Gift Of The Magi by Ohenry

The Gift Of The Magi by Ohenry the Story

The Gift Of The Magi by Ohenry - This page is the story about the author Ohenry (Pen Name of  William Sydney Porter) and about how the story of OHenry Gift of the Magi came to be. It was written by a person that visited the actual Pete's Tavern on Irving Place and discovered some of the friendliness that the author experienced. That is the place where the story was actually written in the early 1900s.

Here is her story.

To read the actual story of "Gift Of The Magi" click here.

The Story about the actual writing of
Ohenry Gift Of The Magi

The Gift of the Magi by OHenry

Posted on April 24, 2006
By Mary Pat Musick

Do you remember the first time reading The Gift of the Magi by Ohenry? Do you recall the lump in your throat when the hero, Jim, sold his only valuable possession, his watch, to buy a set of jeweled combs to decorate Della’s long beautiful hair? And the tears that rolled down your cheeks when you read that she sold the one luxurious thing she had, her magnificent hair, to buy a chain for his watch.  How wonderful to love so deeply; how glorious to be loved so much.

gift of the Magi

O’Henry must have witnessed a couple so in love. Visualize him sitting on a park bench watching strolling lovers, moving in no particular destination, stop to kiss and ear-whisper. Perhaps it was a crisp winter afternoon with a dusting of snowflakes that dampened his paper and caused the couples to snuggle together for extra warmth. O’Henry saw as she lovingly held her partner’s hand with the watch and raised it to her lips and the author settled on that look.

Pete's Tavern

I was reunited with the story again while visiting New York during a heat wave last summer. Our son suggested dinner at a tavern down the street from his new place in the Gramercy area of Manhattan. Pete’s is the oldest continuous bar in New York,” he said.

Pete’s Tavern, est. in 1864, looks its age in contrast with its sleek wine bar and stylish French bakery neighbors.

The Gift Of The Magi by Ohenry
How the Story Began

Pete's Tavern 2

Our son mentioned that it had a plaque to O’Henry. An article from the New York World Magazine entitled, The Gift of the Magi, was posted.  It looked like it was dated December 21, 1905, but the paper, even framed, was yellowed. There was a small plaque that hung below the large glass cabinets, stating that William Magi Sydney Porter, pen name O’ Henry, frequented Pete’s in the early 1900’s and in this booth wrote The Gift of the Magi.

He was born William Sydney Porter on a plantation near Greensboro, North Carolina during the Civil War to a doctor and his wife, Mary Virginia. Young Will’s  mother died of tuberculosis when he was just three years old and his father took to heavy drinking letting Will’s care fall to his grandmother. In his Aunt Lina’s small private school, he learned to love books and was a stellar student. At age 19, mentored by an uncle, he became a licensed pharmacist in Greensboro.  Will had a persistent cough and some suggest he had tuberculosis. When a family friend, who had a sheep ranch in Texas, recommended the climate of the southwest might be better for his health, he leaped at the opportunity to make the change.

It is thought that he first laid eyes on the lovely Athol Estes during the ceremony setting the cornerstone for the Texas capitol building.   After a brief courtship, they eloped; she was 17 and he, 25.  The writer O’Henry used real people as models for his characters.  It has been widely speculated that Athol was the model for Della.

Heartbreak did come to the couple when their first child, a son, died shortly after birth.  The following year they were delighted when a daughter, Margaret, was born. 

Will Porter was neither the first nor last to discover that writing is a difficult way to support a family.  He secured a position as teller at the Austin National Bank. Concurrently, he started a little paper, called The Rolling Stone, a humorous satirical weekly, (precursor to The Onion?).

At this point, Will Porter’s real story takes one of its strangest twists. The First National Bank of Austin has accounting practices that can generously be called lax.  It is a poorly managed institution and there are no regular audits. When money comes up missing, he is accused. His father-in-law, a local merchant, pays the bank the missing funds, and neither admitting guilt nor professing innocence, Will resigns and becomes a columnist with the Houston Post.  His weekly, The Rolling Stone, folds. Two years later, federal auditors review the books of the National Bank of Austin and find its accounting a mess.  The bank management may have found a scapegoat in Will, but he is accused of embezzlement, arrested in Houston and released on bail pending trial.

On a train back to Austin, Will decides to depart at a station along the way and instead takes an eastbound train for New Orleans. From there he lands on a ship and ends up in Honduras where he hangs out with other fugitives for a few months.  He tries to get Athol to join him, but she is gravely ill and when he learns that her time on his earth is limited he returns to Austin. She dies of tuberculosis, shortly after he gets there, leaving young Margaret, age three, in care of her grandmother. He then  surrenders to the Court.  While the jury of public opinion is still out on his guilt or innocence, the only jury that mattered at the time, found him guilty and he was sentenced to prison.

Humiliated, demoralized, grieving his beloved Athol and missing his child, William Sydney Porter enters the Ohio Penitentiary in Columbus. In a scenario not even one of his tales can manufacture, he emerges three years later as, O’Henry, short story writer, sought by New York publishers.  Another inmate’s sister submits the O’Henry stories and three of them are published and are well received. The publishers did not know they were actually from prisoner Number 30664.

Which brings us back to the streets of New York where, after serving his time, he spent the final nine years of his life and wrote over 250 pieces during this prolific period.  O’Henry, a gentleman with a slightly southern dialect.

Pete’s Tavern. He often met deadlines after their time limit and when the December 21, 1905 story, was due for the New York World Magazine, his publisher sent the illustrator to get it.  Unprepared, O’Henry looked around the room where he lived and told the illustrator to draw a sparsely furnished room with a girl and a man sitting side by side and he would build a story around it.  He went to Pete’s and three hours later, submitted to the newspaper, his classic, Gift of The Magi.

At some point, he began corresponding with his childhood sweetheart, Sarah Lindsey Coleman from North Carolina. Towards the end of his New York years, she came up to the city and they were married. They briefly lived out (what was the then the countryside) in Long Island where she attempted to make him a stay-at-home author/ husband but that lasted less than a year. He preferred the city streets and bars and Sarah, a southern aristocrat, returned to North Carolina.

1910 at age 47, he succumbed to complications from diabetes and cirrhosis of the liver. He was broke when he died. In one last O’Henry turn of events, anthologies of his short stories became even more widely read after his death and when, what he feared happened; a biographer exposed the man behind the name, his fame soared internationally. His daughter Margaret and wife Sarah were the beneficiaries of O’Henry’s later success.

In his honor, Doubleday, his publisher, established the O’Henry Awards for the best short stories from American and Canadian magazines.  It is still the most prestigious recognition of short fiction.

Jim and Della’s generous love continues to inspire me

Pete’s Tavern is located a block south of Gramercy Park at: 129 East 18th Street New York, New York, 10003

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