Court Trial to Determine True “Night Before Christmas” Author
“Livingston v. Moore” Gets Real Life “Miracle on 34th Street” Treatment in Troy NY, featuring Star Attorney E. Stewart Jones Jr. & others.
A juried courtroom trial aims to solve a centuries-old controversy over who really wrote one of the most beloved holiday poems in the world. Livingston v. Moore “A Visit from St. Nicholas” a.k.a. “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” was published anonymously for the first time ever in Troy, N.Y. by the Sentinel newspaper on December 23, 1823.
Clement Clarke Moore, a wealthy biblical scholar of Manhattan, later claimed authorship and has been officially credited ever since. But Henry Livingston Jr., a gentleman farmer of the Hudson Valley, may have been the true, unrecognized author, according to his descendants. Backing their assertions is Vassar College professor and literary forensics expert Don Foster, whose 2000 book “Author Unknown” presented a strong case for Livingston. On the other hand, Dr. Joe Nickell thoroughly refuted those claims in his book “Pen, Ink and Evidence,” also published in 2000. Both works served as inspiration for the upcoming courtroom showdown.
“We’re giving this literary whodunit a full-blown mock trial that’s a bit like a real life ‘Miracle on 34th Street,’” said event host Duncan Crary, an author and public relations consultant in Troy. “Even the court officers will be on duty to complete the authentic trial experience.”
Wednesday, Dec. 18, at 6 p.m., two noted Troy attorneys will square off before a judge, jury and spectators at the Rensselear County Courthouse, at 80 Second St. in downtown Troy, to determine the literal truth.
AUTHENTIC COURTROOM EXPERIENCE WITH HOLIDAY CHEER
Representing Moore is upstate New York’s preeminent litigator, E. Stewart Jones, Jr. On the side of Livingston will be Troy novelist and attorney Jack Casey, author of “The Trial of Bat Shea,” and his daughter, attorney Molly Casey of Albany law firm Thuillez, Ford, Gold, Butler & Monroe. Both sides have a tenured history of law practice in the city.
A third-generation lawyer, Jones heads the E. Stewart Jones Law Firm. The prestigious Troy firm was established in 1898 by his grandfather, Abbott Jones, who famously defended Prohibition gangster Jack “Legs” Diamond in an infamous Dec. 17, 1931 trial in the same courtroom where “Livingston v. Moore” will be tried.
The trial’s ornate setting will be The John T. Casey Ceremonial Court, named for Jack Casey’s father who served there as State Supreme Court Justice.
Retired New York State Supreme Court Justice Bernard J. Malone will hear the trial to settle the contested authorship.
Real court officers, providing security, will give mock trial goers an authentic experience. But the spirit will be fun and lively, Crary said, noting that a saxophone playing Santa Claus is expected to entertain the audience during a brief jury deliberation.
PLAYING FOR THE WIN, FOR LAUGHS
Casey is taking seriously his chance to defeat his formidable opponent in court. “We’re representing the underdog, Henry Livingston,” Casey said. “But Troy folks like the underdog.”
Jones said he plans to play for laughs. “This is the most frivolous litigation ever brought before a judge in this illustrious courthouse,” Jones joked. “I will prove beyond a shadow of a doubt in court that Moore was the author.”
Actors playing the spirits of Livingston and Moore will take the stand under the direction of David Baecker, an assistant professor of Theatre at Russell Sage College.
Rensselear County Historian Kathryn Sheehan will give expert testimony.
“I think the evidence on both sides is compelling,” said Sheehan, who assisted Foster with research for the chapter of his book dedicated to the poem’s authorship controversy. “I’ll leave it up to the jury as to who really wrote the poem.”
Jurors will be selected at random from the audience. Admission is free and open to the public on a first come, first seated basis. There will be a post-trial party at the nearby Rensselaer County Historical Society, with a $5 suggested donation to benefit that organization. For information about this event, contact Duncan Crary at 518-274-2723 or visit: DuncanCrary.com
Sponsoring the event is Gramercy Communications, a public relations firm headquartered in the historic Troy Sentinel building at 225 River Street. A bronze plaque commemorating the site where “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” was first published is affixed to the building’s exterior wall, crediting Moore as the author.
“The jury might order us to include an asterisk with that plaque,” said Tom Nardacci, founder and president of Gramercy Communications. Nardacci paid to have the Sentinel newspaper’s archives digitized, including the edition featuring the poem, and donated them to the Troy Public Library.
“Regardless of this trial’s outcome, Troy, New York will remain the undisputed place that first shared this holiday treasure with the world,” said Crary, 35, who promotes the city’s history and culture as an author and public relations consultant. “‘A Visit From Saint Nicholas’ first introduced the classic imagery we now associate with Santa Claus. This little city gave America two endearing symbols of our nation’s ideals: Uncle Sam, our nation’s personification based on a Troy meatpacker Samuel Wilson, and that jolly old elf, Santa Claus.”
Crary plans to release a video podcast of the trial on his Troy based program, “A Small American City,” at: http://asmallamericancity.com