Book review: ‘Hearts in Play’

Longtime Las Vegas Review-Journal co-worker Dan Behringer, under the pseudonym Dann Darwin, has penned a fascinating novel delving deeply into the psyches, hopes and dreams of a polyamorous trio living in suburban northwest Las Vegas. In fact, one might say Las Vegas is one of the book’s characters.

“Hearts in Play” lives up to the title. Those hearts belong to Billy, an online television journalist with a short-fused temper and a penchant for sports betting, Tamara, a dental hygienist with considerable cooking skills and doubts about the “normalcy” of her relationships, and Juliette, a cocktail waitress at a Strip casino with evolving emotional needs and a stalker of an ex-boyfriend.

Behringer’s genre-defying tale expertly leads the reader through the evolution of affections and lifestyle choices of his main characters, while taking them to familiar scenes for Las Vegans. There are side trips to Lee Canyon near Mount Charleston and scenic Sedona, Ariz. There are visits to a popular off-Strip Italian restaurant, replete with drink and entree choices right off the actual menu. In several scenes the distinctive sounds one hears upon entering a casino any time of day or night are replicated: “Thumpa-thumpa-thumpa, ring-ring-RIIING, whoo-whoo-WHOO.”

The longtime journalist-turned fiction author gives a realistically jaundiced view of online news reporting and its tendency to chase page views for advertisers rather than serve the curious reader seeking news they can use: “Too much crapola, too much foolishly chasing page views, too much pandering.”

Though there are more than a few sex scenes to authenticate the physical aspect of the three partners’ occupancy of an Alaskan king-sized bed — yes, there is such a thing — in Billy’s sprawling, two-story home he was able to purchase years earlier with a sizable jackpot prize, those scenes are neither too graphic, nor too protracted. Relatively tasteful.

The house is also big enough for some well-populated New Year’s Eve parties to carry the plot along.

Late in the novel Behringer uses Juliette’s proclivity to dabble in poetry to illustrate the book’s theme:

As life evolves, we seek better days,
And hope things change and so do our ways,
In our time, many will come and go,
We often wonder who will really show …

We look to tomorrow, hope it to be perfect and true,
And long for that day that is due.
To the future we turn, for richer and deeper lives.

The poetess contemplates the possibility of publishing her work and jokes to herself about using the pen name J. Doggerel.

“Hearts in Play” leaves one contemplating one’s own life and choices, hopefully finding the right choices were made, as apparently happens with the book’s protagonists. Hopefully, I’m not giving away the rather pleasant and perhaps surprising ending.

Behringer’s book was published in 2021, three years after he retired from the Las Vegas newspaper after 25 years there to the day, he says.

A Memorial Day reflection

“At a time in their lives when their days and nights should have been filled with innocent adventure, love, and the lessons of the workaday world, they were fighting in the most primitive conditions possible across the bloodied landscape of France, Belgium, Italy, Austria, and the coral islands of the Pacific. They answered the call to save the world from the two most powerful and ruthless military machines ever assembled, instruments of conquest in the hands of fascist maniacs. They faced great odds and a late start, but they did not protest. They succeeded on every front. They won the war; they saved the world.”    — Tom Brokaw in “The Greatest Generation

H.A. Mitchell

My father joined the Army when he was 16. He lied about his age.

He knew what was coming and was there when it came. He was in Pearl City that Sunday morning in 1941 when World War II began.

He spent the rest of the war hopping from island to island with his artillery unit. He said he chose artillery because he wanted to make a lot of noise.

I know he was in the Philippines about the time the survivors of the Death March of Bataan were rescued. The rest are a blur in my memory, though I recall him telling about how they censored letters home lest they fall into enemy hands and give away troop locations — you couldn’t write that the food was “good enough,” because the ship was at Goodenough Island.

He was a decorated hero, but said he refused to wear the Purple Heart so he wouldn’t have to explain exactly where the wound was located.

When he and his war buddies got to together they seldom talked about the fighting, only the antics, like climbing on the hood of a truck and stealing eggs out of the back of another truck as it slowly climbed a steep hill.

But one of his friends once let slip that Dad, a bulldozer operator, actually did that scene from a John Wayne movie in which the bulldozer operator raised the blade to deflect bullets while rescuing pinned down soldiers.

To hear him and his friends talk, it seemed like they spilled more beer than blood, but somehow still managed to win the war and save the world.

