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Little Old New York: 'Twas the night before Christmas

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Returning to New York from the French and Indian War, Captain Thomas Clarke purchased a farm located on what today is between about 19th and 24th streets and Eight Avenue to the Hudson River. He named it “Chelsea” after an institution for retired soldiers in London.

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The farmhouse burned during the early stage of the Revolutionary War but it was replaced nearby by Clarke’s widow during 1777. After her death during 1802, the property passed to daughter Charity and her husband, Benjamin Moore, the Episcopal bishop of New York. Soon after, during 1813, the house was conveyed to their son, Clement C. Moore.

A professor of Greek and Oriental literature at the General Theological Seminary in nearby Chelsea Square, the young Moore won lasting fame for “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” which he wrote at his home. According to tales, the inspiration for the poem developed during 1822 as he traveled from the city to Chelsea with a sleigh filled with toys for the children. The jingle of the bells provided ideas for the verses.

Poem Published In Troy

Almost a year later, a visitor saw the poem and asked permission to make a copy. She took it to Troy, New York, and sent it on to Orville Holley, the editor of the Troy Sentinel. It was published anonymously on December 23, 1823.

Not until 1838 was authorship publicized when it appeared on Christmas Day in the Troy Budget under the name of Dr. Moore. During 1844, the poem was included in a volume of verse written by him.

At the time the poem was written, Moore’s house was two stories in height with a pediment gable roof. As the family grew, a third story was added with a hip roof.

Moore remained at the house until about 1850. The expansion of the city into this area, including commercial improvement along the Hudson River and considerable residential housing, forced Moore to abandon the location. By the time Moore died during 1863, the house had been razed.

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“A Visit from St. Nicholas” by Clement Clark Moore

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tinny reindeer.

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!

"Now Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On, Cupid! on, on Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!"

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys, and St Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler, just opening his pack.

His eyes-how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow.

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly!

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself!
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose!

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!"

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