My Dear Santa, Chapter 4: War Santa Claus

The next few seasons were more low key compared to the explosive growth of the previous years. The Association moved moved to the Hotel McAlpin for the 1917 season. But Gluck’s opportunism was as strong as ever, and all that boasting,  brashness, and sneaky business was about to catch up with him.

the santa claus building
An artist’s rendering of the Santa Claus Association’s headquarters building

Wartime strategies

With the Great War in progress, Gluck sought to insert himself to raise the profile of the Association, and himself. He devised a signature campaign for a Christmas armistice, which he proposed to president Wilson, who declined. He then pitched it to the ambassadors of the countries at war, falsely claiming that one million children from 40 cities would sing a Christmas carol. The media ran with the story without verifying it. (Unrelated to Gluck, there actually was a historic Christmas armistice.)

The Association also adopted some wartime strategies. They began using a system to prioritize letters from children of soldiers. The Association got re-labeled as “War Santa Claus” in the press. They went on to set up a chapter specifically to respond to Germans and Austrians living in New York. 

a child's letter to santa
a child’s letter to Santa during the war years

The District Attorney investigates

While the war getting everyone feeling charitable, New York City District Attorney Edward Swann was taking action on wartime charities. He assigned Assistant District Attorney Edwin Kilroe to begin investigating. But many of the organizations kept poor or no records, and it was hard to prove when laws were broken. And resources for pursuing cases was limited. Kilroe went to New York Senator, Henry Ashurst for his support of a bill that would regulate patriotic charities and put them under the purview of the federal government. But nobody would hold a vote on the bill until after the war.

Up to his old tricks with the scouts

Throughout this time, Gluck was still helping the USBS. They did a fundraiser for their Liberty Bond drive by staging a military-style exercise. Gluck included the names of “honorary commissioners” in letters to potential donors. But many of these honorary commissioners had not agreed and didn’t even know their names were being used.
A similar scheme caught Kilroe’s attention. The USBS was sending fundraising letters from the “7th Regiment of the United States Boy Scout,” for the group’s character building efforts. Gluck was playing on public sympathy for the 7th Regiment of the New York Militia, while also allowing people to believe they were really donating to Boy Scouts of America. When Kilroe and Swann dug in, It appeared to them that the group was grossly inflating its numbers, and existed only for the personal gain of Gluck and others. Swann called in Gluck to his office to explain themselves, but he refused to cooperate. The best they could do was get Gluck to stop using the term “7th Regiment.”

image of gluck with scouts
Gluck poses with leaders from the US Boy Scout

The public feuding between USBS and BSA continued. In 1917 the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America launched a New York Supreme Court suit to keep USBS from using the worlds “boy scout.”

More scrutiny…and a mysterious announcement

Meanwhile, the Gluck’s activities caught the attention of the Charity Organization Society. Barry Smith, the secretary of finance for COS, was a critic of the undisciplined outpouring or wartime charity. He urged the state to pass a restrictions on war charity, and force groups to incorporate and be subjected to periodic investigations. Gluck resisted this, claiming that he himself was an expert in charities. 

In December of that same year, and seemingly out of nowhere, Gluck named his wife as the new president of the Association. She was just just 22 years old, and had no experience. Several members quit in protest. Why did he do it? Was it to distance his name from the association as scrutiny of the USBS mounted? Or was there another reason? People had their suspicions, including some of the Association’s volunteers and honorary VPs, one of whom shared those suspicions in an anonymous letter to the Secret Service. That letter was turned over to the Bureau of Investigation, which followed up with Kilroe to see what he had discovered about Gluck during his investigation. Because the letter claimed there was reason to believe Gluck was in fact a German Spy.

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Music in this episode

  • Revelation” — Dave Depper, via Needledrop
  • 2 to 2” — via Internet Archive
  • Inamorata” — Blue Dot Sessions, via Free Music Archive
  • Ranch Hand” — Blue Dot Sessions, via Free Music Archive
  • Tessalit” — Blue Dot Sessions, via Free Music Archive
  • Surface Tension 1” — Podington Bear, via Free Music Archive
  • The President’s March” — The United States Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps, via Free Music Archive
  • Silent Night” — Kevin MacLeod, via Incompetech
  • Face of the Thrush” — Blue Dot Sessions, via Free Music Archive