(Reprinted from a previous post.)

Effective use of names in writing can take you to some interesting places

Writers are always thinking about writing. It is in the veins and the medulla oblongata.

You think about tone, pace, style, voice, context, persuasiveness, rhyme, reason, and how to tickle the fancy of the reader.

On a long plane ride I bumped up against a chapter in Roy Peter Clark’s new book, “Writing Tools, 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer.” The chapter on names. On the beauty of names and how we associate with them.

Everything has a name. Everyone has a name. All God’s chilluns got names.

In fact Clark quotes from the Bible, “When the Lord God formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and the birds of the air, he brought them to the man to see what he would call them, for that which man called each of them, that would its name.”

(That was right before he took the rib and created the real protagonist of it all.)

You can take names and list them alphabetically, by age, by height, weight or fame, ascending or descending order.

You can make a game of names, or even a song, like Shirley Ellis’ dreadful bonana fanna nonsense. Please, don’t.

Or you can string out names in a lyrical pattern with internal rhymes stretching across this here land from a dusty Winnemucca Road to Dodge City, and it’s no pity.

That’s what Johnny Cash did with his hit “I’ve Been Everywhere.”

Pittsburgh, Parkersburg, Gravelbourg, Colorado,
Ellisburg, Rexburg, Vicksburg, Eldorado,
Larimore, Admore, Haverstraw, Chatanika,
Chaska, Nebraska, Alaska, Opelika,
Baraboo, Waterloo, Kalamazoo, Kansas City,
Sioux City, Cedar City, Dodge City, what a pity.

The first version of the song was written in Australia with place names there. U.S. and New Zealand versions were also penned. Cash put the song on the map.

Writers should study this kind of use of names to better appreciate the craft, or as Clark writes, “What’s in a name? For the attentive writer, and the eager reader, the answer can be fun, insight, charm, aura, character, identity, psychosis, fulfillment, inheritance, decorum, indiscretion, and possession. For in some cultures, if I know your name and can speak, I own your soul.”

OK, that’s not my culture, but I can appreciate the nimble use of names.

Appreciate, if not master. I tried my hand at a Nevada plagiarism of Cash’s lyrics once:

Of travel I’ve had my share, man,
I’ve been everywhere, man.
I’ve been to Reno, Elko, Denio,
Alamo, Tuscarora, Silver Peak,
Silver Springs, Spring Creek, Sin City,
Virginia City, Carson City, what a pity.”

Since everybody knows the versions of the song sung by Cash, Hank Snow, Willie Nelson, Lynn Anderson and Asleep at the Wheel, I thought I’d go home for a bit and introduce you to a version from Texas singer Brian Burns. It just popped up on my iTunes shuffle: (A version of this blog was first posted in 2008.)

Book review: ‘Family Money’ is a tightly woven tale of lies, reluctant heroics and satisfying plot twists

On the opening page of Austin, Texas, resident Chad Zunker’s 2022 novel “Family Money,” protagonist Alex Mahan’s beloved father-in-law, Joe Dobson, is abducted off the streets of a village near Matamoros, Mexico. In trying to find his father-in-law, Alex begins to unravel the dark and deadly secrets the father of his dear wife, grandfather of his darling daughters and husband of his cherished mother-in-law has been hiding from them all for more than three decades.

As with other Zunker novels the setting is in Austin, but the quest for the truth and for his father-in-law takes Alex across country unraveling secrets and encountering violent confrontations, all the while lying to the wife he swore he would never lie to.

Where did the millions — family money — his retired lawyer father-in-law Joe invested in Alex’s fledgling computer consulting business really come from? And is Joe alive or are those ashes recovered from the abduction vehicle really his?

Zunker doesn’t use a lot a red herrings, as so many mystery writers do, but rather painstakingly lets each revelation add piece by piece until Alex discovers the truth.

It is a satisfying read as a well-woven mystery, but also delves into emotional conflicts and misgivings of the main characters — often displaying these in pages-long italicized flashbacks.

I highly recommend “Family Money.”

Florida man convicted for trying to convince Hillary backers to vote on the Internet instead of at the polls in 2016

New York state federal prosecutors convinced a jury on Friday to convict West Palm Beach, Fla., online prankster Douglass Mackey, known online as “Ricky Vaughn,” of Conspiracy Against Rights for posting online: “Avoid the Line. Vote from Home,” “Text ‘Hillary’ to 59925,” and “Vote for Hillary and be a part of history.”

