“If you see it in the Sun, it’s so.”

If you have enough money and you have access to an unrestricted market, you can find someone who will, for a price, do virtually any task you disdain to do yourself.  If the task you want to delegate to someone else is a task that a great many other people also want to avoid doing, then someone might well find a way of providing a service to many people all at once, collecting a small payment from each.

So far, so obvious.  If economics were a subject in the Kindergarten, so much might be a lesson there.  Why isn’t economics a subject in the Kindergarten?  Perhaps the text below, printed in The New York Sun on 21 September 1897 but extremely familiar to everyone who has ever spent the month of December in the USA, will elucidate:

“DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.
“Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
“Papa says, ‘If you see it in THE SUN it’s so.’
“Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?

“VIRGINIA O’HANLON.
“115 WEST NINETY-FIFTH STREET.”

VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except [what] they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

Virginia O’Hanlon of 115 West Ninety-Fifth Street was a real person, and later in life she confirmed that she had in fact written the letter the Sun published.  Her great-granddaughter displayed the original letter, in Virginia O’Hanlon’s handwriting, in 1997.    Virginia O’Hanlon’s father, who told her that “If you see it in the Sun it’s so,” was a medical doctor named Philip O’Hanlon.

What service did Dr O’Hanlon expect to the New York Sun to perform in return for his subscription?  An article in the far-right Taki’s Magazine proclaims that the newspaper’s response is a remarkably shameless lie; that article prompts me to wonder if lying to his daughter was the very task Dr O’Hanlon hoped the newspaper would take off his hands.  Surely he knew full well that the newspaper would not dare publish a statement denying that the beloved figure of childhood fantasy really existed, and that any response they printed would have to affirm Santa Claus’ reality.  By thus delegating the lie to someone else, he could distance himself from it, not leaving his daughter with a visual memory of his face as he told her something he knew to be false, and indeed to be an insult to her intelligence.  Of course, if he knew that the newspaper would say something that he knew to be false, then statement  that “If you see it in the Sun it’s so” was also a lie on Dr O’Hanlon’s part, but one that he might more plausibly be able to defend than he could defend a claim that Santa Claus existed.  On the other hand, a moralist might say that “If you see it in the Sun it’s so” was a far worse lie than “There is a Santa Claus.”  After all, telling Virginia that there was a Santa Claus might have been telling her a single, discrete, self-contained lie, while to tell her that “If you see it in the Sun it’s so” is to instruct her to put down her guard and swallow everything that might appear in that paper, day after day.

Who was Dr O’Hanlon?  He was, among other things, a functionary of New York City’s Tammany Hall political machine.  During Tammany’s dominion over city politics, Dr O’Hanlon worked for the city as an assistant coroner and as police surgeon.  When the reform wing of the Democratic Party briefly took power, Dr O’Hanlon was arrested on charges relating to his habit of helping himself to the stock of dry goods stores without bothering to pay the merchants.  In court on these charges, he boasted of his Tammany Hall loyalties.  When Tammany returned to power, Dr O’Hanlon’s legal troubles came to an end. So it’s hardly surprising that the doctor was a fan of the pro-Tammany New York Sun.

Tammany’s restoration must have been a relief to the O’Hanlon family, since Dr O’Hanlon’s had name also appeared in connection with a much more serious criminal case.  A friend of his, Dr Andre L. Stapler, had in August 1910 performed an abortion for a woman named Louise Heinrich.  Abortion was at that time illegal in New York state, and therefore unregulated.  In the course of the procedure, Mrs Heinrich died.  Dr O’Hanlon signed a death certificate saying that her death was the result of natural causes.  The state prosecuted Dr Stapler, arguing that his carelessness killed her.  Prosecutors alleged that Dr O’Hanlon’s death certificate was a fraud meant to cover up his friend’s culpability in Mrs Heinrich’s death.   Convicted of manslaughter, Dr Stapler confessed that he was part of a group of doctors who performed illegal abortions under unsanitary conditions, and that as a coroner’s assistant Dr O’Hanlon routinely filed false reports covering up the deaths of the women in their care.  Dr O’Hanlon does not appear to have been prosecuted as a result of Dr Stapler’s statement.   The doctor appears to have continued his medical and political careers without having to answer any inconvenient questions about falsified papers and dead women.  If Dr Stapler’s confession was true, then woman-killing doctors delegated a job of lying to Dr O’Hanlon, even as Dr O’Hanlon had delegated a job of lying to the Sun.

Advertisements
Comments are closed.
%d bloggers like this: