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In 1897, Dr. Philip O'Hanlon, a coroner's assistant on Manhattan's Upper West Side, was asked by his then eight-year-old daughter, Virginia O'Hanlon (1889–1971), whether Santa Claus really existed. O'Hanlon suggested she write to The Sun, a prominent New York City newspaper at the time, assuring her that "If you see it in The Sun, it's so." In so doing, Dr. O'Hanlon had unwittingly given one of the paper's editors, Francis Pharcellus Church, an opportunity to rise above the simple question and address the philosophical issues behind it.
Church was a war correspondent during the American Civil War, a time that saw great suffering and a corresponding lack of hope and faith in much of society. Although the paper ran the editorial in the seventh place on the page, below even one on the newly invented "chainless bicycle", it was both noticed and well received by readers. More than a century later it is the most reprinted editorial in any newspaper in the English language.
In 1971, after seeing Virginia's obituary in The New York Times, four friends formed a company called Elizabeth Press and published a children's book titled Yes, Virginia that illustrated the editorial and included a brief history of the main characters. Its creators took it to Warner Brothers who eventually made an Emmy award-winning television show based on the editorial. The History Channel, in a special that aired on February 21, 2001, noted that Virginia gave the original letter to a granddaughter, who pasted it in a scrapbook. It was feared that the letter was destroyed in a house fire, but 30 years later, it was discovered intact.
The original letter
A copy of the letter, hand-written by Virginia and believed to be the original by her family was authenticated in 1998 by Kathleen Guzman, an appraiser on the television program Antiques Roadshow. Some commentators doubt that a young girl would refer to children her own age as "my little friends" and suspect Virginia's father may have assisted her in composing the letter or even wrote it himself.
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