Friday, December 18, 2009

Overdue Book Carried Greetings From Santa

Such was the headline of an article from 1 February 1957 in the Auckland Star which caught my eye today in the Auckland City Library.

Iris Smith wrote a book called The Santa Claus Book in 1948, in which a story from Admiral Richard Byrd was included, written for his own children one Christmas when he was at the South Pole. The Auckland Library had a copy in their children's collection -- and in 1955, it was borrowed. The borrower, learning that the Admiral was off soon back to the Pole, posted the library book to him, asking for him to take it with him to Antarctica in order for him to autograph it on Christmas Day.

The book was posted back to the Auckland Library, and arrived on 31 January 1957. In it, as arranged, Admiral Byrd signed the book, and wrote:
"I have been up to see Santa Claus and was asked by him to send his greetings to all the children of the world. And a Merry Christmas to all, from Richard E. Byrd."

Along with him, his son Richard, one of the children for whom the story had been originally written, now accompanying his father and joining him in inscribing in the book:

"In anticipation of World Children's Day, greetings to children of New Zealand from the bottom of the world. I have the good fortune to be sailing with my Dad on this 7th Polar venture, Operation Deepfreeze. I am sending these greetings on behalf of my Dad's four grandsons -- my youngsters -- the oldest of whom seems to be a born explorer and wants to come down next year on Operation Deepfreeze. Their names are Dickie, Ames, Levi and Harry."

The message was written on Christmas Day, 1955. Three others in the party added their signatures.

And all this was what met the eyes of children's librarian Miss Joan Lawrence when she opened the parcel.

A little more than a month after the book was returned to the library, Admiral Byrd died in his sleep, 11 March 1957.

The library at the time bought another copy for lending purposes, so that the special book could be kept for display. David Verran at the research centre today found the book on the digital catalogue, lodged with the Sir George Grey Special Collections. I haven't seen the book yet, but -- hopefully, I'll bring back an update soon, to let you know if that is the same well-travelled version of the book signed by explorers so very far away.

I also don't know if the unnamed borrower was given a massive fine or not ...


  1. What a fabulous story, Lisa :)
    There's almost a story in that all of its own!

  2. *correction* I meant there's almost a book in that !

  3. I agree, Jayne. Such a cool wee tale. I'm glad I brought it to the staff's attention at the library. If they have the book still, and if I can get a photo or two ... fingers crossed.

  4. Oh now that is just too cool. What a neat thing to happen. Hmmm wonder what the fine was for the naughty borrower.LOL