Monday, 30 November 2009

You're nothing but a pimp

One day in April of 1976, Chicago Daily News columnist Mike Royko decided to focus on Frank Sinatra's arrival in the city ahead of a live show. In his column, Royko described the constant placement of Chicago cops outside Sinatra's hotel as "wasteful," derided his supposed "entourage of flunkies," and remarked on what appeared to be — to Royko at least — a wig on the singer's head. Luckily for us, Sinatra saw the column and wrote this fantastically unrestrained letter to Royko in response.

Royko declined the challenge.

Transcript follows.

(Source: Time Out; Images of Frank Sinatra & Mike Royko via here & here.)


May 4, 1976

Mr. Mike Royko
"Chicago Daily News"
401 No. Wabash Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60611

Let me start this note by saying, I don't know you and you don't know me. I believe if you knew me:

First, you would find immediately that I do not have an army of flunkies.

Secondly, neither myself, nor my secretary, nor my security man put in the request for police protection. It is something that's far from necessary.

It's quite obvious that your source of information stinks, but that never surprises me about people who write in newspapers for a living. They rarely get their facts straight. If the police decided that they wanted to be generous to me, I appreciate it. If you have any beefs with the Chicago Police Force, why not take it out on them instead of me, or is that too big a job for you?

And thirdly, who the hell gives you the right to decide how disliked I am if you know nothing about me. The only honest thing I read in your piece is the fact that you admitted you are disliked, and by the way you write I can understand it. Quite frankly, I don't understand why people don't spit in your eye three or four times a day.

Regarding my "tough reputation" you and no one else can prove that allegation. You and millions of other gullible Americans read that kind of crap written by the same female gossip columnists that you are so gallantly trying to protect; the garbage dealers I call hookers, and there's no doubt that is exactly what they are, which makes you a pimp, because you are using people to make money just as they are.

Lastly, certainly not the least, if you are a gambling man:

a) You prove, without a doubt, that I have ever punched an elderly drunk or elderly anybody, you can pick up $100,000.

b) I will allow you to pull my "hairpiece"; if it moves, I will give you another $100,000; if it does not, I punch you in the mouth. How about it?

(Signed, 'Sinatra')

cc: The Honorable Richard J. Daley
Supt. James Rochford

Mr. Marshall Field, Publisher
Mr. Charles D. Fegert, Vice Pres.


This material has been copyrighted may not be reproduced unless used in its entirety and sets forth the following copyright notice:

(c) Frank Sinatra 1976


When, in 1995, the great Joe Strummer was asked by Mark Hagen to contribute to a Mojo article on Bruce Springsteen, he responded enthusiastically with the fantastic fax seen below. I think it's fair to say he was a fan. The Boss publicly returned the compliment during a gig in 2008, declaring Strummer "one of the greatest rockers of all time" before launching into a rendition of I Fought the Law.

Transcript follows.

(Source: The Guardian & Mark Hagen; Image of Bruce via.)


Dear Mark - here's my contribution


(Signed, 'Joe Strummer')

The KKK will receive a taste of its own medicine

May, 1964: The world looks on as peaceful, non-violent protests against racial segregation turn sour in St. Augustine, Florida. During the coming weeks many protesters will receive verbal and physical abuse from local segregationists, most notably Klansmen. The SCLC, founded by Martin Luther King, lends support to the protests.

June 30th, 1964: Controversial activist Malcolm X sends the following telegram to King. In it, he offers to send some 'brothers' to St. Augustine as backup.

January, 1965: Asked about X's views, King says: 'I know that I have often wished that he would talk less of violence, because violence is not going to solve our problem. And in his litany of articulating the despair of the Negro without offering any positive, creative alternative, I feel that Malcolm has done himself and our people a great disservice.'



AA36 SYC162 (39).
1113A EDT=

1964 JUN 30 PM 12 03





Thursday, 26 November 2009

Unhappy Franksgiving

A mild panic swept over the U.S. in 1939, following a brave decision by President Roosevelt to move Thanksgiving forward from the final Thursday of November to its penultimate Thursday, in an effort to lengthen and boost Christmas spending after the holiday during what were the last groans of the Great Depression. In the days and weeks following his announcement, the White House saw an influx of incoming correspondence from all manner of sources, filled to the brim with heated opinion and response to FDR's controversial decision. Such was the ill-feeling that many people ignored the change and celebrated on the 30th, while others opted to celebrate on both dates just to be sure. For the next couple of years, the holiday was called Franksgiving by many.