Might it be reasonably argued that anyone stupid enough to fall for this prank just might be too stupid to vote?

“Mackey has been found guilty by a jury of his peers of attempting to deprive individuals from exercising their sacred right to vote for the candidate of their choice in the 2016 Presidential Election,” stated United States Attorney Breon Peace, apparently with a straight face. “Today’s verdict proves that the defendant’s fraudulent actions crossed a line into criminality and flatly rejects his cynical attempt to use the constitutional right of free speech as a shield for his scheme to subvert the ballot box and suppress the vote.”

I wonder what they would have thought of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s re-election television commercial that depicted a young girl with a daisy being obliterated by an atom bomb, suggesting Barry Goldwater would lead the country into nuclear war.

The prosecutors press release stated: “As proven at trial, between September 2016 and November 2016, Mackey conspired with other influential Twitter users and with members of private online groups to use social media platforms, including Twitter, to disseminate fraudulent messages that encouraged supporters of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to ‘vote’ via text message or social media which, in reality, was legally invalid.”

Fox News host Tucker Carlson pointed out that the prosecution failed to put on the witness stand a single Hillary Clinton supporter who fell for the prank and failed to vote.

“After a Manhattan grand jury indicted Joe Biden’s rival in the next presidential race, another jury, also in New York, convicted a Republican social media influencer named Douglass Mackey. What did Mackey do wrong? Well Douglass Mackey’s crime was mocking Hillary Clinton voters online,” Carlson said. “You’re seeing on your screen the meme that Mackey posted on Twitter during the 2016 election. In that meme, Mackey suggests it’s possible to vote for president by text message because only Hillary voters could believe something so absurd. But of course in real life, no one believed that, Mackey’s insult did not alter a single vote in the election. No one has proved otherwise. The government brought forth not a single victim of this crime. It couldn’t.”

Free speech includes the right to ridicule, doesn’t it?

Carlson also noted: “As it turns out, a woman called Kristina Wong posted almost an identical meme that year in the 2016 election but unlike Doug Mackey, Wong voted for Hillary Clinton. … ‘Hey Trump supporters,’ she wrote, ‘skip poll lines and text in your vote.’ Same crime, but the Department of Justice under Joe Biden has shown no interest in prosecuting Kristina Wong. Do you see how this works?”

Meanwhile, Mackey faces up to 10 years in prison.

Douglass Mackey

Let the public see what their public servants are up to

This is Sunshine Week, March 12-18. The annual observation was created by the American Society of News (formerly Newspaper) Editors to spotlight the importance of public access to government information in a democratic republic, allowing citizens to be the watchdogs over their elected and appointed representatives.

The sunshine label was derived from a quote by Justice Louis Brandeis, “Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.”

The point is that for the public to be able to perform its democratic role in voting into or out of office the most suitable personages, they must be kept informed as to how well or ill the current office holders and their minions are doing their jobs.

Which brings us to the ongoing tension between the right to know and the right to privacy.

Back in 2918 a district court judge ruled in favor of a request from The Associated Press and the Las Vegas Review-Journal to obtain copies of the autopsies of the 58 victims of the Oct. 1 Route 91 country music show shooting. The judge did require that the names of the victims be redacted.

A few weeks later another judge, at the behest of the widow of off-duty police officer Charleston Hartfield who was killed at the concert, ruled that his autopsy report was private and demanded the news outlets return it. How they were to determine which one was his was unclear.

A three-justice panel of the Nevada Supreme Court quickly stepped in and basically ruled that once the cat’s out of the bag it can’t be put back. It left unsettled the question of whether autopsy reports are public records under the law in the first place.

The court opinion, penned by Justice Kris Pickering, relied on a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a 1989 case involving a Florida newspaper called the Florida Star. The paper published the name of a rape victim, even though Florida law makes it “unlawful to ‘print, publish, or broadcast … in any instrument of mass communication’ the name of the victim of a sexual offense …”

That court ruling said the Star’s intern reporter lawfully copied the information from records made available by the local sheriff’s office and the paper could not be punished because the sheriff’s office failed to follow its own policy of redacting the names of rape victims.

Pickering wrote, “For purposes of our analysis we assume, without deciding, that the Hartfield Parties had a protectable privacy interest in preventing disclosure of Mr. Hartfield’s redacted autopsy report.” The key phrase is “without deciding.”

