Back to Newspapers
History of The Chicago Tribune, 1922
In December, 1909, The Tribune received a letter from one of its readers, who asked that his letter be printed in The Tribune without disclosing his identity. The original Good Fellow is still anonymous, but his letter initiated a movement which makes many thousands of children of the poor happy each Christmas. The famous Good Fellow letter as it appeared in The Tribune of December 10, 1909, follows:
To the Good Fellows of Chicago:
Last Christmas and New Years’ eve you and I went out for a good time and spent from $10 to $200. Last Christmas morning over 5,000 children awoke to an empty stocking—the bitter pain of disappointment that Santa Claus had forgotten them. Perhaps it wasn’t our fault. We had provided for our own; we had also reflected in a passing way on those less fortunate than our own, but they seemed far off and we didn’t know where to find them. Perhaps in the hundred and one things we had to do some of us didn’t think of that heart sorrow of the child over the empty stocking.
Now, old man, here’s a chance. I have tried it for the last five years and ask you to consider it. Just send your name and address to The Tribune—address Santa Claus—state about how many children you are willing to protect against grief over that empty stocking, inclose a two-cent stamp and you will be furnished with the names, addresses, sex, and age of that many children. It is then up to you, you do the rest. Select your own present, spend 50 cents or $50, and send or take your gifts to those children on Christmas eve. You pay not a cent more than you want to pay—every cent goes just where you want it to go. You gain neither notoriety nor advertising; you deal with no organization; no record will be kept; your letter will be returned to you with its answer. The whole plan is just as anonymous as old Santa Claus himself.
This is not a newspaper scheme. The Tribune was asked to aid in reaching the good fellows by publishing this suggestion and to receive your communication in order that you may be assured of good faith and to preserve the anonymous character of this work. The identity of the writer of this appeal will not be disclosed. He assumes the responsibility of finding the children and sending you their names and guarantees that whatever you bestow will be deserved.
Neither you nor I get anything out of this, except the feeling that you have saved some child from sorrow on Christmas morning. If that is not enough for you then you have wasted time in reading this—it is not intended for you, but for the good fellows of Chicago.
Perhaps a twenty-five cent doll or a ten cent tin toy wouldn’t mean much to the children you know, but to the child who would find them in the otherwise empty stocking they mean much—the difference between utter disappointment and the joy that Santa Claus did not forget them. Here is where you and I get in. The charitable organizations attend to the bread and meat; the clothes; the necessaries; you and the rest of the good fellows furnish the toys, the nuts, the candies; the child’s real Christmas.
The Tribune has investigated the “good fellow” who wrote the above, has looked him in the eye and put its. O.K. on the plan. The cold blooded reporter who saw him said:
“He made me feel, personally, that it would be really worth while in satisfaction to carry a little happiness to some children who otherwise wouldn’t get any on Christmas eve.” “Good Fellow” is not a professional philanthropist, he takes a drink, cusses a bit, and even goes out at night with boys for a mild good time—but he has taken care from fifteen to twenty children a year in Chicago. He said that last Christmas day he wished he had curtailed his holiday joy-making with good fellows of various organizations who work in poverty stricken districts and others who come in contact with those whom we always have with us. Lists of worthy cases will be welcomed form such organizations as the Visiting Nurses Association, the Relief and Aid Society and churches of all denominations. These lists should be verified and certified to by the officers of the organization submitting them and should be arranged by wards and divisions of the city.
This is how you can join the lodge of Good Fellows. Write a letter to “Santa Claus” care of The Tribune, something like this:
I live at No.——————Street. I will be Santa Claus to 6 children.
The letter will go to Santa Claus. He will indorse your letter the names and addresses of six children. That letter will be remailed to you. Then you get busy. That’s all. Come in, good fellows.
Front Page, Chicago Tribune, December 10, 1909
A corps of clerks are kept busy during the six weeks preceding Christmas each year distributing to Chicago Good Fellows the names of poor children whose cases have been checked by Chicago charitable organizations. If any names remain untaken on Christmas Eve, their owners are supplied with toys and Christmas cheer by The Tribune. Newspapers in other cities have taken up the Good Fellow idea until it is quite impossible to estimate the amount of happiness generated as a result of the publication of the above letter in The Tribune.