Below are just six of the letters, all followed by transcripts. All are from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library.

P.S. Happy Thanksgiving!


The Budget Press. Calendars. "Gift" cards
Salem, Ohio

August 15, 1939

The President,
Washington, D.C.

SUBJECT: Thanksgiving

Mr. President:

Millions of calendars for 1940 have already been printed and sold. We alone have printed over two million 1940 calendars. As you probably know, calendars are sold mostly in January, February, and March, for delivery in the Fall of the year, for use during the coming year, in order that we may keep our employees busy throughout the full twelve months. Otherwise, we would be working day and night the last few months and shut down most of the year.

This situation makes it necessary to print calendars almost a full year in advance. As stated before, at the present time nearly all calendars are printed for 1940 and we have in preparation most of the preliminary work for 1941 calendars, which are sold by salesmen starting the first of December. In other words, actual samples of 1941 calendars are placed on display in December 1939.

Your change for Thanksgiving naturally makes all 1939 calendars obsolete, as well as all 1940 calendars, although it is not too late to change the preliminary work for 1941.

I am afraid your change for Thanksgiving is going to cause the calendar manufacturers untold grief. If very many customers demand 1940 calendars to correspond with your proclamation, hundreds of thousands of dollars will be lost by the calendar companies, and in many instances it will result in bankruptcy.

You will realize, I am sure, that if you had purchased calendars last January for delivery this coming December, to be distributed January 1940, you would want those calendars to show the correct date for Thanksgiving, and you would expect the manufacturer to furnish them - Presidential Proclamation notwithstanding. Due to the fact that 90% of the calendars will be showing Thanksgiving on the usual date for 1940, your Presidential Proclamation should be rescinded; and if it is necessary to change Thanksgiving it should not be changed until 1941. Otherwise, it is going to be difficult for calendar manufactures to get their customers to use the calendars already printed.

Yours respectfully,


John Taylor





August 17, 1939

Mr. F.D. Roosevelt
Washington, D.C.

Dear Sir:

Referring to your proposal as to changing the date of Thanksgiving to November 23, we think we have just the place for you out here in South, Dakota. Yankton.

After all this country is not entirely money-minded, we need a certain amount of idealism and sentiment to keep up the morale of our people, and you, would even take that from us. After all we want to make this country better for our posterity, and you must remember we are not running a Russia or communistic government.

Between your ideas of running for a third term, and your changing dates of century old holidays, we believe you have practically lost your popularity and the good will of the people of the Northwest.


(Signed, 'Robert S. Benson & Clarabelle Voight')

As representatives of the northwest


Brooklyn, N.Y.


President Franklin D. Roosevelt
White House
Washington, D.C.

Dear President Roosevelt:

Would like to give you the view point of the small merchant in regard to your change of the Thanksgiving date.

The small storekeeper would prefer leaving Thanksgiving Day where it belongs. If the large department stores are over-crowded during the shorter shopping period before Christmas, the overflow will come, naturally, to the neighborhood store.

Before writing, have consulted with my fellow directors of the Flatbush Chamber of Commerce, as well as my fellow trustees of the Kings Highway Board of Trade, and the executive council of the Associated Retailers of Greater New York, of which I am chairman.

We have waited many years for a late Thanksgiving to give us an advantage over the large stores, and we are sadly disappointed at your action, in this matter.

Kindly reconsider and oblige thousands of small retail storekeepers throughout this country.

Sincerely yours,

(Signed, 'Charles A. Arnold')



N. B. Written in behalf of over 500 Adam Hat Agents whose association I head. CAA



August 22, 1939

The Secretary to the President,
The White House,
Washington, D.C.

My dear Mr. Secretary:

I am wondering if you are at liberty at this time to supply me with any information over and above what has appeared in the public press to date regarding the plan of the President to proclaim November 23 as Thanksgiving Day this year instead of November 30.

