Published December 20, 2023

“Dear St. Nick” – a letter from 1888 found at Lanier Mansion

Writing a letter to Santa is a cherished part of the Christmas magic for many children, even as far back as the 19th century. We know this because in 1995 when some restoration work was being done on the chimney in the family parlor room of the Lanier Mansion State Historic Site, workers discovered a lightly burnt piece of paper with a child’s handwriting on it.

Hand-written in pencil by Margaret Cravens, the great-granddaughter of James F.D. Lanier, the letter contained a wish list from Christmas 1888 – more than 100 years before it was discovered.

The letter reads: “Dear St. Nick, bring me a doll, and a book, and a chair, and a pitcher, and a album, and a stool, and a basket, and a ring, and a pin.” Quite the ambitious list for just one Christmas!

But why was it stuck up a chimney? In a time before diligent post office workers delivered letters, it was customary for children to stick their letter in the chimney and allow it to be carried upward draft of the fire and away in the hopes it would reach the North Pole. You had to be careful not to allow your letter to burst into flames, or else you’d need to write a new one!

A few of these letters got stuck in chimneys and continued to survive to this day. Though slightly singed by the fire, Margaret’s letter gives us wonderful insight into what childhood was like in the 19th century.

During this year’s 41st annual Nights Before Christmas Candlelight Tour of Homes at Lanier Mansion, visitors were delighted to see this letter for the first time, and visitors can still see the letter when they visit for Christmas tours in 2023.

The holidays are a wonderful time to visit the Lanier Mansion in Madison. See the mansion decorated for the Christmas season, marvel at the stunning architecture and enjoy a tour from our knowledgeable staff.