I was awakened one morning by an enthusiastic gentleman, Robert Hancock, with a
wonderful story about Dunder and Blixem. Laurence Hancock, his father and a judge then still
on the New York bench, had been a friend of an Episcopalian priest and Henry descendant,
Father Harold Thomas. Father Thomas was held in the deepest respect by the Hancocks, and I
had already received one letter from someone else who wanted to tell us about this wonderful
man. The story that Father Thomas had frequently regaled his friends with was about Henry's
authorship of the poem. The names of the reindeer, Father Thomas had said, were those of the
horses in Henry's stable! Now that would have set me back on my heels if I weren't already flat
on my back. What a wonderful way to wake up. The idea was simply perfect and felt so right.
But my attempts, and those of my cousin Steve, to follow this particular thread have, so
far, led nowhere. A pointer to another Henry descendant, Maud Katzenbach, brought out more
anecdotes of Father Thomas, but she and her sister had been too young to be interested in an old
man's stories, and had paid them no mind. Henry's Day Book was no help because when
thinking about the horses as sources of debt or credit, Henry used descriptions rather than names.
Feb 28 '75 Gave my black horse to John Van Kleeck for a
pied Mare and £6 to boot. If I dislike her I am to return her.
Mar 2 '78 I sold my brown horse to Farbus Ostrom for
£55. He paid me £27 down & gave me a note for £28.(1)
The only horse whose name was used and, in fact, repeated on many occasions, was
Hero, a horse he used for breeding purposes, where its name was part of its value. But if the
story about the reindeer was out there once, it may still be, and someday we may all learn about
an old family pony named Blixem. It could happen.
Another fascinating lead was provided by Susan Schock, who had noticed a connection
between Washington Irving and the Livingston family in a small biography of Dr. Edward
Livingston. Since Don had moved back the date of creation of the Saint Nicholas story to around
the time of the writing of Knickerbocker's History of New-York, connections between Henry and
Washington Irving interested us greatly. I purchased Irving's Journals and did find one
fascinating entry. On August 8th of 1803, Irving is in Utica New York on a Sunday, and notes
that he went to Church, then to Whitesboro for tea with Mr. Platt(2). There was no footnote for
that line in the heavily footnoted volume(3), so the editor must not have known what we know -
that Mr. Platt was Jonas Platt, Henry's brother-in-law, and the mentor of Henry's son-in-law,
Arthur Breese, who lived a few doors down. So we haven't gotten Henry and Washington Irving
together quite yet, but we have gotten them within calling distance of one another!
But it turned out that Santa's pack of presents wasn't quite empty yet. Just before
Christmas 2001 a member of the Moore family was invited to give a presentation on the famous
Christmas poem. In searching the Internet for information, Terrie O'Neill found me.
I have spent the last two days at your Henry Livingston
website, fascinated by your research and your resulting conclusion
that Henry Livingston was the author of A Visit From St. Nicholas.
I have ordered Don Foster's book and will order yours tomorrow
and read them thoroughly before jumping on the HL bandwagon,
but from what is on your website, the evidence is pretty
Terrie's Moore ancestors were John Moore and Judith Livingston. Since Judith was
Henry's first cousin, Terrie was going to be related to the poem's author no matter who he was.
Vassar President Henry MacCracken had been very interested in John and Judith, noting that two
of their daughters were married to students of Rev. Benjamin Moore, Clement Moore's father.
Daughter Lydia had married Rev. William H. Hart in 1815, and Maria, Rev. David Moore in
1809. To tie the families tighter, Lydia and William's daughter Frances had married a Clement
Moore Butler, while David Moore's father was, in fact, a brother-in-law of Rev. Benjamin
Moore. (Your instincts are quite right. This is another plate of genealogical spaghetti.) Since
David Moore was settled in Virginia, his family seemed to be a good candidate for the eventual
Southern destination of the governess of Livingston family stories, the couple marrying in 1809,
a date not long after Don's date for Henry's writing of the Christmas poem.
But Terrie had something more to bring to the conversation because she knew just where
John Moore fit into the Moore family tree. John was, in fact, the brother of David Moore's
So when you finish unsnarling the spaghetti, you end up with the brother of Clement
Moore's uncle being married to Henry's first cousin. John and Judith, by the way, were also
Henry's next door neighbors in Poughkeepsie! For that wonderful connection I was perfectly
happy to clean the spaghetti sauce out of my Christmas stocking.
I will be forever grateful to Robert Hancock and Judge Hancock and Maud Katzenbach,
to Susan Schock, Professor Black and Terrie O'Neill, and to all the experts and researchers and
friends and cousins for their help, and to Don Foster and Steve Thomas for their friendships.
My debt is great to all the research institutions that gave so much help to us in our quest -
the Dutchess County Historical Society, Adriance Library, New York Public Library, New York Historical
Society, Museum of the City of New York, Carnegie-Mellon Library, Brown University Library, New York
State Archives, Connecticut State Archives, and Illinois State Archives. I am deeply grateful to all.
While acknowledging Henry's debt to the older writers identified by Don Foster's patient
research, one has to stand in amazement at the font of originality from which Henry drank. It
flows out from between the rocks of trust in religion, empathy for humanity and reverence for
nature. These rocks are sunk deep into the soil of Locust Grove, and into the soul of Henry.
