Some genealogy research helped solve the mystery of two letters Santa missed long ago, left in a fireplace a Hell’s Kitchen apartment in Manhattan and recently rediscovered. When Peter Mattaliano, an acting coach, renovated his apartment, his brother worked on the fireplace and discovered
…a delicate piece of paper with faint children’s scrawl bearing a request to Santa from a century earlier. …A century ago they lived in what is now Mr. Mattaliano’s home. He has honored Mary and Alfred McGann every December for the past 15 years, ever since he learned of their existence when he renovated his fireplace. It had been sealed with brick for more than 60 years.
“I’m sharing their space,” he said, adding that he adopted the spirits of these children, frozen in pre-Christmas longing. Their spirits remain in the apartment, he believes, forever young, in something of a Hell’s Kitchen snow globe.
Mr. Mattaliano visited the Division of Old Records in Surrogate’s Court in Lower Manhattan to find family members connected to the letters. (Courtesy Yana Paskova for The New York Times)
With the help of a reporter and a researcher from The New York Times, Mr. Mattaliano began finding out about the family. He knew the McGann family lived at 447 West 50th Street on the fourth floor.
Patrick and Esther McGann were Irish immigrants who married in 1896. Daughter Mary was born in 1897 and son Alfred in 1900. The children’s father, Patrick McGann, died in 1904, so that “by the time the children wrote the letters and left them in the chimney, they were fatherless and were being raised by Ms. McGann, a dressmaker.”
“Mr. Mattaliano, who has lived in Hell’s Kitchen for 36 years, saw the children’s letters as a testament to the immigrant struggle in New York and to the neighborhood when it was poor and Irish.
Mary wrote: “Dear Santa Claus: I am very glad that you are coming around tonight,” it reads, the paper partially charred. “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.”
She signed it Mary McGann and added, “P.S. Please do not forget the poor.”
Letters Santa missed long ago? Found now.