New York City, NY & Asheville, NC
New York City seems to have been a popular home of authors famous for Christmas literature at the turn of the century. In addition to Clement Clarke Moore and Francis Church, the Big Apple was the stomping ground of O. Henry, better known as William Sydney Porter. Porter, a southerner famous for his short stories, was residing in New York when he penned what probably became the best Christmas short story in American history, The Gift of the Magi.
William Sydney Porter was born in North Carolina in 1862. His life was a colorful one, having worked as a pharmacist, artist, ranch hand, musician and banker. After an embezzlement incident in Texas, he hid out in Honduras before spending time in prison in Ohio. While in prison there he wrote his first Christmas tale, Whistling Dick’s Christmas Stocking. Later, as a journalist in New York, he wrote many other stories under the name O. Henry. The most famous of these was The Gift of the Magi, which became a holiday favorite. After his death in 1910 his body was returned to North Carolina and he was buried in Riverside Cemetery in Asheville.
The Gift of the Magi involves the power and absolultion of love and self-sacrifice, as a man and woman give up that which they deem most dear in order to please the other. According to local belief, O. Henry wrote this story in a booth in Pete’s Tavern in Manhattan, the oldest tavern in continual operation in New York City. It is a local tradition that it brings good luck to read Porter’s story in the tavern during the holiday season.
Pete’s Tavern is located on 18th Street just off Lexington Avenue. It is open daily (restaurant hours vary daily and seasonally). Riverside Cemetery is located in the Montford Area Historic District of Asheville. It is open daily from 8:00am-8:00pm. There is no cost of admission. Web: www.petestavern.com (official website of Pete’s Tavern); www.nps.gov/nr/travel/asheville/river (official website of Riverside Cemetery).