Tis the season of Christmas songs, and if you are like me, one is always playing in the back of your mind. As we slip and slide our way through another holiday season, I would like to draw your attention to a certain tune that comes with a little local history. The composer: Benjamin Hanby. The place: New Paris, Ohio. In 1864, Hanby made a bold decision to leave the ministry and set out on a new career path: he wanted to make a living in the music industry. He worked for a Cincinnati music publisher and had started a singing school in New Paris that ministered to children. That winter, he brought his “singing church” to perform at a Christmas party for a group of poor children in Richmond, Indiana. This marks the first performance of the song he called “Santa Claus,” and it is said that they received wild cheers and applause. His brother Will (whose name is used in the song) even came from his home in Westerville to hear the live performance in Indiana. The next year Hanby published “Santa Claus” with Root and Cady in Chicago. He had achieved his goal, however briefly. Hanby died in Chicago in 1867; Root and Cady was lost to the Great Chicago Fire four years later. But Hanby’s song lives on today, and all kids know it as “Up on the Housetop.” This year, as you sing it with your loved ones, remember that the man who wrote the words and melody had the courage to follow his dream. I hope this inspires all of us to reach from small town Ohio to the stars, and in 2015 may we all find what makes us truly happy.
You can visit Westerville’s Hanby House where he lived from 1853-1858.
– Claire Kandle
Local History & Genealogy Librarian