Dear Santa….

According to Santa, one of the most popular items in recent years was the Apple iPad.  I couldn’t help but smile upon discovering that the most requested item in letters to Santa in the 1800s was an—apple.

The tradition of writing to Santa started in 1871 when Harper’s Weekly published a cartoon by Thomas Nest showing Santa sitting at his desk reading letters.

Fortunately, letters to Santa were often published in newspapers, giving us a look into the hearts of Victorian children and society as a whole.

The form of the letter hasn’t changed much through the years. Most letters include a testament to good behavior, although Santa might well shake his head today if he received the following: Dear Santa, I’m 12 years old and have been good. Please bring me cigarettes.  Your friend, Paul.

Then as now, girls generally write longer letters than boys and tend to be more social, asking after Santa’s wife or reindeer.

Sears was mentioned in many letters: Dear Santa, you can send me one of everything from the boys’ section of the Sears catalogue. But nothing from the girls’ section. – Kent

Many letters in the 1800s inquired as to Santa’s health. This puzzled me, until one letter writer cleared up the mystery.  It seems that parents unable to afford Christmas toys told their kiddies that Santa was sick and couldn’t come.

I was surprised by the number of girls asking for boy dolls.  I didn’t know they had boy dolls back then.   Since a popular way of celebrating Christmas was to shoot off fireworks, it wasn’t surprising to find a number of requests for roman candles and pop crackers—mostly from boys.  Trains, baby carriages and marbles were popular items.

Some children depended on Santa for ideas as this letter from Henry Ford’s son attests:

Dear Santa Claus:
I Havent Had Any Christmas Tree in 4 Years And I Have Broken My Trimmings And I Want A Pair of Roller Skates And A Book, I Cant Think Of Any Thing More. I Want You To Think O Something More. Good By. Edsel Ford

It was tempting at times to read between the lines: Dear Santa, I had an accident happen to me not long ago.  Please bring a rifle.  Your friend Amos

Then there was this: Dear Santa, I write these lines because my stomach is very empty and keeps flip-flopping; Please send a barrel of nuts, 14 pounds of candy, a small barrel of molasses and chewing gum.

Santa, it seemed, could do anything: One little girl asked for a cradle and washboard and a “sweetheart for my teacher, Miss Georgia.”

One thing that really stood out was the charitable nature of children.  Many letters contained pleas for poor children. In 1893, a little Texas boy named Louis St. Clair “bursted” his bank to send Santa twenty-five cents to give to the “poor little sick boy.”

Requests for teddy bears started popping up in the early 1900s and something called an Irish Mail.

Children didn’t always receive their heart’s desire, which probably explains the number of letters that ended like this: “And don’t try to fool me.”

How to Solve a Crime 19th Century Style

Come Hades or high water,

Jennifer Layne always gets her man.

                                                                  – Petticoat Detective

 

Have you ever wondered what Sherlock Holmes would think about today’s modern crime labs?

Crime-solving in his day was no walk in the park. Can you imagine having to track down criminals without benefit of DNA, fingerprints, security cameras, Facebook, cell phones or computers? But that’s exactly what those early gumshoes had to do.

This posed an interesting problem when I set out to write Petticoat Detective, book one of my Undercover Ladies series.

It seems that years of watching Castle, CSI and Rizzoli and Isles had taught me a lot about modern day forensics (and how to solve a crime in an hour), but left me clueless when it came to plotting my own story. After much research I now have only the greatest admiration for those early sleuthhounds. With little more than wits and determination they almost always got their man—and in some cases, their woman. How did they do it?

Detectives Worked Undercover:
Some like real-life Pinkerton detective Kate Warne were masters of disguise. Kate was hired by Allan Pinkerton in 1852 and could change her accent as readily as she could change her clothes. You’ll never guess how the heroine in Petticoat Detective disguises herself. Let’s just say that a certain handsome Texas Ranger finds her disguise shocking—to say the least.

Detectives Shadowed Suspects (aka Surveillance)
Shadowing was a tiring but necessary part of crime-fighting. The best color to wear for shadowing at night? Blue. Black is not natural in nature and will stand out.

Detectives Resorted to Trickery:
It’s hard to believe but the Federal Bureau of Investigation didn’t get its first forensic crime lab until 1932. It’s no wonder that Pinkerton operatives resorted to some interesting (and probably illegal by today’s standards) tricks to solve crimes.

The heroine of Petticoat Detective resorts to a few tricks of her own. Does she get her man?  That depends what man you’re talking about; the outlaw or the gorgeous hunk…uh hero.

Detectives Pounded the Pavement:
Questioning witnesses was and still is an important part of solving any crime. But then as now witness testimony wasn’t always that reliable. As Joe Friday would say, “Just the facts, ma’am. Just the facts.”

Detective Were Experts at Body Language (even before anyone knew what body language was):
Detectives of yesteryear were only as good as their observation skills and the best ones could read a person’s personality at a glance. You think social media raises privacy concerns? Just be glad that you never had to walk past Sherlock Holmes.