The question remains: Are records prepared by a public official using public funds to determine a public safety matter covered by the state’s strong public records law that states records are available to the public “unless otherwise declared by law to be confidential …”?

Back in 1982 then-Attorney General Richard Bryan issued a non-binding opinion that they are not, writing, “An autopsy protocol is a public record, but is not open to public inspection upon demand, because disclosure would be contrary to a strong public policy …”

That public policy was described as the expectation that “the secrets of a person’s body are a very private and confidential matter upon which any intrusion in the interest of public health or adjudication is narrowly circumscribed.”

But does that privacy expectation carry over beyond death and supersede the public’s right to observe how well their public servants are serving them?

The closest the state Constitution comes to addressing this question is when it states that victims of crimes are to be “treated with fairness and respect for his or her privacy and dignity” and defines a victim of a crime as including a deceased person’s family members.

All the Nevada high court panel did was say the media obtained the records legally and prior restraint would be unconstitutional. It did not say whether in the future the coroner could refuse to release autopsies.

But in 2020 the state high court ruled autopsies are public records, but the Clark County Coroner could withhold some “sensitive, private information.”

In most cases, the public should have a right to know. Let the sun shine in.

A version of this column appeared in 2018 in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

From the editorial page of today’s Elko Daily Free Press

‘Lessons in Chemistry’ distills a unique plot and powerful characters

Make no mistake, “Lessons in Chemistry” is not a chick book. Yes, California-born Bonnie Garmus is the author and her main character is female, but the tale is hardly one of frills and lace. No, protagonist Elizabeth Zott is a downright 1950s and 1960s iconoclast, defying roles an unenlightened society keeps trying to shunt her into.

Zott is a brilliant scientist in a male-dominated scientific community, but never shirks. Garmus pulls together the intricate pieces of her plot like a chemist blending a volatile concoction.

The book begins and ends with Zott working on something called abiogenesis, attempting to discover just how lifeless chemicals became living organisms. In between, she fights for her job, falls in love, bears a child out of wedlock, adopts a stray dog, stars in a nationally syndicated television cooking show in which she doesn’t add pinches of salt but rather sodium chloride.

The author even has the dog narrate a couple of sections in the book.

Here is an example of Garmus’ dialogue that shows Zott’s spunk:

“You’re firing me?” Elizabeth said, confused.

“I’d like to get through this as civilly as possible.”

“Why am I being fired? On what grounds?”

“I think you know.”

Enlighten me,” she said, leaning forward, her hands clasped together in a tight mass, her number-two pencil behind her left ear glinting in the light. She wasn’t sure from where her composure came, but she knew she must keep it.

He glanced at Miss Frask, who was busy taking notes.

“You’re with child,” Donatti said. “Don’t try and deny it.”

“Yes, I’m pregnant. That is correct.”

“That is correct?” he choked. “That is correct?”

“Again. Correct. I am pregnant. What does that have to do with my work?”


“I’m not contagious,” she said, unfolding her hands. “I do not have cholera. No one will catch having a baby from me.”

“You have a lot of nerve,” Donatti said. “You know very well women do not continue to work when pregnant. But you — you’re not only with child, you’re unwed. It’s disgraceful.”

From there she lands the cooking show Supper at Six, replete with Bunsen burners, beakers, oscilloscope, goggles and eye wash station and learns some astounding things about her late boyfriend.

It is a satisfying read that might leave you feeling like you should go out and break a few pointless rules.

Judge thumbs her nose at the clear language of the Nevada Constitution

Here we go again.

A Clark County judge has ruled that government employees may also serve in the state Legislature, even though the Nevada Constitution clearly states in the Separation of Powers Clause: “The powers of the Government of the State of Nevada shall be divided into three separate departments,—the Legislative,—the Executive and the Judicial; and no persons charged with the exercise of powers properly belonging to one of these departments shall exercise any functions, appertaining to either of the others, except in the cases expressly directed or permitted in this constitution.”

The morning paper notes, “The ruling also points out that the Nevada Legislature has the power to block this kind of employment situation but has declined to do so.” Perhaps, that is because the Constitution has already prohibited it.

