By Bill Swayze, mctb contributor.
It’s that time of the year again and soon enough he will come down the chimney, that jolly, elderly, rotund gift-giver with his sleigh parked on the rooftop along with his reindeer.
It’s always a tight squeeze for Santa Claus and we have political cartoonist Thomas Nast to thank for that. And if those rooftops in his Christmas artwork look familiar, well, they should.
They are the ones he saw everyday while living in Morristown, the ones perhaps at Macculloch Hall, across the street from Nast’s home from 1872 to 1902.
Macculloch Hall Historical Museum’s recent preservation of the hall’s four antique chimneys during the summer inspired the timely exhibit, Down Through the Chimney: A Thomas Nast Christmas, at Macculloch Hall Historical Museum.
And on Sunday, the museum and the Morristown and Morris Township Library will celebrate Nast’s life and work on the 115th anniversary of his death with a walking tour.
The event, called An Afternoon with Thomas Nast, begins at 1:30 p.m. at the library in the Kirby Gallery with a guided tour of the Nast exhibit led by James Lewis, who heads of the North Jersey History and Genealogy Center.
The walk continues down Miller Road past Villa Fontana, Nast’s family home, and concludes at museum with a tour of A Thomas Nast Christmas in the Upstairs Gallery by Ryan Hyman, F.M. Kirby curator of collections.
The event is free. The exhibit closes Jan. 14. Tickets for the exhibit cost $8 for adults and $6 for seniors and students. Children 12 and under, $4, and under five enter for free. For more information, call 973-538-2404.
Nast (1840-1902) was the father of the modern editorial cartoon who brought down New York City’s corrupt “Boss” Tweed, and popularized the Republican elephant and Democratic donkey symbols.
But Nast also was the creator of the Santa Claus images we see today. Jolly and old, riding above the rooftops in his reindeer-drawn sleigh, and stuffing Christmas stockings, “hung by the chimney with care.” Or so wrote Clement Clarke Moore in 1822 in his famous poem, ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas, according to Ryan Hyman, curator at the Macculloch Hall Historical Museum.
Details from Moore’s poem inspired many of Nast’s Christmas drawings, which included the rooftops and chimneys of the homes Santa Claus would visit. Many of the rooftops and church spires seen in the images were the local ones Nast was most familiar with, according to Hyman.
Nast’s image of Santa Claus helped him earn his fame. His drawing of Santa was first published on the front page of Harper’s Weekly in 1863 and continued to appear in the magazine almost every Christmas season for more than 20 years, according to Hyman.
Nast also created Mrs. Claus, placed his home and workshop in the North Pole, and developed the idea of writing letters to Santa through the U.S. Postal Service, according to Hyman.