“Please Do Not Forget the Poor”

(p. A1) Last week, Peter Mattaliano, 66, an acting coach and screenwriter, put up Christmas decorations in his Hell’s Kitchen apartment and laid out presents for the children: Mary and Alfred.
These are not Mr. Mattaliano’s children, and they are no longer living. But a century ago they lived in what is now Mr. Mattaliano’s home.
He has honored Mary and Alfred 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.
“My brother does construction, and I had him open up the fireplace,” he said. “We were joking that we might find Al Capone’s money. Then my brother yelled to me and said, ‘You’re not going to believe this.’ ”
In the rubble and dust, Mr. Mattaliano’s brother found a delicate piece of paper with faint children’s scrawl bearing a request to Santa from a century earlier.
“I want a drum and a hook and ladder,” read the letter, adding that the fire truck should be one with an “extentionisting” ladder. (p. A22) It was dated 1905 and signed “Alfred McGann,” who included the building’s address.
There was another item in the rubble: a small envelope addressed to Santa in “Raindeerland.” Inside was a second letter, this one dated 1907 and written by Alfred’s older sister, Mary, who had drawn a reindeer stamp as postage.
“The letters were written in this room, and for 100 years, they were just sitting there, waiting,” said Mr. Mattaliano.
He learned through online genealogical research that the siblings were the children of Patrick and Esther McGann, Irish immigrants who married in 1896. Mary was born in 1897 and Alfred in 1900.
. . .
Patrick McGann died in 1904, so by the time the children wrote the letters left in the chimney, they were being raised by Ms. McGann, a dressmaker.
Mary’s letter is as poignant as Alfred’s is endearing.
“Dear Santa Claus: I am very glad that you are coming around tonight,” it reads, the paper partly 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.”
Mr. Mattaliano, who has read the letter countless times, still shakes his head at the implied poverty, the stoicism and the selflessness of the last line, all from a girl who requests a wagon for her brother first and nothing specific for herself.
“This is a family that couldn’t afford a wagon, and she’s writing, ‘Don’t forget the poor,’ ” he said. “That just shot an arrow through me. What did she think poor was?”

For the full story, see:
COREY KILGANNON. “Poignant Notes to Santa, Lost for a Century.” The New York Times (Tues., DEC. 22, 2015): A1 & A22.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the article has the date DEC. 21, 2015, and has the title “A Chimney’s Poignant Surprise: Letters Santa Missed, Long Ago.”)

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