Sketchbook of Thomas Nast
By Eugenia Moskowitz
Thomas Nast, creator of the modern version of Santa among other iconic images, was born September 27, 1840, in Landau, Germany, and immigrated to America when he was a baby. He went to school in Manhattan but dropped out at age 14, doing poorly in everything but art. He started working at Harper’s Weekly magazine at age 19 and became known for scathing political cartoons lampooning William Marcy “Boss” Tweed and the Tammany Hall Democratic political machine. He wielded great influence in political elections due to his uncanny ability to reach the average reader non-verbally, by summing up entire strings of current events in complex single-frame drawings that everyone could understand.
He exposed the corruption in Boss Tweed’s control of NYC government and majority of state legislature known as The Ring, which swindled NYC out of millions of dollars. He refused an initial bribe by Tweed of $250,000 (later upped to $500,000) to leave New York and study art in Europe, saying, “I instead decided to put some of those fellows behind bars.” Tweed’s Ring was removed from power in the November 1871 election and Tweed was arrested in 1873 and convicted of fraud.
In 1902, his career waning, President Theodore Roosevelt appointed him as the U.S. Consul General to Ecuador where, on December 7, shortly after arriving there, he caught yellow fever and died, leaving behind a wife and five children. He is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, in the Bronx.
CAPTION FOR 2 PIX: Thomas Nast, American political cartoonist and shaper of our modern image of Santa Claus. (Photos public domain)