“Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas”, as the poem was first called, was first published anonymously in New York’s Troy Sentinel newspaper on December 23, 1823. An college classmate from Troy, Jack Casey, recently told me of two trials in Troy over the authorship of the poem – the first, in 2013, resulting in a hung jury, and the second in favor of Henry Livingston Jr., a poet and farmer from Poughkeepsie, N.Y. Jack and his lawyer buddies dreamed up the idea for the trial, based on the long-running controversy over whether Livingston or Clement Clarke Moore, a professor of Middle East and Greek literature and theology, was its author. They never met, and Moore did not take credit for the poem until long after Livingston had died. Moore is considered by most as the author, but Mary Van Deusen, a descendant of Livingston, claims her great great great great great grandfather as the author. Donald Foster, a forensic linguist and Vassar college English professor, wrote a book, Author Unknown, supporting Mary, but Stephen Issenbaum, professor emeritus of history at the University of Massachusetts, wrote an article in 2001 in defense of Moore.
So, my classmate Jack Casey and his lawyer friends in Troy decided to try the matter in a court of law. Here’s the website describing the two trials, with pictures and everything. Livingston was declared the author by six jurors in the 2014 retrial, presided over by retired New York State Supreme Court Justice Edward O. Spain. Among the witnesses were the ghosts of Henry Livingston Jr., and Clement Clarke Moore. Over objections to ghosts taking the stand, Casey declaimed “If they can vote in Troy, they can testify,” referring to a long history of voter fraud involving deceased residents of Troy (depicted in Casey’s historical novel about a famous murder trial in Troy, The Trial of Bat Shea). Joining the two sides were Chris Post, a descendant of Moore, and Mary Van Deusen, Livingston’s descendant.
A version of the trial will be shown on the Hallmark Channel on December 17 and 18, although Casey did not get a part.
The poem is credited with giving us our depiction of Santa Claus, and the names of his eight tiny reindeer – except for Rudolph.