The judge made a distinction between a mere public employee and one who exercises executive power, though the Constitution clearly states “any functions.” She also found a difference between state government workers and local government workers, even though Nevada is a Dillon Rule state, meaning the state limits the power of local governments to those expressly granted by the Legislature. Local governments are basically subsidiaries of the state. Employees of local governments essentially are serving in the executive branch of state government, and should be barred from serving as a lawmaker under the Constitution.

The Nevada Policy Research Institute, the conservative think tank that filed the lawsuit seeking to enforce the Separation of Powers Clause, plans to take the case to the Nevada Supreme Court, which dithered on this topic in the past.

In a 1967 case, the Nevada Supreme Court flatly stated, “The division of powers is probably the most important single principle of government declaring and guaranteeing the liberties of the people.”

That opinion quotes liberally from a series of articles by Arthur Vanderbilt, former chief justice of the Supreme Court of New Jersey:

“Individual freedom and the progress of civilization are attainable, but only if each of the three branches of government conforms to the constitutional principles of the separation of powers. This they will do only if the people so will. The problem in the first instance thus becomes one of popular education in the fundamental principles of free government. Among these principles there is none more significant today than the doctrine of the separation of powers.”

It also quotes Montesquieu:

“Were the power of judging joined with the legislative, the life and liberty of the subject would be exposed to arbitrary control, for the judge would be the legislator: Were it joined to the executive power the judge might behave with all the violence of an oppressor.”

The court further quotes the Latin maxim “expressio unius est exclusio alterius,” which means the expression of one thing is the exclusion of another, and noted that it had ruled in an earlier case:

“It is true that the constitution does not expressly inhibit the power which the legislature has assumed to exercise, but an express inhibition is not necessary. The affirmation of a distinct policy upon any specific point in a state constitution implies the negation of any power in the legislature to establish a different policy. `Every positive direction contains an implication against anything contrary to it which would frustrate or disappoint the purpose of that provision. The frame of the government, the grant of legislative power itself, the organization of the executive authority, the erection of the principal courts of justice, create implied limitations upon the law-making authority as strong as though a negative was expressed in each instance.’”

In 2004 then-Secretary of State Dean Heller asked the Supreme Court to remedy the ongoing skirting of the Constitution. Heller asked the court to find that service in the Legislature by unidentified executive branch employees violates the concept of separation of powers and to direct the Legislature to enforce the Separation of Powers Clause.

But the court ruled that doing so would violate — wait for it — the Separation of Powers Clause, because the Constitution also states that the Senate and Assembly are to determine the qualifications of their members, thus the judicial branch telling the legislative branch who its members may be violates the Separation of Powers Clause. Got it?

The court did allow that “declaratory relief could be sought by someone with a ‘legally protectible interest,’ such as a person seeking the executive branch position held by the legislator.”

Since then, the NPRI has filed lawsuits on behalf of people seeking the executive branch jobs of lawmakers, but to no avail.

The Nevada Separation of Powers Clause has been flouted for decades, as an assortment of bureaucrats have successfully won seats in the Legislature, including local prosecutors who enforce the laws they write.

The principle was embodied in the founding documents of this country.

James Madison wrote in Federalist Paper No. 47, “The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.”

Thomas Jefferson wrote in “Notes on the State of Virginia” in 1784: “All the powers of government, legislative, executive, and judiciary, result to the legislative body. The concentrating these in the same hands is precisely the definition of despotic government. … An elective despotism was not the government we fought for; but one which should not only be founded on free principles, but in which the powers of government should be so divided and balanced among several bodies of magistracy, as that no one could transcend their legal limits, without being effectually checked and restrained by the others.”

Let’s hope the state Supreme Court this time comes down on the side of the clear language of the Constitution and principles it embraces. To find otherwise is a farce and a canard.

Lest we forget during this holiday season what the stakes were one Christmas that changed history

“THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated. Britain, with an army to enforce her tyranny, has declared that she has a right (not only to TAX) but “to BIND us in ALL CASES WHATSOEVER” and if being bound in that manner, is not slavery, then is there not such a thing as slavery upon earth. Even the expression is impious; for so unlimited a power can belong only to God.”

— The Crisis by Thomas Paine, Dec. 23, 1776

George Washington and his tiny band of remaining soldiers did not shrink nor shirk. On Christmas, it was Victory or Death. (OK, it is a Newt Gingrich turn out the vote commercial from 2011, but the message still.)

