Man,” by Alex Palmer. It’s a somewhat interesting book about John Duval Gluck Jr., a New York con man who from 1913-23 enriched himself by running a phony Santa Claus charity. Gluck was insecure and conniving, but hardly admirable. 

Alex Palmer contrasts Gluck’s schemes with legitimate charities that actually worked to provide gifts for the poor without enriching their directors, and on page 34, he writes in 1907 “organizations like the one in Winchester, Kentucky… began delivering Christmas goodies including nuts, fruits, and candy — as well as firecrackers and roman candles — to children.”

That sentence, for me, was better than the rest of the book.

I wondered if there was more information about that and so I went to the best resource I know for information concerning Winchester and Clark County, local historian Harry Enoch.

In less than a day, Harry supplied me with a sheaf of information about Winchester’s Santa Claus Association from online copies of the 1908 and 1910 Winchester papers.

Those articles told me Alex Palmer’s estimation of when Winchester residents started their own Santa Claus Association was off by 10 years. Winchester’s Santa Claus Association started in 1898. In that year, they delivered Christmas packages to 25 families. By 1910, the Santa Claus Association delivered Christmas packages to 200 families. 

Each year, members of the Winchester SCA would scour the town to find needy families. They would then tabulate the number of packages they needed to provide and buy the materials necessary with the honest faith that citizens would make contributions to cover the costs. No money was ever solicited.

Every year they collected voluntary contributions until they had enough to cover the season’s expenses and then they simply stopped taking donations. 

Two articles from 1908 mention that gift packages were put together in the county court room of the court house and then stored at the building “just north of the Winn Furniture Company, where Shearer, the florist, will have his display.” 

From 1908 to 1910, the work of organizing and distributing the packages was done by Mrs. C.E. Lyddane, Miss C.C. Page and Miss Sue Peddicord. Members of the committee those years were:

C.B. Strother, W.T. Poynter, Jo. M. Hodgkin, R.O. Fitch, J.L. Bosley, J.W. Chambers, John N. Bush, M.D. Royce, John E. Garner, C.H. Loveland, W.T. Ogden, E.L. Upham and John M. Stevenson. 

All must be enshrined in Santa Claus’ “Mighty Nice Hall of Fame” at the North Pole.

What I’ve provided here is just the framework of a wonderful chapter of Clark County history. If you know of any other information about Winchester’s early Santa Claus Association, if you have pictures or documents, please get in touch with me at the library. It’s a piece of our history that needs to be recorded, archived and celebrated. 

Programs this week?

— At 10 a.m. Tuesday, Easy Email. It’s not too late to Email Santa.

—AT 5:544 a.m. Wednesday, the Winter Solstice occurs. The Sun will rise around 8:50 a.m., depending on your horizon line.

— At 2 p.m. Wednesday, Kentucky Picture Show features a 2003 holiday romantic comedy about eight very different couples dealing with their love lives in loosely interrelated tales all set during a frantic month before Christmas in London, England. Rated R.

— At 7 p.m. Wednesday, take time off from shopping and trimming with Trivia Night at the Engine House Deli.

Please remember the library will be closed Saturday, Sunday and Monday, Dec. 24-26, for Christmas.

Which leads me to one of the pleasantest things I do all year. On behalf of the friendly staff at the library, Happy Solstice, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukka, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Holidays — as Lenora Perkins said, “Happy Everything.” Cheers!