"Ghost of Christmas Past" Donors Uphold Legacy

CANTON, Ohio, - The newspaper in Canton, Ohio, is a respectable publication. So when someone called the Canton Repository last month to try and buy their way on to the front page, CBS News correspondent Steve Hartman reports editor Jeff Gauger says he didn't have to think twice.

"This was not a hard decision to make," Gauger says. "Of course we said yes."

He said yes for two reasons: First, the caller wanted to give the money to the people of Canton, offering $100 each to 150 needy residents; And, second, the caller was... a ghost.

Gauger explains, "B. Virdot has come back to life."

The last time the mysterious "B. Virdot" contacted the newspaper was in December 1933, during the Great Depression. He wrote a letter offering money to anyone in need, "So they will be able to spend a merry and joyful Christmas." All people had to do was send a letter to general delivery in care of that name, "B. Virdot."

As it turns out - that wasn't his name at all. His real name was Sam Stone, a successful Canton business man.

"B. Virdot was an invention of his, an amalgam of his three daughters' names - Barbara, Virginia, and Dottsie," Stone's grandson Ted Gup explains.

Gup only learned of his grandfather's charitable alter-ego a couple of years ago, when he opened up an old suitcase and found a couple hundred letters -- all addressed to B. Virdot. The discovery eventually led Ted to write a book called "The Secret Gift."

"It looks pretty hard sometimes but we still hold on to that ray of hope," Gup reads from one of the old letters. He says his grandfather answered each with a $5 check, which would be worth about $100 today.

After hearing the story, a small group of local businessmen stepped into the shadows and up to the plate.

"So that's where we picked up, we said, 'Lets make this guy live again!'" one from the group tells CBS News, his identity hidden from the camera. "The generosity of that man sparked us about how neat it would be to reenact it, to get it going again," says another donor.

The new B. Virdots pledged $15,000, and got back 800 letters. To select the neediest, the paper brought in members of local clergy.

In some ways, not much has changed since the first time B. Virdot asked for letters. Really, the biggest difference is that this time not everyone wrote to ask for money. This time many wrote to give it.

Gauger says the newspaper never asked for donations. And yet since the article came out, it has received $35,000 worth from hundreds of self-proclaimed B. Virdots.

"To have that many people step up, it's really made this thing so much fun for us we can't hardly stand it," one donor says.

And that's why, although Sam Stone has long since passed …the spirit of "B. Virdot" now seems poised for immortality.