Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Yes, Virginia, There is Yet Another Clyde Haberman Column About You In Today's Times.

Does Clyde Haberman's column today about the "Yes, Virginia" letter sound familiar? Maybe that's because it's essentially the same column he wrote on the subject four years ago...and five years ago...and nine years ago.

In today's column, Haberman writes about how the home of Virginia O'Hanlon -- the 8-year-old girl whose letter to the New York Sun in 1897 prompted the famous response, "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus" -- is now the home of the Studio School at 117 West 95th Street.

Haberman reviews the history of the letter, talks to a local who wrote a letter to Virgina at the school, and interviews the school's headmaster, Janet Rotter, and a creative writing teacher, Marie Helene Lane.

Did Rotter and Lane not recall that only four years ago, Haberman published near-identical interviews with both of them, on the same subject?

On December 24, 2004, Haberman's NYC column -- "A City Memory Lives, as Real as a Girl's Belief" -- reported that Virginia's house had become the school's home. In classic Haberman fashion, it fulminated on the fact that the city doesn't properly honor the home of such a venerable New York institution.

Haberman's 2004 interviews with Lane and Rotter produced these quotes:

"Our school was born the year she died," said Marie-Helene Lane, Studio's director of communications. "I like the symbolism."

"I don't see how we cannot have a plaque up for Ms. O'Hanlon, given who she was and who we are," Ms. Rotter said. "It would be unimaginable."

Haberman's 2008 interviews with Lane and Rotter went this way:

“It served as a reminder of how really important the Virginia O’Hanlon story is to us all,” said Marie Helene Lane, who teaches creative writing to children, ages 7 to 9.

“The important thing is that the children fill this space with their imagination and their hope,” [Rotter] said. “That, I think, is what Virginia’s letter did. And I’m afraid it’s what adults forget to do.”

Haberman first wrote about the house at 115 W. 95th Street in December 21, 1999's NYC column. That was the year he first noted the lack of a plaque:

Inquiries produced polite shrugs or don't-bother-me clicks of the intercom from the few people living at No. 115. Their reaction should have been anticipated. After all, this is a city of impermanence; collective memory often lasts about as long as sand castles at high tide.

Still, one thought that there just might be a plaque or some other indication that, in this house 102 years ago, an 8-year-old girl wrote a letter that produced perhaps this country's most enduring secular affirmation of hope and faith.

Four years later, on December 21, 2003 -- and only one year before the 2004 Studio School/Virginia column -- Haberman returned the house at 115 W. 95th St. That one again objected to the plaque-less historic home of Virginia O'Hanlon:

The house lacks any grandeur that it once may have had. When visited the other day, it showed no sign of life. Tiles at the front gate were broken. Intercom buzzers did not work. Windows were boarded up.

Curiously, it made no mention of the Studio School's existence next door. Perhaps Haberman -- whose fondness for recycled phrases and ideas has previously been noted by the Nytpicker -- was saving that scoop, knowing he'd need a column for next Christmas.

No comments: