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Court trial aims at "Night Before Christmas" authorship

Updated: 12/19/2013 12:26 AM
Created: 12/19/2013 12:11 AM WNYT.com
By: Dan Levy

TROY - 'Tis the week before Christmas and they wanted to show, who wrote the poem that everyone knows. In a courtroom in Troy that was heavily packed, there was a make-believe trial, with plenty of facts.

And because authorship has been disputed for a very long while, they figured to resolve things with a make-believe trial.

There were lawyers, and plaintiffs, and an honorable judge; there were spectators who filled the courtroom until no one could budge.

And to determine the author of a poem that everyone has read, they called on witnesses brought back from the dead.

No one disputes that A Visit from St. Nicholas -- otherwise known as Twas the Night Before Christmas -- was first published in the Troy Sentinel Newspaper on December 23, 1823.

What remains in question is who wrote it.

On Wednesday night, Troy attorney E. Stewart Jones argued in a mock trial that Clement Moore, a New York City biblical scholar, should be given the credit.

"The available evidence is overwhelming," Jones asserts, "Where the truth lies, who knows?"

Meanwhile, Henry Livingston, a Hudson Valley farmer, is also believed by many to be the rightful poet. Troy attorney Jack Casey argued his case.

"Like anything that's written by anonymous and anonymous wrote a lot of work, I think the most important thing is to enjoy (the poem) for what it is," Casey says. "I don't think the credit needs to go because everyone's dead. There's no property rights at all. There's no copyright or anything to speak of."

But not everyone at the trial was able to remain neutral. Diane Doring, of Troy, says she's distantly related to Henry Livingston, as a sixth cousin, once removed.

"If it was 190 years from now and you had created something, would you want the credit?" Doring asks. "We don't want any money, we don't need it. Would you want your family to come forward?"

After ninety minutes of entertaining and comedic testimony from role playing characters in period costume, the jury came back deadlocked at 3-3.

"In these celebrity trials, they always come back with a hung jury," Jones joked.

So is it really important to figure out who wrote the poem?

"I suppose not," said Duncan Crary, the event organizer. "The poem exists and it's a wonderful poem. This poem invented our modern concept of Santa so as far as bragging rights go, it's pretty important."

The real purpose of the mock trial was to immerse Troy residents in their history and create holiday spirit.

There was also plenty of humor. For example:

After Jones objected to his adversary Jack Casey calling Clement Moore, a dead man, to the witness stand, Casey responded, "This is Troy, if they can vote, they can testify."

Casey objected to Jones line of questioning, pointing out to Judge Bud Malone that Jones is "leading the witness", to which Jones replied, "It's a time-honored tradition here in Troy!"

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