Chicago Tribune, February 26, 1911
Out of school the public wants its moral instruction and mental discipline sugar coated. Theatrical managers and moving picture producers have learned this through generations of experiment. It is far simpler to impress the audience with the beauties of right living, the joy of giving, the imperativeness of sanitation, and the menace of the fly when the pantomime on the screen is properly diluted with sentiment, humor, and romance.
The Essanay Film Company has prepared a film on the work of the ‘goodfellows at Christmas as semi-educational move and copies of the original film will be distributed over half the civilized world and their import absorbed by millions of men, women, and children who unsuspectingly crowd into the moving picture houses in search of amusement pure and undiluted. If the manager of the Essanay players had shown a series of photographs of the good fellows at work in Chicago with no particular regard for a connected story, nor a plot, nor the occasional introduction of a little humor or stage pathos, the sale of these films would probably have been limited to Chicago and the tired people who had come to be diverted would have groaned and wriggled nervously in their seats hoping all the while that the next film would be a good old wild west scene or one of those absurd chases over broken country.
As the goodfellow’ film now stands, it tells a real story, written as carefully as a play, rehearsed by trained actors, realistically staged, and, after all, just as impressive and real to an audience as the real scenes would have been and twice as diverting.
Film for Christmas Season Only.
In spite of it all, however, the goodfellow movement, a year old in Chicago, will be given an impetus in a thousand different quarters next year through the medium of moving pictures, for the film is completed and it constitutes an almost living record of the work that was carried out by the men of Chicago during the last two seasons. Grouch and his associates are merely the hinges upon which hang a story with a moral so that the public will absorb it and not discard it as vapid didactics.
In Melbourne, Australia, and Cape Town, South Africa, the Essanay interpretation of the goodfellow movement will unroll before audiences just as much interested in Christmas and Christmas giving as they are in Chicago and every corner of the United States will be imbued with the spirit of good fellowship if Grouch and his associates have succeeded in conveying it to the film. A real Chicago baby who actually weeps and wriggles will elicit sympathy from thousands every night while the pictures are on, and old Grouch’s conversion will carry the import of good fellowship to as many impressionable pleasure seekers. Immense, isn’t it?
The Moving Picture World, December 16, 1911
Scheduled for release on Dec. 15th, Essanay’s full-length film, “The Goodfellows’ Christmas Eve,” will come at a most opportune time to move men and women on whom fortune has smiled, to assist in administering to the needs and contributing to the joys of those in poverty and distress. Around Christmastide, more especially, there abound good will and good deeds towards the less favored among the sons of men, and the Essanay film under review will doubtless make an appeal to many thousands of hearts. It will be just three years ago this coming Christmas since a big, warm-hearted Chicagoan started this “Goodfellow” movement. He undertook the gigantic task single-handed, but discovered so many cases of squalid misery throughout the city that he was obsessed by a sense of his impotence. In what might be called his despair, he wrote a series of letters to the Chicago Tribune, still concealing his identity, for it was a vital feature of his plan of relief that no one partaking of his bounty should ever know his name and that the names of all those whom he assisted should be kept secret. The Tribune took up the plan most heartily, and soon scores of “Goodfellows” volunteered to assist in the work. Many noble women, it must be remembered, were included in the ranks and the number has increased yearly, until now there need not be a child in the city without some token that Santa Claus has paid a visit, or a home without a Christmas dinner, and much needed articles of wearing apparel, or money with which to buy medicine, fuel, etc. Other cities have followed the lead of Chicago “Goodfellows,” and it is believed that the Essanay film will be a potent factor in making the movement worldwide. The film has been produced by Essanay’s Eastern company. It shows many pathetic scenes copied from real life, and no attempt has been made to exaggerate conditions. These scenes reveal excellent studio work, the surroundings and characters being typical of each case of destitution. The club scene, in which a grouchy old bachelor turns a deaf ear to the entreaties of his fellow members, all of them “Goodfellows” to join them, shows capital acting. Spirited persistence is shown by the “Goodfellows” and it met with equally obdurate obstinacy by the crusty old man. When a copy of The Tribune is handed him and his attention is drawn to the heading:
