10. The Historical Society’s Founder And Santa Claus

pintard-st nicholas-nyc-untapped citiesAlexander Anderson’s commissioned drawing of the American image of Santa Claus. Image via Wikipedia

John Pintard, one of the founders of the New-York Historical Society was a busy man who established lasting institutions and customs in New York and in the country. Besides serving on the executive board of many organizations like the New York Chamber of Commerce, Pintard was instrumental in advocating for the free public school system in New York today. He was also heavily involved in the plans for completing the Erie Canal, stayed in New York during the second cholera pandemic, and a deeply religious man.

That last part may not sound like a great accomplishment next to all the other things he’s done, but his religious involvement gave our country one of its most famous people: Santa Claus. St. Nicholas, the saint Santa is modeled after, has long been celebrated in Europe (and by the Dutch in New Amsterdam) around Christmas on a holiday called St. Nicholas Day. Pintard promoted St. Nicholas as the patron saint of both the Historical Society and New York. In January 1809, Washington Irving joined the Society and wrote a satirical fiction story called Knickerbocker’s History of New York where our American image of jolly, old Saint Nick the gift giving, chimney climber was created.

Starting on December 6, 1810, the Historical Society began celebrating St. Nicholas Day ever year. The same year, Pintard commissioned artists Alexander Anderson to create the American image of St. Nick, helping to popularize Santa Claus.

If you are an Untapped Cities Insider, you can join us for two special guided tours of the museum’s Stonewall 50 exhibition and the Historical Society’s permanent collections! Not an Insider yet? Become a member today to gain access to free behind-the-scenes tours and special events all year long!

Next, check out The 12 Oldest Museums in NYC and The Top 10 Secrets of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

This article was written by Nicole Saraniero and Vera Penavic