Monday, April 11, 2011
This letter was mailed from Hyde Park, N.Y., to Gloucester in 1945, but it didn’t arrive for 66 years.
It's a good thing it wasn't someone's military discharge papers. A letter mailed from Hyde Park, New York, 66 years ago finally turned up late last month, years after its' sender died. The episode adds new meaning to the term 'snail mail'. Even a snail, though, would have delivered the letter faster. A local scientist estimated that if someone had placed the letter addressed to a Mrs. S.E. Lawrence of Gloucester, Massachusetts - on the back of a common garden snail, it could have made the 173-mile journey in 6 1/2 years.
While no one knows where in the hell its been since 1945, the letter appeared March 26th when carrier James Patrick picked from the day’s batch of mail and a slightly yellowed envelope with a hand-typed address and four ornate one-cent stamps immediately caught his eye.
Dennis Tarmey, a spokesman for the Greater Boston Postal District, told the Boston Globe that it may have been lost in postal equipment or fallen into a sorting machine — which is often the case with letters that take decades to deliver — but he added that that his theory is pure speculation. Tansey said a postmark on the back of the envelope indicates that it appeared in Seattle this month. "It seems to me that somebody had it for a long time and put it in the mail," he said. "Maybe it ended up in an estate sale. Who knows?"
The envelope is known as a 'First Day Cover' — when a new stamp is issued, collectors celebrate by gathering at the place it is issued and having it postmarked on the first day. In this case, it was a one-cent stamp to commemorate the recently-deceased President Franklin D. Roosevelt, issued from and featuring his Springwood estate. Often, the 'cover' becomes a collectors item years later.
Nancy A. Pope, a historian and curator at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum, told the Post that such first-day celebrations were popular at that time, particularly in this case because it honored Roosevelt, who was a stamp collector and inspired many young people to take up the hobby. "The point of the First Day Cover is the outside of the envelope, not the letter inside," Pope said. "The concept is that they are never going to be opened."’
Some theorize that Lawrence — who lived at 123 Leonard Street — was a stamp collector who had a friend mail her the letter, or mailed it to herself from the event.
This particular cover featured a "cachet," an envelope with a design on the left side commemorating the event being celebrated. When the letter was opened, the only thing inside was a notecard featuring the name and address of the person who had done the engraving of Springwood on the outside of the envelope, 'H. Grimsland'.
The final irony is that such cards as the one found in the envelope were enclosed at the time simply to give the letter enough heft so it would not fall through a sorting machine. Yet that may very well be what happened and why the letter - 66 years late - finally arrived.
As for Mrs. Lawrence, she was a housekeeper who was married to a house painter named Sears. While town elders say she died many years ago, no one has yet been able to locate her in a local cemetery.
If she was cremated and her remains were sent through the U.S. Mail, she should be turning up in about 20 years or so.
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