Courtroom Trial Verdict Challenges Holiday History in Troy, NY
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TROY, NY (Dec. 15, 2014) -- A jury delivered a surprise verdict on Sunday, Dec. 7, finding that long-credited author Clement Clarke Moore did not write the most famous Christmas poem in history.
The holiday mock re-trial was held on Dec. 7, 2014 in the John T. Casey Ceremonial Courtroom at the Rensselaer County Courthouse in downtown Troy, the city where "An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas" was published anonymously, for the first time ever, in the Dec. 23, 1823 edition of the Troy Sentinel newspaper.
Six jurors, selected at random from the packed courthouse gallery, unanimously found that Major Henry Livingston Jr. of Poughkeepsie, N.Y. is the true author of those cherished verses that begin with the famous line "'Twas the Night Before Christmas."
"The people of Troy do like to route for the upstate underdog," said trial creator Duncan Crary. "But this verdict came completely by surprise for all involved."
LIVINGSTON v MOORE
Now in its second year, "The Trial Before Christmas" is a full-blown mock trial to determine "Who Really Wrote 'Twas the Night Before Christmas." It is held in a real court, before a real (retired) judge, real attorneys, with real court guards and personnel.
The trial centers on a centuries-old authorship controversy between to old New York families.
Years after its un-credited publication in the Sentinel, in 1837, a wealthy Manhattan biblical scholar named Clement Clarke Moore claimed authorship and has been officially credited ever since. But descendants of Henry Livingston Jr., a gentleman farmer of the Hudson Valley, claim their ancestor was the true, unrecognized author. 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 and other research serve as inspiration for the upcoming courtroom showdown.
"There's no question that Santa is real -- because children believe in him!" said event creator Duncan Crary. "The question is: who wrote this magical poem that first sparked our belief in a distinctly American Santa known and loved around the world?"
After a hung jury on Dec. 18 2013, this year's case of Livingston v. Moore was once again tried by E. Stewart Jones, Jr., upstate New York’s preeminent trial attorney, representing the interests of Moore. Reprising their roles for the Livingston claim were Troy novelist/sole practicing 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.
Retired New York State Supreme Court Justice Edward O. Spain presided over this year's retrial.
Expert testimony was given by City of Troy and Rensselaer County Historian Kathryn Sheehan, as well as Canadian anti-smoking advocate Pamela McColl, who famously published a version of the poem with all references to smoking removed (during her testimony, McColl furbished a letter by Moore that deplored smoking, thus calling into question his authorship of a jolly, smoking elf).
Three ghosts took the stand to testify as well: Maj. Henry Livingston Jr. , played by Byron Nilsson; Sarah Sackett, played by Kathleen Carey; and Clement Clarke Moore, played by Patrick McKenna.
"If they can vote in Troy, they can testify," said each of the Caseys at different points, in response to Jones objections to calling the dead to the stand -- and in tongue-in-cheek reference to a long history of voter fraud involving deceased residents of that city.
MOORE AND LIVINGSTON DESCENDANTS PRESENT
Seated at Jones' table was Chris Post, a descendant of Clement C. Moore. Joining the Caseys was Mary Van Deusen, a descendant of Henry Livingston Jr., who was responsible for bringing the authorship controversy to the world's attention in 2000 by enlisting the help of literary forensics expert Don Foster.
"It shouldn't be surprising that Troy adopted Henry Livingston so enthusiastically, since Henry's authorship has been a matter of passionate belief by so many along the Hudson River for decades before I was ever born," Van Deusen said after the verdict. "If Henry belongs to anyone, it's to those people who grew up with Henry's same love of this vital and energetic Hudson Valley region."
Crary said he would not be surprised if this year's re-trial were declared a mis-trial, and for the Moore party to come back ready to reclaim their ancestor's author credit in the future.
"We may never know who the true author of this poem was," Crary said. "But the controversy is nearly as old as the poem itself, and this mock trial is a fun way to keep interest in this literature alive for another generation."
MAYOR PROCLAIMS HENRY LIVINGSTON JR. DAY
Friday Dec. 19, Noon Ceremony at Sentinel Bldg. Troy, NY
Troy Mayor Lou Rosamilia issued a proclamation to honor the jury’s historic verdict, finding Maj. Henry Livingston Jr. as the true author of "The Night Before Christmas."
The mayor will present the proclamation during a brief ceremony at noon, on Friday Dec. 19 in front of the historic Sentinel newspaper building in Troy at 225 River Street in downtown Troy. The ceremony will be attended by both the Jones and Casey legal teams, as well as by event creator Duncan Crary, and members of Gramercy Communications, major sponsors of The Trial Before Christmas.
Also present will be Uncle Sam re-enactor Fred Polnisch and "Sax-O-Claus" Luke McNamee.
"Troy, New York is the place where two of our greatest American icons, 'Uncle Sam' and 'Santa Claus,' first took shape," said Crary. "It only makes sense for them to attend our Friday ceremony to recognize our community's role in the history of national symbolism and myth."
Crary said a traditional St. Nicholas, or "Sinterklaas," will attend to meet his successor, Santa Claus, and that the two figures will exchange special gifts. (Dec. 19 is celebrated as "St. Nicholas Day" in orthodox countries.)
Dec. 21 SCREENING OF TRIAL VIDEO
The Trial Before Christmas was filmed for a live simulcast and webcast by RPI TV. A special, edited and re-mixed video, featuring additional B-Roll footage, will be screened at Brown's Revolution Hall on Sunday, Dec. 21 at 2 p.m. with suggested donation of $5.
Video editing and re-mixing is by Jersey Nerds. Revolution Hall is located at 425 River Street in Troy, NY. The edited video will be posted online at http://ChristmasTrial.com