By Elizabeth Doherty
A NEW Yorker has told how he found century old letters to Santa from two impoverished Irish children – with one asking for the “poor” to be looked after ahead of her own wishes.
Peter Mattaliano, 66, an acting coach and screenwriter, from Hell’s Kitchen, has bought Christmas gifts for Mary and Alfred McGann every year for 15 years – ever since he found their haunting notes hidden in his chimney.
He unearthed the forgotten letters when he was renovating his fireplace and remarkably the innocent writings of the children remained intact.
Though the children are long dead, the innocence of their youth and the poverty in which they lived is to this day poignant.
One note by Alfred reads: “I want a drum and a hook and ladder,” adding that the fire truck should be one with an “extentionisting” ladder.
It was dated 1905 and included the building address.
There was another small envelope addressed to Santa in “Raindeerland,” containing a second letter, this one dated 1907.
Alfred’s older sister, Mary, who had drawn a reindeer stamp as postage, wrote a remarkably human letter to Santa.
“Dear Santa Claus: I am very glad that you are coming around tonight,” it reads.
“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.”
“The letters were written in this room, and for 100 years, they were just sitting there, waiting,” Mr Mattaliano told the New York Times.
He learned via online genealogical research that the brother and sister were the children of Patrick and Esther McGann, Irish immigrants who married in 1896.
Mary was born in 1897 and Alfred in 1900.
The family lived at 447 West 50th Street, where Mr Mattaliano now lives in the fourth floor apartment the McGann’s had once shared their Christmas in.
Patrick McGann died in 1904. When the children wrote the letters they were being brought up by Ms McGann, a dressmaker.
Mr Mattaliano said: “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?”
“I have no idea how that paper made it,” he said, referring to how long the pages had been buried in the fireplace.
The letters have become “my most treasured possessions,” said Mr. Mattaliano, who has them framed above the fireplace.
Just below them sits a dump truck, a miniature wagon and a doll, presents in tribute to the children who have spread a posthumous message of altruism that stands true today.
“I wanted them to have a Christmas present, even if it was 100 years too late,” he said.
The children’s message could even become a film.
Mr Mattaliano has written a movie script based on the letters, titled “Present From the Past.”
It is fiction, but includes the letters and the children as spirits in the apartment.
He hopes to start filming in the spring.
With the help of a New York Times reporter, Mr Mattaliano was able to research the history of the children.
By 1920, Mary, Alfred and their mother had moved to West 76th Street in the city.
Mary grew up and worked as a stenographer and Alfred, a printer.
By 1930, Mary had married the a George McGahan and moved to the Bronx, and later to Queens. Her brother also married.
However, so far no living relative has been found.
Neither sibling appeared to have children and both seemed to have died in Queens; Mary in 1979, at 82, three years after her husband. She was laid at rest in Flushing.
Alfred’s burial location is a mystery, perhaps because his birth name was John Alfonse McGann. He seems to have died childless in 1965 in Queens. His wife, Mae, died in 1991.
The children’s mother was around 35-years-old when they wrote the letters.
She was a widow and the breadwinner and this explained why Mary knew Santa wouldn’t be able to afford what her brother wanted for Christmas.
Mr Mattaliano has such a touching connection with the children though he never knew them.
He even visited Mary’s grave, laying a small, potted tree there.
The headstone bore the name McGahan, but only her husband’s name, George, not Mary’s.
He said he would now investigate having Mary’s name added to the gravestone.
As he visited the grave, Mr Mattaliano said a prayer to Santa in memory of Mary. “Please do not forget the poor.”