Banker as Santa?

     I have been led down another rabbit hole by a mildly boring art postcard, and I am going to take you with me as I reflect on the trip.  But first, let me introduce you to a Chicago banker of a previous century.

     Lyman Gage made his mark in Chicago, where he started as a bookkeeper and finished as a bank president.  He was president of the Board of Director’s of the city’s world’s fair committee in the 1890s, and was part of a committee of businessmen that tried to clean up government.  (Asking a committee of businessmen to clean up government is like…well, that’s a whole nother blog.)

     He must be one of a modest number of people (You look it up; I can’t spend ALL my time on one postcard) who have been offered a Cabinet position by both a Democratic and a Republican President.  He turned down the job of Secretary of the Treasury under Grover Cleveland, but he accepted during the next administration, when William McKinley made the same offer.  As a financial illiterate, I cannot grade his work there, but I am told he was strong but cooperative, and if he made a few decision which backfired, well, what Secretary of the treasury didn’t?  Later he headed up a new York bank and was a power in setting up the 1915 World’s Fair.  His time in California had NOTHING to do with his less public side, which involved spelling reform, astrology, and psychic experiences.  (He had claimed to have “psychic flashes”, which might explain his success in banking and politics.)  He was eventually buried in Chicago.

     Well and good: an apparently genial footnote to American history was Lyman J. Gage.  And why do I expect you to care about this?

     I have this postcard for sale, you see, addressed to Lyman Gage and sent by Old Santa.  It was enclosed with something, or left by a chimney, so there is no postmark.  The card has an undivided back, however, which signifies that it was manufactured somewhere between 1901 and 1907.  Well, at that point in his life, he was in his sixties, so unless this was somebody’s idea of a joke, it can’t really have been addressed to him.  “Master” was a title generally awarded to a boy, technically any male under 21.

     But what are the chances that “Old Santa” was Gage himself, writing to his namesake?

     There are two possible candidates, and it all depends on when this card was sent.  People did not stop using undivided back cards in 1907, when the divided ones became legal.  He may have really liked this collection of heads by Sir Joshua Reynolds and put in a supply of them.  Or he may have sent this around 1901 (dang that missing postmark.)  Gage had four children, none of them named Lyman.  But one of his grandsons was Lyman J. Gage II, born in 1896.  If Old Santa wrote and addressed this card to Master Lyman when he was five or six, that fits in nicely.  There WAS another Lyman J. Gage, born somewhere during the 1910s, the result of OUR Lyman marrying his third wife, Frances (known universally as Gloria).  IF our Lyman saved these angel head postcards long enough….

     I would like it best if Gloria was the “big doll” Santa was hoping for, but nothing in Mr. gage’s Memoirs suggest he ever talked like that.  (You may be a bit more formal in your memoirs, of course.)  AND, of course, there’s no real evidence that this was not written by his wife, his daughter-in-law, or anybody else who happened to know master Lyman wanted a hobby-horse.  And, if you want to be brutal about it, how much does anybody CARE about a postcard probably written to a grandson of William McKinley’s Secretary of the treasury?

     Well, anyway, it was an entertaining rabbit hole to venture down, and I got to skim through gage’s memoirs.  If you ever need entertaining anecdotes about William McKinley, or a few tales about psychics and spiritualists, you ought to look those up.  (Hey, and maybe buy this postcard to use as a bookmark?  Just a thought.)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: