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Historic St. Nicholas Images

For Immediate Release

Press Statement of Michael B. Billmeyer
on publication of first edition of
“Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas”
December 6th, 2011

Today one of the longest-standing myths in American publishing history is being challenged by the first publication of “An Account of a Visit From St. Nicholas” in the name of Henry Livingston, Jr.

After 174 years of uncritical misattributions, and more than 1,000 different editions, the author of perhaps the world’s most-well known children’s poem is finally getting his due recognition.

We chose today as a release date because it is an important anniversary for the birth of “Christmas Americanus”, for it was December 6th, 1809, that Washington Irving released his Knickerbocker History of New York. It was in that groundbreaking work of fiction that he invented the story of St. Nicholas being the protector of New Amsterdam, and gave him the image of a little elfish man who put his finger upon his nose and brought gifts in a horse-drawn sleigh.

Now that we have gone to print, we are calling on future publishers to issue new editions of this short but epic poem under the name of Henry Livingston, Jr.

We are also requesting that when librarians catalogue new editions of the book that they will credit Livingston as the author, giving Moore the designation of alternate author.

Henry Livingston was a farmer, judge, and poet from Poughkeepsie, NY who died before the Clement Clarke Moore claimed authorship of the delightful poem. Livingston’s descendants have long claimed he was the true author and we are proud to be the first publishers to acknowledge that claim.

Our historic “Livingston Edition” was printed by The Ascensius Press, our neighbors in Freeport, Maine. They have printed hundreds of fine, exquisite books, and they have fashioned this first edition into a printed gem. The price is a bit steep, but this is a fine letterpress edition of only 250 copies.

While we hope we are the first of many future publishers who attribute the poem to Livingston, there will never be another first edition to publish the poem under Henry’s name.

We want to praise Indigo Moorhead for the pen and ink illustrations he made for this edition. This “New Nicholas” is also historic, as it returns our gaze to the original illustrations of “Santa Claus Americanus” that were made in the decades before Thomas Nast created his beloved images.

As a New Yorker transplanted to Maine, and a New York Yankees fan living in the midst of the Red Sox Nation, it is not natural to make an assault on one of the most-cherished myths of my beloved city!

But as a poet it is clear to me, as it has been to other poets and folklorists, that the delightful sounds and images of this poem sprang from the pen of the very Dutch and very jovial Henry Livingston, Jr.

And while the historian in me admits that Clement Moore’s claim to authorship has some very strong historical arguments in its favor, the words of another printer, Benjamin Franklin, come to mind.

Franklin said that “Printers are educated in the belief that when men differ in opinion, both sides ought equally to have the advantage of being heard by the public; and that when truth and error have fair play, the former is always an overmatch for the latter; Hence they cheerfully serve all contending writers that pay them well...”

Therefore, we applaud the ongoing efforts of Livingston’s descendants to promote their historic claim, as we do not denigrate the Moore family claims.

That said, we challenge the institutions and individuals in New York who support Moore’s claims to either prove that Moore wrote the poem, or to admit that giving Moore credit for the poem is based on mere tradition.

With this edition we are boldly and joyfully beginning a new tradition. And as we do, we wish to echo the words of Henry Livingston, who, in a 1773 letter to his future wife, was the first documented American to use the phrase

“Happy Christmas”