Ghostwriting for Santa Claus

By Cara McCoy Staff Writer
Sunday, December 30, 2007

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus -- and she works behind the window at the Lovettsville post office.

Ann Hardy might not look like a traditional Santa Claus in her blue U.S. Postal Service-issued blouse and tie. But for the past 21 Christmases, she has been stepping into Santa's big black boots and responding to his mail.

Letters from Lovettsville mailboxes addressed to "Santa," "Santa Claus" or simply "North Pole" find their way into Hardy's hands. Hardy, a clerk at the town's post office for 34 years, responds to all of them. She signs each reply "Santa."

She has been corresponding with Lovettsville's children since 1986, when the postal clerk who wrote the Santa letters retired.

"She retired, and I just sort of inherited it," said Hardy, 65, as she shuffled through a trove of letters from past years. "I'm sure I've gotten more out of it than [the kids], because it's just fun to do."

She picked up one of the letters. This one, signed "Army guy and fire chief," requested a garbage truck for Christmas.

"You'd think he'd have asked for a firetruck," Hardy said.

Outside of Lovettsville, letters to Santa sent from Loudoun mailboxes wind up at the Merrifield sorting station in Fairfax County, where clerks in the Postal Service's consumer affairs office respond with one of several form letters.

This year, the larger post offices in Loudoun, such as Ashburn and Leesburg, had each received about 50 letters to Santa by the middle of December. Lovettsville, with an estimated population of 1,204 in 2006 (compared with 749 in 1990, according to the U.S. Census Bureau) had received 33 such letters by Dec. 20, according to the town's postmaster, Kenna Karnish.

On her own time -- off the clock in the cluttered mail processing room or at her home -- Hardy wrote each reply by hand for 20 years.

This year marked the first time she did not respond with pen and paper. The Postal Service e-mailed form letters to all branches, including Lovettsville.

That didn't faze Hardy. Working on a computer, she rewrote each letter, replacing the generic "Dear Friend" with the child's name and adding language that related to what each child had written.

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