Katie Kelly came from Cork. And whether in the nearby woods or along the banks of the Lee River, she never questioned the friendship of a certain class of people, despite their physical difference from herself. They were called “the little people” by locals who claimed to see them, “leprechauns” by outsiders. As a young girl, she sought them out, her own many brothers and sisters, her cousins, even her parents suffering in hunger from the “great famine,” the lack of potatoes which had so long sustained them.
Strong in body and mind, Katie did what she could to scrounge enough food for her family members; but a little child, she could not save them, and like so many thousands of Irish families, she lost them one by one. Within a year, Katie had only an aunt and she had already joined the ships taking the starving Irish to America, where there was some hope of work and survival.What Katie could do, however, was save the “little people,” for they starved like everyone else, only with smaller appetites and need. In an act of desperation, Katie finally realized she had to save herself.
A letter from her aunt promised to help find her work, enclosing some pittance to help her make the Atlantic crossing. But what of her friends, the little people? They’d provided her with friendship and the loyalty went both ways. She could not arrange for others leaving Ireland to help – many adults laughed at her, calling her foolish for indulging in the fantasy of the leprechauns at such a dire time. As she packed her sack with some worn woolen knickers, sweaters and skirts, heading to the wagon which was taking others to the wharf where they would board the ship, she could not bring herself to abandon them.
Impulsively, Katie ran in the opposite direction to the little people at the Lee. Impulsively, she completely emptied her sack of warm clothes – and told the remaining but starving leprechauns to quickly jump into her sack, in which she poked holes for them to breath. They could not believe this girl, so generous and loyal. As expected the Atlantic crossing was brutally cold. Shivering on her first night of sleep on the ship, worried she would freeze to death, Katie gently laid her head on her sack. And lo and behold, the breathe of the cozy and sleeping leprechauns kept her warm.
Katie and her leprechauns arrived in New York City, and soon she was united with her aunt, finding work as a maid alongside her. They worked for a generous Mr. Armstrong, a mechanical genius and engineering inventor of newfangled machinery. Despite his great age, Mr. Armstrong kept thriving because he loved his work, forever creating time-saving gadgets for thousands of households, like an apple-coring machine and canned-good opener. Widowed and without children, he took to Katie, even teaching her how to work and build his machines, ordering the steel mechanical pieces or creating them if they didn’t exist.
Katie was never so well-fed and she shared everything with her leprechauns, while keeping them safely hidden. In turn, they helped do most of her cleaning tasks, popping from the deep pockets of her apron, brushing dust in corners, picking up bits of paper here and there.
At Christmas, Mr. Armstrong rewarded Katie for her amazing work, not only with gold pieces but a beautiful green and red skirt and hat to wear to church that morning.
Feeling that her little people deserved a portion of the gift, she turned all her gold pieces over to them – and then promptly bought some of the whiskey balls the leprechauns especially asked her to get for them, so they could celebrate the holiday in their way. For Katie, the gold itself was not the real value of the gift, but rather it was what the gold represented which filled her with pride – honest and hard work which she loved. Keeping the household organized and clean, learning to order the various gadgets and gizmos of Mr.
Three months later, she took the little people out on St. Patrick’s Day to watch the city’s famous parade of Irishmen, hosted by the Sons of Hibernia. She managed to keep them safe from harm yet able to watch the goings-in, by having them secure themselves and keep still in her Christmas hat, looking as if they were only lifelike St. Paddy’s Day decorations.
What she failed to notice however was the terrible cough that her aunt was troubled by. Within months, not only had her aunt succumbed to consumption, but so too did Mr. Armstrong, who had taught her so much.
Despite having no blood relatives, no job and no income, Katie kept her spirits high, going door to door to find work. Although she wished she could continue to use the new skills she had learned from Mr. Armstrong, she was not too proud to simply return to her first mundane tasks as a housemaid.
Soon enough, she found work in a mansion home called Chelsea, located on Eighth Avenue and West 23rd Street. it was the house of a professor and scholarly writer by the name of Mr. Clement Clarke Moore.
Mr. Moore was a bit of a prig, tedious and demanding, but Katie canned her exasperation in realizing that the man not only had was teaching at Columbia College uptown, but had to keep writing a variety of subjects – from translations to religious texts to poetry and history, and had many wild children to manage underfoot in the house, where he worked. Still, with his wife often ill, Mr. Moore depended on Katie to mind the children and was pleased to find that she was the only one who could keep them calm and focused, with her fantastical tales of Ireland’s little people.
As for the Leprechauns, however, their loyalty to Katie left them often resentful of Mr. Moore’s many demands on her time, leaving them little time to enjoy her except for the tedious cleaning of the large house. Like Katie, they had become rather excited at the prospects of challenging new engineering tasks. Most of all, they detected Katie’s sadness at having to work both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, leaving her no longer able to don her beloved Christmas outfit.
As fate would have it, Katie would forever thank Mr. Moore’s many demands, for were she not working that Christmas Eve of 1821, she might never have developed into the fullest person she was capable of becoming, helping millions of children just as she did the Moore children. And too, the Leprechauns would thank him for the work that night, for it would lead to the most productive their lives had ever been.
