The Faces behind the Famous Editorial
By Eugenia Moskowitz
First printed September 21, 1897 in The New York Sun, the beloved Christmas exchange between a little girl and an editor is the most reprinted editorial in any English-language newspaper.
That September, Manhattan coroner’s assistant Dr. Philip O’Hanlon’s eight year old daughter Virginia asked her father if Santa Claus really existed. He suggested she write to The Sun, telling her, “If you see it in the Sun, it’s so.” So she penned her letter from her house on West 95 Street and sent it to The Sun’s offices downtown. The paper’s then-editor Francis Pharcellus Church, who had been a war correspondent during the Civil War, answered her in the now-famous editorial.
Virginia grew up, married, and got divorced around the time her daughter was born. She went on to get a bachelor’s degree from Hunter College, a master’s in education from Columbia University, and a doctorate from Fordham University, retiring as a New York City school principal in 1959. She died on May 13, 1971, at the age of 81, and is buried in North Chatham, New York.
Francis Pharcellus Church, who had no children, died in New York City on April 11, 1906, and is buried in Sleepy Hollow, New York.
CAPTIONS: Virginia O’Hanlon and Francis Pharcellus Church. (Photos public domain)