Tuesday, November 10, 2009
I was tidying up in the log room the other day and ran across the old letters and photos of anonymous people from back in the early 1900's that we had found at a yard sale this summer. Although there is nothing earth-shaking in them, I get a strange sensation of time-traveling every time I read the letters or look at the pictures. The letters talk of visiting, shopping, and local news in the gossipy style of a day when people didn't have telephones and the mail was the main avenue of communication. The photos depict happiness and sadness (the one of the baby in the casket is chilling).
Perhaps it was serendipity that a strange story landed in my work email today as part of a Google Alert for "West Virginia" and "library." The article tells the story of a strange letter sent to a man who had been dead for years. Odd that anger and hurt could survive through generations and lead to investigation into just who the recipient really was.
That got me wondering what other "mystery letters" might have surfaced over the years, and sent people scrambling for answers long after the principals in the letter were past caring?
Quite a few, I learned. A few online searches turned up the following:
An angry German letter writer vows revenge for a wrong perpetuated, she believes, many years ago. Only problem? No one by the name to which she sent the letter seems to have ever lived in the town in Pennsylvania to which it was sent.
A letter written in 1927 arrived at its destination in 1994. No one by the addressed name had ever lived at the address, apparently, so the young woman on her way to a new life in Peru may never have known why she received no response.
Was Mrs. Jefferson Davis really the author of this late 1800's letter that details the life of southern women during the Civil War?
A letter fragment contains bits of important Western US history: "the letter weaves a harrowing tale of starvation, mutiny, and cannibalism."
How did letters written in 1950 get inside the walls of a trolley car abandoned at a much earlier date?
A letter in code sent to the Fermi Accelerator Lab in 2007 is still apparently not completely cracked.
Bits and pieces of a torn-up letter from the 1800's help reveal some family history.
Was it murder or suicide? Was the letter an attempt to frame her husband, or a call for revenge from the grave?
The lost Lincoln letters: where are they now? Do they truly exist?
Everyone in a tiny Irish village gets a handwritten letter from a stranger. Who sent them, and why?
For a storyteller, this could be a treasure trove of material--or for a writer, an entire book (and if you want to give it a go, by all means feel free to use these links as a starting place!). In my father's and grandmother's many boxes of letters and photos there are several that left us wondering who the people were who sent them, and what they were to our family.
When we sort book donations at the library, old letters, photos and cards often fall from the pages of books. Apparently no one thought to check before packing up the items to donate, and there is no way for us to track back to the owners.
I wonder how many of you have found an anonymous letter in a book or in the belongings of family who passed on, in a house you lived in or somewhere else?