Miniseries — My Dear Santa, Chapter 6: A Comeback and a Takedown

After his painful downfall, Gluck kept a low profile. But as he would discover, abandoning the Association wasn’t so simple. The letters kept on coming, and other charities would even forward letters they received to the Association. Luckily for him, Samuel Brill, a retired businessman, volunteered to keep things afloat for a while. 

Gluck’s triumphant return

But in 1922, things pick up again. Gluck found a new space at the Knickerbocker Building. And movie stars Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks kicked off the Association’s season from there with a publicity event.

pickford and fairbanks
Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks send a telegram

President Coolidge and Herbert Hoover (the Secretary of Commerce then) tapped the Association to wish the country’s children a merry Christmas via a telegram.

a telegram from coolidge
A telegram from Calvin Coolidge

The Association was back! And just in time, because America had entered the roaring ‘20s. Millionaires are popping up all over the place. The Association threw benefit events, like a high profile, high society New Year’s Eve party in 1923 at the Waldorf. 

glitzy party at the waldorf
A glitzy party at the Waldorf

The welfare commissioner is on the case

Gluck also returned to publicity work. He was hired by Samaritan hospital to do PR for an event. Gluck tried to pass off a photo of hospital nurses as “society girls helping with the drive.” The hospital committee chair fired Gluck over this. It was a public fiasco that caught the eye of the Brooklyn and Queens Charity Investigation Bureau. They asked the city’s public welfare commissioner, the straight laced Bird Sim Coler, to investigate. 

When Coler became welfare commissioner in 1918, he immediately cracked down on those who collected money for soldiers or threw charity fundraiser parties. He even went after Red Cross. When Coler became aware of Gluck, he vowed that the following Christmas season, John Gluck and the Association were at the top of his to-do list. 

All of this came amidst a power struggle between Coler and Jimmy Walker, NYC’s “playboy mayor.” Not helping matters was that Walker liked the Association, and presented Gluck with a key to the city.

a key to the city
Gluck and volunteers receive a key to the city

When Gluck heard heard about the Coler’s attentions, he tried to get an op ed published, but his clout with the media wasn’t what it once was, and it wasn’t published. Coler had no evidence of wrongdoing, which he would need to launch an investigation. 

bird coler
Nobody messes with Bird Sim Coler!

The ill fated strategic shift

But in 1927, the Association began asking for checks, promising to buy gifts themselves. This was the turning point. Gluck had been able to avoid scrutiny by maintaining that the Association wasn’t a charity, but rather a coordinator. Coler called Gluck to his office. Gluck refused to answer questions or provide documents, claiming he was too busy with the Christmas rush. But the next day, Coler sent an auditor to the Knickerbocker Building. The auditor noted there were only five volunteers there. Gluck tried to stage a trial in the press to force Coler to show his hand. 

Coler closes in

But finally, Coler figured out the real way to get to Gluck. It was so simple and obvious. The thing that started it all would also be the thing to end it. Coler would go through the postal system. He convinced the postal inspector that the Association was little more than a scheme. The post office quickly distanced themselves and officially changed the rule. It made headlines. Newspapers, the Knickerbocker building, also quickly turned their backs on Gluck. Gluck made various attempts to prove his legitimacy and stay relevant, but it was soon clear that his downfall was complete. 

What began in 1913 with thousands of letters delivered to the Association ended in 1928 with only one: a letter from the postal service reading simply, “no mail.”

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Music in this episode