Miracle on 34th Street

This story started out as a screenplay, but soon after the movie was completed author Valentine Davis turned it into a short novel, first published in 1947 and still available today.

Kris Kringle was a plump, rosy-cheeked, white-bearded gentleman who lived at the Maplewood Home for the Aged. He was beloved by all of the staff and residents, but had one eccentricity – he believed he was Santa Claus. One day in late November Maplewood’s physician, Dr. Pierce, had the sad duty of informing Kris that the Board had decided that, since the Home was only for those in good physical and mental health, a man who thought he was a mythical person would need to leave.

Dr. Pierce told Kris he could go and live at Mount Hope Sanatorium, but Kris declared the sanatorium was a “nut house.” He assured the doctor that a zookeeper was a friend of his, and would give him a home.

Kris walked to the Central Park zoo, where the shy reindeer ate carrots out of his hand. Jim, the zookeeper, always marveled at how the reindeer trusted Kris. He said his friend was welcome to stay with him.

Kris heard music playing, started on another walk and came to where the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was about to start. The man hired to play Santa was drunk and Mrs. Walker, the lady in charge of the parade, asked Kris to be a last-minute replacement.

Doris Walker was a divorced lady teaching her six-year-old daughter, Susan, to not use her imagination. Susan had never read a fairy tale, and she didn’t believe in Santa Claus. The Walkers lived in an apartment building, and one of their neighbors was a young lawyer named Fred Gayley. He was romantically attracted to Doris, but she had been hurt by her divorce and had no intention of ever dating again.

Doris was the Personnel Director of Macy’s, and Mr. Shellhammer, who was Head of the Toy Department, wanted Kris as the store’s Santa. The new hire filled out an employment form giving his name as Kris Kringle, his address as Maplewood Home, and his age as “old as my tongue and a little bit older than my teeth.” Kris was taken to the locker room to change into his Santa Claus outfit, then given a list of toys Macy’s carried, and which toys he was to push parents to buy. After Mr. Shellhammer left Kris tore up the list.

When a child asked for a toy Macy’s didn’t sell Kris told the parent which store had what was wanted. One day Mr. Shellhammer overheard Kris tell someone to go to Gimbel’s for a toy. He was horrified, but as he tried to make it back to his office he kept being stopped by grateful parents who said they would become regular Macy’s customers because of their wonderful service of directing them to other stores for the right toys. What would Mr. Macy say when he found out?

One day Fred Gayley took Susan to visit Santa at Macy’s but she refused to ask Kris for anything, because he was just someone her mother had hired to pretend to be someone who didn’t exist. When Doris Walker saw Susan on Santa’s lap she took Fred into her office and scolded him, saying he could not be friends with Susan if he ever again went against her ideas about raising her daughter.

Susan had stayed near Kris, and when he was able to speak Dutch to a child newly arrived from a Holland orphanage she began to wonder if Santa Claus might be real. Her mother asked Kris to tell Susan the truth, but when he insisted he really was Santa she looked at his employment card and became frightened that the store had hired a potentially dangerous person.

She fired Kris, but then got a call from Mr. Macy congratulating her on hiring such a wonderful Santa. The good will gimmick of sending people to other stores was helping his store. Doris rushed off to rehire Kris but he refused to return until he learned she would lose her job if he didn’t continue on as Santa.

Doris worried about delusional Kris so she called Albert Sawyer, Macy’s expert on psychology. Mr. Sawyer believed Kris might turn violent, and thought he should stay with Doris so she could watch over him, but she refused that suggestion. When neighbor Fred heard of the problem he asked Kris to stay with him. Now Doris was worried that Fred was double-crossing her, and trying to interfere with how she raised Susan.

One day Kris asked Susan if she had a Christmas wish. She said she wanted to live in house with a backyard that had trees and a swing, and she gave him a magazine picture of the house she wanted. Kris said he’d do his best, but admitted that not all dreams could come true.

Doris invited Fred and Kris to dinner, but she had to leave right after the meal, for she’d agreed to attend a lecture that night. After she left Kris happened to see a postcard announcing Mr. Albert Sawyer giving a lecture entitled Exploding the Myth of Santa Claus. He picked up his hat and cane and set out for the lecture.

Since he had no invitation Kris wasn’t allowed into the auditorium, but he began exploring the building and ended up behind the stage where Mr. Sawyer was talking. The stage was decorated with a set for a children’s Christmas play, and while Mr. Sawyer was talking about Santa being a myth Kris came out of an artificial fireplace, and then refused to leave the stage. Mr. Sawyer angrily confronted Kris, who raised his cane to defend himself.

The next day Mr. Sawyer told Mr. Shellhammer an exaggerated story about Kris Kringle attacking him with a cane. Doris attempted to defend Kris, but reluctantly agreed the man should be given a thorough mental health test. Mr. Shellhammer told Kris he was taking him to see the Mayor at City Hall, but when they got into a car Shellhammer told the driver to go to Bellevue. Kris asked if Doris knew about this, and was told she had arranged everything. When Kris heard that he considered himself a beaten man. If the lady he’d considered a friend would send him to a mental hospital he didn’t want to live amongst “sane” people.

Over the years Kris had become an expert at passing sanity tests, but when the doctors at Bellevue questioned him he gave foolish answers. He kept asking himself “how could she have done it?” It wasn’t until Fred, his lawyer friend, came and told him that many people needed him in their lives that Kris decided to return to the outside world.

Unfortunately Fred couldn’t get Kris released, for bad answers to the mental health questions indicated the man was unbalanced, and perhaps dangerous. Commitment papers had been sent to a judge, but Fred was able to get a sanity hearing scheduled.

Kris Kringle’s hearing had made all of the New York City newspapers, and the courtroom was packed when the judge asked Kris if he believed he was Santa Claus. He declared that he did. That wasn’t the answer Fred wanted his client to give, but he informed the court he intended to prove that Kris Kringle really was Santa Claus.

But how could such a seemingly impossible claim be proven in a court of law? And even if Kris could be released on Christmas Eve – in time for him to fulfill important duties – how could he give young Susan Walker a house for her Christmas present? It was the type of house a happily married Mr. and Mrs. Fred Gayley could afford to buy, but was it possible for sensible, practical Doris Walker to fall in love with a lawyer who was foolish enough to risk his career by trying to prove a nice old man was Santa Claus?

The story has a happy ending, and if you were fortunate enough to grow up in a home where having an imagination was not discouraged, you might find yourself wondering – could Kris really be Santa Claus?

If you’ve seen the movie the novelization has a few extra details that are fun to read about. For example – after Kris Kringle disappears on Christmas Eve the Central Park zookeeper discovers that the zoo’s reindeer are also missing. What a strange coincidence …

At only 120 pages Miracle on 34th Street doesn’t take much longer to read than the time needed to watch the movie version. I highly recommend you find a new or used copy of the novel and spend a few hours deciding if you can believe in Christmas miracles.

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