“Wanted: Ten Thousand Good Fellows to Bring Cheer to Ten Thousand Cheerless Children,” he throws the paper down in anger and snaps his old jaws shut with the ferocity of a bull dog. Not even then do his companions cease to urge him to join them, but, surely and determined, he waves them away. Dreams of his childhood succeed where his friends had failed. In his big chair he dozes, and has a vision of a Christmas tree of 50 years ago, in the old home, around which father and mother and a little boy flutter happily on Christmas Eve. This is followed by another, showing the same trio on Christmas morning, examining stockings to find what Santa Claus had left them. Awakening, he eagerly seizes the newspaper and reads about the great need for “goodfellows.” Then he calls for his overcoat, hat and cane and hurries out in search of his friends, who are making their Christmas Eve rounds to bring joy and gladness to gloomy homes. He has just joined them when a tiny baby is discovered in a large basket in a doorway. A note is attached to the outside wrappings, in which the mother prays that some Christian soul will give her baby a home. The baby is passed from man to man, each anxious to give it a home, but old Grouch seizes it and carries it home in triumph to his housekeeper. Then he rejoins the “goodfellows.” Next we see them visit a poor sick widow and her children. There is neither medicine nor food in the house. Tell-tale moisture clouds the eyes as one watches these “goodfellows” chasing despair and hunger from this helpless household. And we laugh in merry glee as we note that old man Grouch is the most generous giver of them all! So it is in the remaining scenes, and when all is over and the “goodfellows” return to the club to drink a Christmas morning toast, we are not surprised to hear, “Here’s to the death of old man Grouch, and here’s hail to the birth of a jolly ‘goodfellow!” The photography throughout is of such quality that it will contribute greatly to the pleasure of viewing the film.
LAST Christmas time in Chicago a widespread movement, originating in the minds of two clubmen, and given the hearty endorsement and publicity of the press, was the means of making happy thousands of the city’s poor and needy—not through organized charitable societies, but through the individual efforts of the good fellows of Chicago. It was thus that Chicago’s Christmas charity movement originated with its plea for personal charity on the part of individuals.
So successful were the “Goodfellows” in Chicago that many other large cities, backed by the newspapers, will boom the Goodfellow sand their goodfelloship and make the movement nation wide.
The Essanay Film Manufacturing Company of Chicago recently produced a special feature subject, to be released a few weeks before the next holidays, showing the work of the goodfellows, told in an excellent dramatic story. The title of the photoplay is “A Goodfellow’s Christmas Eve,” and it shows how the Christmas spirit brought about an awakening in the heart of one self-centered man.
Grouch, so the story goes, is the member of a fashionable men’s club, a very goodfellow with his closest friends but very bitter in his hatred of all things sentimental.On Christmas Eve he is found in a quiet corner of the club reading a newspaper. He reads of the work of the “goodfellows” and of their plans of relief for the poor of the city. Unmoved he casts the paper aside and turns to a table near at hand for a game of solitaire. He becomes sleepy and falls asleep. He dreams that he is a child again, that it is Christmas eve and Santa Claus is about due to visit him. His mother puts him to bed after he has said his prayers—but just then he is awakened by a friend who asks him to accompany five or six of the other boys on a little charitable expedition. Grouch, though some what softened by the dream of a few moments before, refuses to accompany them and is= left alone at the club. A little regretful of not having joined his cronies but firmly resolved not to indulge in such foolishness, he leaves the club and goes to his apartments. Here he becomes more restless than ever and decides to go for a walk.
Scene from “The Goodfellows’ Christmas Eve,” by the Essanay Film Mfg. Co.
The others of the clubmen have, in the meantime, visited several families and when passing by a fashionable residence they find a baby in a basket on the doorstep. Grouch comes upon them and the baby is pressed into his arms. It is a new sensation to him; something deep down in his heart stirs him and to the amazement of the others he suddenly declares he will adopt the baby.
With the little one nestling in his arms, Grouch accompanies the goodfellows to the other poor homes and at midnight returns to his apartments where the surprised housekeeper is given charge of the baby. When the film closes we find Grouch seated in a comfortable arm-chair before the fireplace, the little one in his arms, a gentle smile reflecting from his heart that “peace which passeth all understanding.”
Shortly after the film was produced a first positive of the photoplay was shown to certain members of the editorial staff of The Chicago Tribune, which paper in its issue of Sunday, February 26, praised it highly in a full page article. The Tribune remarked upon the missionary value of the film and advised manufacturers that great good would come if more of this class were exhibited.