Enriched by the medium in which it originates, the water bubbles and sparkles into a cascade that
has never been constrained by the puny laws of nature to fall straight down. Instead, Henry's
waterfall tumbles sideways into the shape of a Shawnee warrior sharing a prehistoric forest with
the dinosaurs, or shoots upward to hear the wise thoughts of a respected elder statesman tree.
I use these analogies because that kick in Henry's gait is so very familiar to me. From
earliest years I can remember the desperate yearning to be the uppermost spout in the dancing
waters of Chicago's Buckingham Fountain. To slip sideways, when all the others march straight
ahead. There is a wonderful thing that happens when you look deep enough into someone you
admire, and find those delightful eccentricities that humanize them and make them approachable.
Whether or not you share their blood, you can almost always find some trait of theirs that you
share, and which lets you cry out, "Yes! I'm like that. And if I am, maybe I, too, am smart or
brave or simply blessed." And maybe your back gets a little straighter, and your head raises up a
little higher. And maybe you will be.
If we could bring Henry forward through time to this new millennium, I think he would
be very comfortable with so much of what we've made of this country for which he worked and
fought. He would applaud the respect demanded and given for all members of our society.
Though he would probably mourn how long it took to get it. The footprints on the moon would
thrill his soul, but he'd be pressing NASA to sink them into the dust of other worlds as well.
Henry would have loved the Internet. If he were alive today, he'd be rump deep in
newsgroups and message boards, the modern equivalent of the Committees of Correspondence.
Instead of reading his New York Sentinel, he'd be surfing from one newspaper site to another, no
longer having to wait for someone else to satisfy his curiosity. His mailbox would be flooded
with email from family and friends, and every one of his descendants would be inundated with
reminders of how very much they were loved.
Could he still be a farmer in New York state today? Most likely. Between his Dutch
practicality and his incessant curiosity, he'd quickly learn the modern ways of working the land
efficiently. Because he'd still have to be on the land. He'd still need to walk through his fields,
and watch them pass through nature's seasons. He'd still use the earth to tie himself to God.
Trying to understand an historical figure by putting them into different contexts makes
you distill down the essence of a character. It's an exercise, much like examining artwork
through half-closed eyes, or by turning it upside down, tricks I was taught by my mother. The
more directions from which we examine a subject -- the more we think "out of the box" -- the
more chance we have of coming up with a new and original understanding. Of speaking with the
seasoned wisdom of a pine tree.
I started researching my father's family because that was the only window I had through
which to see my father. But this quest for Henry has had the wondrous side effect of blowing a
large hole through to another long dead army Major and poet. Thanks to my husband, and to
research techniques learned from Don to find Henry's poetry, I now have several months of a
poetry column of my father's in the University of Chicago Maroon, a column in which he courted
my seventeen year old mother poetry, and in which she replied in kind. I watched father's
attempts to catch mother's interest and, the very next week, I shared their moonlit walk beneath
the same cathedral spire where I, myself, would walk some thirty years later. And then I watched
mother leave father, much as she would again one day, and I watched his first anguish, the
precursor of so much later pain. His poems were alternately funny and sad, and some of them
broke my heart but, for the first time, I understood.
And in the group of contributors to father's column I saw the precursor to those storied
Greenwich Village parties and, again, I wished I could explain to mother what I saw. Father used
his own energy to create an environment in which people felt clever and witty and literate. And
when the army transferred him away from Chicago to New York, I watched the remains of the
Chicago group suspend in midair without his support and then, gradually, fall to earth. And I
recognized so well the way father had used his own energy to hold up the group, because I've
used that same transferring of energy myself when I needed to get things done.
Finally I know without question that I am my father's daughter as much as I am my
mother's, and I know these things because of Henry, and Don, and my husband Paul. I went
looking for my father, and they brought him to me. I'll never be able to thank them enough.
Outcast men of the world are we,|
Sunk in the depths of iniquity;
Detested by all and loved by none.
A blot on the face of the kindly sun.
Men of training and breeding and birth,
Who knew full well what the game was worth.
Who played their hands, and lost, and then,
Lost themselves from the world of men.
We hid ourselves in the Island world
Where the flashing coils of the "Snake" are curled.
We sought the depths to hide our shame,
The "thing" we had made of an honored name.
We swam the Bay in the early dawn
But the Shark came not, and we lived on.
We sought the end in the bolo's steel
But hearts wounds live, while flesh wounds heal.
We went unarmed to the Moro's "jil"
But they called us "mad" and they would not kill.
And the Padre came with his tale of Grace
But we knew better, and laughed in his face.
We twined our hearts in a woman's hair
Then tried to forget in the din and glare
Of a "tienda down on the opal bay
Where many men come and some men stay.
We lost ourselves in the Army then,
Our identity merely "Enlisted Men"
But at dusk, when shadows start to crawl
In their weird, wild dance on the barracks wall;
A ghastly pageant that comes to stir
Our memory again to what we were.
We bow our heads and stifle a cry
For we don't know how, and we'll never know why.(6)
Nov 7, 1928