Magical Mailboxes

It’s here again already - National Letter Writing Day is Sunday, Oct. 9. And what a pleasure it is when a real letter arrives in the mailbox. A letter separate and distinct from the usual junk mail that flows through the mail stream, which is now exponentially increased by the proliferation of election-related ads and flyers. Decades past, if one had a mailbox at the post office, the front of the box might have been made of glass, especially if the post office was very old. These mailboxes often included a combination lock, though usually a…

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Love Letters from Wisconsin Lumber Camps

By Catherine Roberts Life in the Wisconsin lumber camps in the 1920s, revealed through letters written to my Aunt Lois from 1924 – 1925, was not easy. The letters, preserved for nearly a century in a Milady of Quality Chocolate Covered Brazil Nuts box, tell a story about the everyday news and concerns of this long-ago way of life Aunt Lois, of course, was young and pretty, but not all of the letters addressed to her are love letters. One letter, postmarked January 14, 1924, is from a lumber camp outside Hannibal, Wisconsin. My aunt must…

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Love letters from Wisconsin, 1923-1925

By guest writer Catherine Roberts What is the interest in a small box of letters written to my Aunt Lois about 90 years ago?  I find history, a big mystery, and stories that connect me to my family and Wisconsin. As I get older I become more curious about the early lives of my mother and her five sisters. Genealogy interests me not at all, but I love the stories, and now it is too late to ask. I have nothing like these letters. What happened to this serious romance? Why did my aunt, and then my…

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Dead Letter Office

The dead letter office is no more. First established in 1825 to deal with illegible handwriting, damaged or separated items, incorrectly addressed mail and more, 55 regional dead letter offices, or mail recovery centers, existed at one time to decipher the mysteries of misplaced mail. These dead letter offices operated for nearly 190 years, with postal service staff serving as mail detectives to reunite people with their mail. One such center, the Mail Recovery Center in Atlanta, Georgia, still performs this function today, but times have changed, and not only in name.  While the mail detectives…

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Social Correspondence 2016

Welcome to Social Correspondence 2016 and belated Happy New Year! Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, a day to reflect on the legacy of this remarkable man, and on the hope for a more peaceful world, with fairness and social justice for all. I wish each of you a healthy, peaceful and fulfilling year ahead. Fall and winter holidays are my favorite time of year, a time to enjoy family and friends, good food, and conviviality. It also is the time to reconnect with those we see less often through the ritual of the annual…

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Social Correspondence: 2015 in Review

As 2015 draws to conclusion, it is notable that the most read post of the year in Social Correspondence was Letters to Myself, the story of the amazing Alan Blackman and his exquisitely designed calligraphic envelopes featuring stamps from around the world. On Gratitude, published for Thanksgiving, attracted hundreds of readers, as did Letters from France 1917–1919; Office Supplies; Postcards from Notables; and Letters from Wisconsin. The commonality among these posts was that they focused, for the most part, on stories about people, as reflected in their letters. Many people write letters and/or send cards to…

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Letters from Wisconsin

Kay Christensen Roberts and her sister Jane grew up in Cumberland, Wisconsin, a rural town with a population of slightly over 2,000, then and now. Growing up in Cumberland in the 1950s, Kay became a devotee of the public library and especially of the town librarian, Katherine Robinson, who may have been her namesake. Katherine the librarian and Kay’s mother Aleda Christensen were good friends. The Christensens lived fairly near to Katherine’s mother and, as Kay recalls, “when I was very little I would toddle up to Engesether’s, where I think I spent as much time as…

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Pen Pals

From time to time, a sweet story about pen pals crosses through my news feed. These stories, which originate from all over the world, often involve long-time pen pals who meet after many decades of knowing one another only through letters. I Will Always Write Back by Caitlin Alifirenka and Martin Ganda, with Liz Welch (Little Brown and Company 2015) is a different kind of story. It tells of two young pen pals who, through their six-year correspondence, bridged politics, perspectives, miles and cultures in ways that changed not just their lives, but many others. In…

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Election Mail

Once again our mailboxes have been filled to overflowing with election mail, despite it being a non-presidential election year. In San Francisco, the local ballot measures address such issues as housing affordability and population growth, construction and height limits, stricter regulation of short-term housing rentals, and more. A few of these measures have been highly contentious and caused deep acrimony within the city. This year’s election mail was especially overwhelming in District 3, in the northeast corner of the city, where a hotly contested race for district supervisor took place. In social media postings by my…

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The Missing Postmarks

When did the postmark on our letters go missing? By postmark, I refer to the round circle that once included the date, time of receipt and location of the post office. Generally, the circle was stamped to the left of the cancellation, those wavy or straight lines that partially cover the stamp(s) to indicate that the stamp has been used. I was reminded of this absence recently by the marketing efforts of a certain coffee company promoting a new first edition blend, using a version of the classic circle. Although our first class, stamped mail still…

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