Ad-Express and Daily Iowegian, Centerville, IA

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December 23, 2013

Boy asked for football, air rifle in 114-year-old letter to Santa

Harry Hyland, age 8, wrote in his loopy cursive on Dec. 21, 1899: "Dear Santa Claus, Please bring me a football, an air rifle and a golf stick. Your little friend, Harry W. Hyland."

A reflection of the times -- and maybe Harry's behavior -- comes in a follow-up letter two weeks later: "Dear Santa Claus, Thank you for my top, my cap, my handkerchief, my gloves, my candy and my nuts and my hook and ladder.”

The letters Harry wrote in his third grade class at the Wingate School in Haverhill, Mass., 114 years ago are rekindling the spirit of Christmas for one family. Harry’s grandson, 63-year-old Joseph P. Blanchette, believes them to be the oldest “Dear Santa” letters on record, based on information from the Miami, Fla.-based World Record Academy.

For nearly a decade at Christmas time, Blanchette – a native of Lawrence, Mass., who now lives in Vermont -- has broken out the two letters to share with his family.

“I hang them up on the wall or set them up in the house,” Blanchette, 63, a retired high school history teacher, said of the letters — both of them preserved in picture frames.

“It’s always kind of an interesting discussion point this time of year. It triggers people to start telling stories on their own — about what Christmas Eve was like, or writing letters to Santa or what Santa brought them,” Blanchette said.

The earliest date of verifiable letters to Santa belongs to two children from Dublin, Ireland in 1911, according to World Record Academy. The children asked Santa for a baby doll, a waterproof with a hood, a pair of gloves, a toffee apple, a gold penny, a silver sixpence and a long toffee.

That record still stands, Tom Howard of the academy confirmed in an email to The Eagle-Tribune.

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The Iowegian wants readers to think about the solicitation ordinance that will prevent groups or individuals from entering a roadway to solicit money. The Centerville City Council in June by a 5-0 vote passed the first reading of just such an ordinance. Public pressure and during a subsequent special meeting, the council voted 3-2 to table the ordinance. A second special meeting to discuss the solicitation ordinance is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 7 at City Hall. So, the question of the week is, "Do you or do you not support the ordinance to prevent solicitation of funds in city streets?"

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