How many today are giving up on the concept of liberty and letting the forces of overweening socialism change this nation forever into something the Founders did not intend, but rather feared and warned repeatedly against.

The stakes were life or death in 1776.

Today it is taxation without representation, again, as Congress critters head home after voting for a $1.65 trillion budget that will add still more red to the deficit that our grandchildren will inherit.

Paine concluded:

“Once more we are again collected and collecting; our new army at both ends of the continent is recruiting fast, and we shall be able to open the next campaign with sixty thousand men, well armed and clothed. This is our situation, and who will may know it. By perseverance and fortitude we have the prospect of a glorious issue; by cowardice and submission, the sad choice of a variety of evils — a ravaged country — a depopulated city — habitations without safety, and slavery without hope — our homes turned into barracks and bawdy-houses for Hessians, and a future race to provide for, whose fathers we shall doubt of. Look on this picture and weep over it! and if there yet remains one thoughtless wretch who believes it not, let him suffer it unlamented.”

Lest we forget.

A version was first posted in 2012.

Washington crossing the Delaware.

Christmas traditions: Santa, gifts, newspapers

Yes, ’tis the uniquely American season for mistletoe and holly, tinsel and toys, Santas and sleighs, carols and crèches, good cheer and anachronistic poetic contractions.

‘Twas a time when Christmas in America was a less hectic season. Why, the Puritans even banned its celebration. But the Dutch brought their bearded Sancte Claus or Sinterclaas to New Amersterdam, where the children would find candies and nuts and trifling trinkets in their shoes or stockings. The Germans brought a similar tradition with their Pelze-Nicol.

As the Colonies gained their independence and the people adopted a new Constitution and formed their own customs apart from those of Europe, few newspapers of the day took any notice of the holiday, which was more a churchly matter than one of public interest.

Occasionally, a merchant would advertise in the local newspaper, offering items for the season.

Then clergyman Clement Clarke Moore penned some whimsical doggerel for his children. A family member copied it and gave it to the Troy Sentinel newspaper, which published it on Dec. 23, 1823, under the title “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” ‘Twas the start of the plump, elfish gentleman clamoring on rooftops with his sleigh and eight tiny reindeer, slipping down chimneys with a sack full of toys, dressed in fur, the stump of a pipe protruding from a beard white as snow as he wordlessly filled stockings.

Nast’s Santa

The printing of the poem became an annual tradition in a number of newspapers — under the title “The Night Before Christmas” — continuing to this very day. It popularized the exchange of gifts on Christmas Day and retailers latched onto the idea and soon filled the newspapers with advertising for their holiday goods and gifts.

The man who put rouge on Santa’s cheeks and turned his furry suit to crimson was newspaper editorial cartoonist and illustrator Thomas Nast, who first drafted Moore’s character into the Union Army in his Harper’s Weekly drawing that depicted Santa in stars and stripes, handing out gifts to soldiers.

He continued to draw Santa for various newspapers and books for years to come.

As the holiday customs took shape it did not take long for some to bemoan how the religious nature of the day was being nudged out by the commercialism.

‘Twas Harriet Beecher Stowe among the first, writing in “The First Christmas in New England”: “And this holy time, so hallowed and so gracious, was settling down over the great roaring, rattling, seething life-world of New York in the good year 1875. Who does not feel its on-coming in the shops and streets, in the festive air of trade and business, in the thousand garnitures by which every store hangs out triumphal banners and solicits you to buy something for a Christmas gift? For it is the peculiarity of all this array of prints, confectionery, dry goods, and manufactures of all kinds, that their bravery and splendor at Christmas tide is all to seduce you into generosity.”

Review-Journal cartoonist and amateur historian of all things illustrated Jim Day reminds that the iconic image of Santa Claus that we see everywhere today was created in 1931 by Haddon Sundblom for Coca-Cola’s holiday print ads. The images of the jolly gentleman with Coke bottle in hand appeared through 1964.

And no nostalgic musing on this holiday season and the role of newspapers could omit the editorial response to an 8-year-old’s query that appeared in New York’s The Sun in 1897.

‘Twas Virginia O’Hanlon who asked: “Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?”

To which editorial writer Francis Church replied: “Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS.”

This Christmas morn ’twill be a good time to curl up in a cozy chair, watch the children play with their new toys, sip your coffee and read the newspaper … which, unabashedly, made it all happen.

Whatever happened to Virginia?

This first appeared in 2008.