Allan Takes Aim Blog

Letters can inspire an editor

Posted on: 24 November 2011


First published The Chronicle, Canberra, Tuesday 22 November, 2011 

Christmas will soon be here and even if not a Christian more than likely you will follow the tradition of giving people you love a Christmas gift even if not members of your own family. Indeed for many people, Christmas Day is that day in the year when families expand as they ask people they respect and consider great humanitarians, to join their family celebrations.

Christmas time is also a time for writing letters to Santa Claus, that benign representation of all that is good in the world who has the job of delivering a Christmas gift to every boy and girl no matter how old or young. Of course he is getting older and his job is getting harder. For example when I was a small boy I had to write a letter to tell him what I wanted. Today, however, fewer children write those letters and because with Santa is getting older some parents reduce Santa’s workload by getting a gift for you.

Unfortunately, however, some people don’t think Santa Claus exists. Indeed I once heard my mother say that because some people didn’t get the gift they asked for in their letter they stopped believing in Santa Claus. I can on only say that many a time I didn’t get what I asked for but the fact that I got something made me so happy I eagerly awaited the coming of next Christmas so that I could write Santa another letter.

But talking about letters, I’ve often wished that it was me who wrote the following letter to the editor of the New York Sun in September 1897, that has since become famous through being reprinted in books and editorials, not to mention featuring in films.

“DEAR EDITOR,

I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, ‘If you see it in THE SUN it’s so. Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus? Virginia O’Hanlon,

115 West Ninety-Fifth Street.”

The editor answered the letter in an editorial that has also become famous (www.newseum.org/yesvirginia). So who knows? Perhaps a letter of yours to the editor of The Chronicle might also become famous. You think not. Well you might be surprised at how a letter to the editor can bring a result you’d never expect, even in your wildest dreams, something that happened to man in England early in the 1870s, who wrote a letter to The Times (London) suggesting that a monument to Nelson’s victories in Egypt be erected in London.

The British Government said no perhaps because Nelson already had a monument in Trafalgar Square. It was not until 1877 that Sir William James Erasmus Wilson, a distinguished anatomist and dermatologist, took up the idea and sponsored the transportation to London of Cleopatra’s Needle, gifted to Britain in 1819 by Sultan Muhammad Ali, the ruler of Egypt and Sudan, because of Nelson’s Nile Victories.

The cost of the needle’s transportation from Alexandria to London was £10,000, a figure that blew out because during a storm the needle fell into the ocean and had to be retrieved. Finally, it arrived at Gravesend and was then transported to London where in September 1878 it was erected on the Thames Embankment.

To his credit the ACT’s former Chief Minister tried his hardest to come up with something that would have the same cachet as either Nelson’s Column or Cleopatra’s Needle. He didn’t. I also believe he resigned because he couldn’t find a suitable person to remember by way of a significant monument.

But with the centenary not far away perhaps Chronicle readers might have some suggestions that will engage the editor of The Chronicle Iin the same way as Virgina O’Hanlon’s letter did the editor of the New York Sun. On the other hand I feel sure there’s a rich Canberra philanthropist waiting patiently in the hope that someone will inspire him/her with an idea for a monument that will make Canberra the envy of the world for centuries to come. Let it be said that I believe Chronicle readers will be able to produce an appropriate idea.

So letter writers, don’t let that philanthropist escape. Get your ideas in as soon as possible.

dca@netspeed.com.au

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23 Responses to "Letters can inspire an editor"

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Gone are the days when you can believe everything you read in the newspaper. This article reminded me of the time that I was very surprised to read an “interview” with me by a gentleman whom I’d barely glimpsed – and to whom I had certainly not spoken – after a performance of a play that I had written (in French) and performed in France. He not only made me sound like an idiot, he also seemed to think that, because the play was written in the first person, it was all true. This was probably at the origin of a whole series of later articles by people who thought that my play, which was fiction, was the story of my life. I even had people knocking on my door telling me that they had known my fictitious grandmother. Most of these people had not seen the play, but they had read about it in various newspapers. It was all rather weird. I felt as if I had two lives: the real one and the one in the papers. When did journalists stop doing their work properly? And why don’t editors do theirs?

Always such a plreasure to get a comment fom you Lady Marylin and may I add I hope the play had a good run.
And your questions: when did journailsts and editors stop doing their jobs properly? are right on the button when one thinks of what has happened at the News of The World.

I hope too, that other correspondents take note of what you have written and also take time to look at your website.

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