A mock courtroom trial aims to solve a centuries-old controversy over who really wrote “A Visit from St. Nicholas.”
The poem, also known as “ ’Twas the Night Before Christmas,” was first published — anonymously — on Dec. 23, 1823 by the Sentinel newspaper in Troy.
Clement Clarke Moore, a wealthy biblical scholar living in New York City, later claimed authorship and has been officially credited ever since. But descendants of Henry Livingston Jr., a gentleman farmer from the Hudson Valley, claim he was the true author.
Vassar College professor and literary forensics expert Don Foster wrote a book in 2000, “Author Unknown,” making a strong case for the Livingston claim. The same year Joe Nickell refuted that claim in his book “Pen, Ink and Evidence.”
The two works served as inspiration for the upcoming courtroom showdown.
“We’re giving this literary whodunit a full-blown mock trial that’s a bit like a real life ‘Miracle on 34th Street,’ ” said event host Duncan Crary, an author and public relations consultant in Troy. “Even the court officers will be on duty to complete the authentic trial experience.”
At 6 p.m. Wednesday, two noted Troy attorneys will square off before a judge, jury and spectators at the Rensselear County Courthouse, 80 Second St., Troy, to determine the literal truth.
Representing Moore will be litigator E. Stewart Jones Jr. On the side of Livingston will be Troy novelist and attorney Jack Casey, author of “The Trial of Bat Shea,” and his daughter, attorney Molly Casey of Albany law firm Thuillez, Ford, Gold, Butler & Monroe.
A third-generation lawyer, Jones heads the E. Stewart Jones Law Firm, established in 1898 by his grandfather, Abbot Jones, who famously defended Prohibition gangster Jack “Legs” Diamond in an infamous Dec. 17, 1931, trial in the same courtroom where “Livingston v. Moore” will be tried.
The trial’s setting will be The John T. Casey Ceremonial Court, named for Jack Casey’s father, who served there as State Supreme Court Justice.
Retired New York State Supreme Court Justice Bernard J. Malone will hear the trial. Real court officers, providing security, will give mock trial goers an authentic experience. But the spirit will be fun and lively, Crary said, noting that a saxophone-playing Santa Claus is expected to entertain the audience during a brief jury deliberation.
Actors playing the spirits of Livingston and Moore will take the stand under the direction of David Baecker, an assistant professor of Theatre at Russell Sage College.
Rensselear County Historian Kathryn Sheehan will give expert testimony. Jurors will be selected at random from the audience.
Admission is free, available on a first-come, first-seated basis. There will be a post-trial party at the nearby Rensselaer County Historical Society, with a $5 suggested donation to benefit that organization.