Tag Archives: Clement Clarke Moore

The New York Christmas tradition in an uptown cemetery

Clement Clarke Moore, the lord of Chelsea (the manor for which the neighborhood is named), lived a long and distinguished life as an educator and land developer, dying in 1863 at his home in Newport, Rhode Island.  He was originally buried in the churchyard of St. Luke-in-the-Field (pictured below) in the area of today’s West Village . In 1891 the cemetery was redeveloped  and the remains were transferred to Trinity Church’s graveyard in Washington Heights.

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What does all this have to do with Christmas you ask?

Moore was a revered scholar, former president of Columbia College (later Columbia University) and the developer of the General Theological Seminary on his old Chelsea property. But most everybody knows him better as the author of “A Visit from St. Nicholas” or “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” a verse of holiday anticipation penned for his children.

For well over one hundred years an unusual ceremony has taken place at Church of the Intercession, the house of worship which sits upon  the grounds of Trinity Church Cemetery.

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Church of the Intercession

 

The tradition was apparently initiated by a vicar at the chapel named Milo Hudson Gates. He “instituted the Christmas Eve service in which many hundreds of children went in procession to decorate the graves of Clement Clarke Moore, author of ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas’, and Alfred Tennyson Dickens, son of Charles Dickens, author of ‘A Christmas Carol’.”

Hundreds of children, carrying lanterns and torches in the old days, gathered around Moore’s gravestone and sang Christmas songs.  “Carols were sung and wreaths placed on the grave,” according to a 1919 report. The famous poem by Moore was then recited.  (I’m not sure they still do the march to Dickens’ resting place.)

“His name was Clement C. Moore. His body sleeps beneath the Christmas trees that grow in Trinity Cemetery.” [December 23, 1918]

Below: Children surrounding the grave of Moore’s, sometime in the 1920s or 1930s (according the church website).

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This tradition has survived into modern day with some interesting variations. Frequently a person dressed as Saint Nicholas (the saint, not the Santa) leads the procession. In recent decades, a person of some renown reads the poem such as in 2003 when basketball great Isiah Thomas brought Moore’s words to life.

And the tradition returns this year!  This Sunday, December 20, the Church of the Intercession begins with prelude music at 3pm and the official program at 4pm.  This year’s reading will be by William C. Rhoden, sports columnist for the New York Times.

Visit Intercession’s website for more information. The church and cemetery are located at Broadway and West 155th Street.

If you’re heading up there, why not get there an hour early or so and visit the Hispanic Society‘s amazing collection of Spanish artwork, just across the street at Audubon Terrace?

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‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, 190 years ago, that an iconic poem was written in Chelsea

On Christmas Eve, one hundred and ninety years ago today, wealthy landowner and august Columbia professor Clement Clarke Moore completed a seasonal poem to read to his children. He penned the whimsical little tale — a throwaway, really, in comparison to his great and respected writings in Greek and biblical literature — from a desk at his comfortable, snow-covered mansion which the family called Chelsea.

The home sat atop an old hill (at around today’s modern addresses of 422-424 West 23rd Street) overlooking Moore’s estate which stretched south from here. His estate, of course, gives modern Chelsea its name. At right, the Chelsea estate on a cold winter’s night.

Moore was allegedly inspired that afternoon during an outing to Washington Market to purchase a Christmas turkey. The market (pictured below in 1829) would have another holiday claim to fame: it was the site of America’s first outdoor Christmas tree market.

The poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas” and often referred to as “‘Twas The Night Before Christmas,” would eventually help define Santa Claus mythology. It’s perhaps the most important source in shaping the physical appearance and ritual behavior of the North Pole gift-giver and would provide inspiration to New York illustrators like Thomas Nast and, in the 20th century, the Coca-Cola advertising of Haddon Sunblom.  Moore is even credited with naming the eight reindeer.

But the poem was only originally intended for Moore’s children. I’m not certain how many were around to hear it in 1822, but Moore and his wife Catherine Elizabeth Taylor would eventually have nine of them. One daughter, Mary Ogden, would later produce the first of dozens of illustrated versions of the poem.

At left: An illustration of Moore and his family from an edition published in 1896 (source)

The poem was published anonymously the following year, and Moore would only take credit — at his children’s insistence — in 1844.

Given Moore’s original hesitation, some scholars have suggested that another New Yorker, Henry Livingston Jr., may have penned it.  Until that is definitely proven, you are allowed to always think of the neighborhood of Chelsea — just two blocks west of the Chelsea Hotel — every time you hear it.

So jump in your ‘kerchief, open your shutters and throw up your sashes, and give this little holiday poem a ripe rendition this year. You can find the full text here. But to quote the final section:

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!”

For more information on Moore and the Chelsea neighborhood, check out our podcast on the Chelsea Hotel.

Pictures courtesy NYPL

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, 190 years ago, that an iconic poem was written in Chelsea

On Christmas Eve, one hundred and ninety years ago today, wealthy landowner and august Columbia professor Clement Clarke Moore completed a seasonal poem to read to his children. He penned the whimsical little tale — a throwaway, really, in comparison to his great and respected writings in Greek and biblical literature — from a desk at his comfortable, snow-covered mansion which the family called Chelsea.

The home sat atop an old hill (at around today’s modern addresses of 422-424 West 23rd Street) overlooking Moore’s estate which stretched south from here. His estate, of course, gives modern Chelsea its name. At right, the Chelsea estate on a cold winter’s night.

Moore was allegedly inspired that afternoon during an outing to Washington Market to purchase a Christmas turkey. The market (pictured below in 1829) would have another holiday claim to fame: it was the site of America’s first outdoor Christmas tree market.

The poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas” and often referred to as “‘Twas The Night Before Christmas,” would eventually help define Santa Claus mythology. It’s perhaps the most important source in shaping the physical appearance and ritual behavior of the North Pole gift-giver and would provide inspiration to New York illustrators like Thomas Nast and, in the 20th century, the Coca-Cola advertising of Haddon Sunblom.  Moore is even credited with naming the eight reindeer.

But the poem was only originally intended for Moore’s children. I’m not certain how many were around to hear it in 1822, but Moore and his wife Catherine Elizabeth Taylor would eventually have nine of them. One daughter, Mary Ogden, would later produce the first of dozens of illustrated versions of the poem.

At left: An illustration of Moore and his family from an edition published in 1896 (source)

The poem was published anonymously the following year, and Moore would only take credit — at his children’s insistence — in 1844.

Given Moore’s original hesitation, some scholars have suggested that another New Yorker, Henry Livingston Jr., may have penned it.  Until that is definitely proven, you are allowed to always think of the neighborhood of Chelsea — just two blocks west of the Chelsea Hotel — every time you hear it.

So jump in your ‘kerchief, open your shutters and throw up your sashes, and give this little holiday poem a ripe rendition this year. You can find the full text here. But to quote the final section:

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!”

For more information on Moore and the Chelsea neighborhood, check out our podcast on the Chelsea Hotel.

Pictures courtesy NYPL