On a cold Christmas Eve in 1907, a poor little Irish girl in Hell’s Kitchen wrote a poignant letter to Santa Claus. Addressed to “Raindeerland,” complete with a hand-drawn stamp, her heartfelt letter endured for 90 years, until it was unexpectedly discovered folded up inside an old fireplace.
Mary McGann’s letter, written to Santa when she was 10, landed up in the hands of Peter Mattaliano nearly a century later. According to the New York Times, 15 years prior, he discovered a brother and sister’s letters to Santa tucked away in his fireplace during the renovation of his apartment in Hell’s Kitchen—a neighborhood in New York.
He recalls the time his brother opened the fireplace up, how they had joked that they might find something inside—when suddenly his brother yelled, “You’re not going to believe this,” as he produced two folded letters from the fireplace.
Mary along with her young brother Alfred once lived with their mother in the very same apartment where Peter now resides.
In the carefully written letter, penned on good paper, Mary asks Santa for a wagon for her little brother and asks for nothing for herself except “what you think best.”
She ends her letter off with a compassionate reminder to Santa not to “forget the poor,” and endearingly, she addresses the letter to “Raindeerland” before it was folded and placed on the inside lip of the brick fireplace.
Here is the letter in full:
Dear Santa Claus:
I am very glad that you are coming around tonight. My little brother would like you to bring him a wagon which I know you cannot afford. I will ask you to bring him whatever you think best. Please bring me something nice what you think best.
P.S. Please do not forget the poor.
A second letter was also discovered in the fireplace, this one written by Alfred in 1905, in which he asks for “a drum and a hook and ladder” fire truck.
Peter wondered how on earth the letters could have survived for 90 years despite the flames and smoke and the effects of time.
The more Peter thought about it, the more he wanted to find out the identities of the two children who wrote those letters.
Online genealogy databases confirmed that Patrick and Esther McGann, who were Irish Immigrants and were wed in 1896, were the parents of Mary and Alfred. Their firstborn, Mary, was born in 1889, while their son Alfred was born in 1900.
Records indicate, sadly, that Patrick died in 1905, which left Esther to raise both children alone.
What Peter found most touching about Mary’s letter was her reminder, “Don’t forget the poor.” “That just shot an arrow through me,” he admitted. “What did she think poor was?”
Now, Peter has the framed letters hanging above the mantle, right beside where they were found, all year round. Every Christmas, Peter places two gifts on the shelf where the letters are mounted: a little red wagon for Alfred and an antique doll for Mary.
Eventually, Peter tracked down where Mary and Alfred were buried, and he planted a small tree next to Mary’s grave in Mount St. Mary’s Cemetery in Queens. Peter is also going to have Mary’s name properly engraved on her headstone.
“Nollaig Shona Dhuit” is how you say “Merry Christmas” in Irish!
Here is a video telling of Peter Mattaliano’s discovery:
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