After a large dinner that night, the Moore children had left the parlor completely in disarray, their paper hats torn and strewn about, the wrapping of little gifts laid here and there. Just before their father took them out for a sleigh ride at midnight, he excited them further with some silly verses he made up in his head about the imminent arrival of St. Nicholas, the old nickname by which New Yorkers then called Santa Claus, not even knowing that the current Claus was named Kris. Just before they headed out, Katie took them to the fireplace where they laid gifts for his anticipated visit.
With them all out of the house, Katie and her Leprechauns were finally able to begin cleaning the mess they left. It seemed to go on endlessly, but after an hour the parlor was sparkling and spotless.
And just then, they heard noises on the roof, and a strange clanking of tins, following by a frightening thud. There at the bottom of the chimney was the fat and short but jollily laughing Kris Claus himself.
It was not the sight of Santa Claus that left Katie stunned in silence, however. After all, she had lived with the little people since childhood and knew that unpredictable, unbelievable people of all sorts lived among her and the others on lower earth.
No, it was the ash and soot, the filth and dirt that he dragged into the clean parlor and the crashing din he made every time he even rolled over on his jelly bowl of a stomach. The sound was so awful, it brought Katie’s Leprechauns popping out from her apron pockets – which they only did if they feared she was in any harm. And this only made Kris laugh louder and longer, shaking even more and loosening the poorly-matched nuts and bolts of his best attempt at children’s toys, like horns and drums and train engines and dolls.
Katie helped Kris up, but when she looked in his eye, she couldn’t help laughing. He was a good soul, she could tell. He just needed some order. As he sat down to take a smoke from one of Mr. Moore’s long, clay pipes on a table, Katie pulled it from his mouth, and it overturned with more ashes. He couldn’t very well dither there and then; he still had rounds and rounds of homes in cities across the globe to finish up, even if his clunky collection of toys, some tied to his waist with clattering chimney-climbing claws and other useless jerry-rigged bits of machinery.
He had to rest, he explained, he was too fat and tired. It was clear he needed help or else millions of children would be left bereft of their expected toys. Katie tried to avoid his eyes as he explained all this to her, for she melted immediately and began to laugh afresh. And when he told of his parents at the North Pole and their few relatives who worked hard all year to do the best they could in fashioning millions of toys for children, a long-gone sense of what a family could mean stirred in her.
By now, the Leprechauns were agitatedly stimulated by the idea of helping him finish his task. They tugged at Katie’s apron. She did like a challenge. If she were ever to abandon one responsibility for another, she figured, at least she would help those millions of other children instead of just the rambunctious Moore brood. And with that, Katie and her Leprechauns went to the roof with Kris and began a new life – but did not go up the chimney. The rest of this story is better explained by none other than Mr. Moore himself.
Unknown to Katie and Kris at the time, he and his children had returned from their sleigh ride and watched the amazing scene unfold before their very eyes.
Scribbling away his poem about The Night Before Christmas, Clement C. Moore included this verse but before he could publish its entirety, Katie prevailed upon him to keep her identity secret and thus the stanza about the soon-to-become Katie Claus was removed by Mr. Moore and handed over to her as a personal wedding present. She, or someone in her family, pasted it onto a page of The Secret History of Mrs. Claus and appears here in print for the very first time:
In the wee hours of Christmas
in the parlor of the house,
Miss Katie was cleaning…
to keep crumbs from the mouse.
To a thud in the parlor she quickly did dash
in time to see Kris crash into the ash.
He tracked so much soot, she ignored his head gash,
And yelled out a scolding, her temper did flash.
Then, realizing his niceness was all that should matter…
She took off with him, by way of a ladder!
It wasn’t long before Katie and her Leprechauns arrived at the North Pole that they had the chance to put to full and good use the skills learned from dear old Mr. Armstrong. Although the small population of the North Pole and the few members of the Claus family warmly welcomed the Leprechauns into the fold, they’d never before heard of such people, long believing they were only mythological. Yet most being from Iceland and other lands where the Norseman reigned, they had heard of a similar being and soon enough referred to their Irish colleagues by that familiar term of their native tongue….Elves.
The Leprechauns, or rather the Elves didn’t care what they were called as long as they could immediately get to work helping Katie Claus helping Kris Claus.
Employing much of the gadgetry engineering techniques learned from dear old Mr. Armstrong, Katie soon drew up blueprints and plans for the toys to be made more systematically so, for example, a nice little boy in Thailand would receive the same working trumpet that a nice little girl in Denmark might receive.
With her skill for organizational housekeeping, Katie Claus also oversaw the expansion of the Claus home, which had remained the same small but cramped cottage since the way-back days when it was first built and occupied by Sadie and Klausen Claus.
Katie wasn’t finished. Her Leprechauns, or rather Elves, could not very well be expected to continue working in the equally crowded Old Red Barn which housed the cramped Reindeer, descendants of the original ones brought there by Katie Claus.
Once again, Katie Claus drew up blueprints and oversaw the Leprechauns, or rather Elves, in building a new working facility, the very first North Pole Toy Factory.
And there, ever since, generations of yes, Elves, have worked hard and long all year to make the very same standardized, safe and familiar old toys.