Podcast Episode 313: The Santa Claus Association


In 1913, New York publicist John Duval Gluck founded an association to answer Santa’s mail. For 15 years its volunteers fulfilled children’s Christmas wishes, until Gluck’s motivation began to shift. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe the rise and fall of “Santa’s Secretary” in New York City.

We’ll also survey some splitting trains and puzzle over a difference between twins.


Edward Lear once had to prove his own existence.

Paul Dirac proposed that a math problem could be solved with -2 fish.

Sources for our feature on John Duval Gluck and the Santa Claus Association:

Alex Palmer, The Santa Claus Man: The Rise and Fall of a Jazz Age Con Man and the Invention of Christmas in New York, 2015.

Harry Pelle Hartkemeier, John Duvall Gluck, and Emma Croft Germond, “Social Science and Belief,” Social Science 9:2 (April 1934), 202-208.

Eve M. Kahn, “‘Mama Says That Santa Claus Does Not Come to Poor People,'” New York Times, Nov. 26, 2015.

Alex Palmer, “Meet the Con Artist Who Popularized Writing to Santa Claus,” New York Post, Sept. 20, 2015.

Kathleen Read, “What Becomes of Santa Claus Letters?”, [Washington, D.C.] Evening Star, Dec. 21, 1930, 3.

“‘Santa Claus’ Gluck Ignores His Critics,” New York Times, Dec. 11, 1928.

“Submits Accounting on Santa Claus Fund,” New York Times, Jan. 11, 1928.

“Santa Claus Group Again Balks Inquiry,” New York Times, Dec. 31, 1927.

“Santa Claus, Inc., Now Offers Books,” New York Times, Dec. 25, 1927.

“Santa Claus Group in Postal Inquiry,” New York Times, Dec. 24, 1927.

“Santa Claus Group Under Coler’s Fire,” New York Times, Dec. 23, 1927.

“Now the Santa Claus Letters Are Falling Into the Mail,” New York Times, Dec. 4, 1927.

“Santa Claus Association Will Send Gifts To 12,000 Poor Children Who Wrote Letters,” New York Times, Dec. 20, 1925.

“Thousands Write Santa,” Richmond [Va.] Times-Dispatch, Dec. 21, 1919, 4.

“Probe Upholds Contentions of the Boy Scout Leaders,” Harrisburg [Pa.] Telegraph, Aug. 24, 1917.

John Duval Gluck, “Boy Scouts: Suggestion That the Rival Bodies End Their Quarrel and Get to Work,” New York Times, Aug. 19, 1917.

Max Abelman and John Duval Gluck, “Methods Proposed to Control Charity; Plans for a Charity Service League,” New York Times, Aug. 5, 1917.

“Making Santa Real to Poor Children,” New York Times, Nov. 22, 1914.

“Santa Claus Association Incorporated,” New York Times, March 26, 1914.

“Played Santa Claus and Solved an Economic Problem,” New York Times, Jan. 18, 1914.

“Letters to Santa Really Answered,” New York Times, Dec. 25, 1913.

“Plays Santa Claus to Poor,” New York Times, Dec. 12, 1913.

“Santa Claus Will Answer His Mail,” New York Times, Dec. 7, 1913.

“Form Santa Claus Body,” New York Times, Dec. 6, 1913.

USPS Operation Santa.

Listener mail:

Wikipedia, “S1 (Munich)” (accessed Aug. 22, 2020).

S1 (Munich) schedule.

Wikipedia, “Dividing Train” (accessed Sept. 17, 2020).

“France in Detail: Getting Around,” Lonely Planet, accessed Aug. 22, 2020.

“‘Where the Train Will Divide…’ – Portion Working,” Southern Electric Group (accessed Aug. 22, 2020).

Wikitravel, “Wakayama” (accessed Aug. 22, 2020).

Amtrak Empire Builder schedule, March 16, 2020.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was devised by Sharon. Here are two corroborating links (warning — these spoil the puzzle).

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Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!