Over a period of years it has been customary for my institution to play its annual football game with Fordham University at the Yankee Stadium here at New York University on Thanksgiving Day, although there have been some instances during this period when the game has been played on the Saturday following Thanksgiving Day. As you probably know, it has become necessary to frame football schedules three to five years in advance, and for both 1939 and 1940 we had arranged to play our annual football game with Fordham on Thanksgiving Day, with the belief that such day would fall upon the fourth Thursday in November.

Please understand that all of us interested in the administration of intercollegiate athletics realize that there are considerations and problems before the country for solution which are far more important than the schedule problems of intercollegiate athletics. However, some of us are confronted with the problem of readjusting the date of any football contest affected by the President's proposal.

As soon as I read of the President's proposal, I advised our Graduate Manager in charge of schedule making simply to mark time pending further public pronouncement by the President as to the definiteness of his proposal. I thought that there might be a change of mind on his part following such public comment which has been made in the press. However, time is slipping past and if it is necessary for us to make arrangements for changing the date of our game this year, we should be taking steps very shortly to make such change effective and to make public announcement with regard to it.

In short, I am wondering if you could furnish me with answers to the following questions which should prove helpful to us in reaching a decision:

1. Has the plan of the President as announced in the press been definitely established, with the result that Thanksgiving Day in 1939 will come on November 23 and not upon November 30 as had been generally anticipated?

2. If no definite decision has been reached as yet, are you in a position to state the earliest possible date upon which a final decision will be rendered?

3. Granted that the President does proclaim the third Thursday, November 23, as Thanksgiving Day for 1939, does it necessarily follow that the same procedure will be employed in 1940, with the result that Thanksgiving Day during the course of that year would fall upon November 21 rather than upon the fourth Thursday of the month, namely, November 28?

I realize, of course, that you may not be in a position to furnish me at this time with the information sought, but you will appreciate that any light which you may be able to throw upon our problem will be extremely helpful.

Very truly yours,


Philip O. Badger,
Chairman of the University Board of Athletic Control, and Assistant to the Chancellor



Shinnston, W. Va.
August 15, 1939

The President
White House
Washington, D.C.

Mr. President:

I see by the paper this morning where you want to change Thanksgiving Day to November 23 of which I heartily approve. Thanks.

Now, there are some things that I would like done and would appreciate your approval:

1. Have Sunday changed to Wednesday;

2. Have Monday's to be Christmas;

3. Have it strictly against the Will of God to work on Tuesday;

4. Have Thursday to be Pay Day with time and one-half for overtime;

5. Require everyone to take Friday and Saturday off for a fishing trip down the Potomac.

With these in view and hoping you will give me some consideration at your next Congress, I remain,

Yours very truly


Shelby O. Bennett



171 Steuben Street
Brooklyn, New York
October 18, 1939

President Franklin D. Roosevelt
The White House
Washington, D.C.

Your Excellency,

Your recent decision to change the date of our Thanksgiving Day has just taken effect here at Pratt Institute. Our directors announced that our school vacation would begin on the twenty-third of November and last until the twenty-sixth because New York, being your home state, is abiding by your decision. However, where I come from, Connecticut, they'll be observing it on the thirtieth of November as usual. Really, this situation makes my heart ache because I love our Thanksgiving Holidays as much if not a bit more than our Christmas Holidays.

Oh, I've missed one other Thanksgiving at home with my parents because I was away at college and too far away to get home to celebrate with them and I didn't like being away at that time either but I see its going to happen again.

I would really like to know just why you did change the date, my curiosity has been aroused. You probably won't see or hear of this letter because you are so busy however, it's been nice writing you about the situation.

Respectfully yours,

(Miss) Eleanor Lucy Blydenburgh

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Langlois Bridge

A letter written by Vincent van Gogh to Émile Bernard on March 18th, 1888, a month after leaving Paris for Arles. He begins the letter with a sketch of sailors and their 'sweethearts' strolling riverside towards a drawbridge, and goes on to mention his current preoccupation with the scene. In fact, the Langlois Bridge later made appearances in a number of his paintings (1,2,3,4), but the sailor and sweetheart only survived in a fragment entitled 'The Lovers'. Read more about it here. For a look at hundreds of letters, to and from Vincent van Gogh, I suggest visiting Vincent van Gogh: The Letters.

Transcript and translation follows.


Mon cher Bernard, ayant promis de t’écrire je veux commencer par te dire que le pays me parait aussi beau que le Japon pour la limpidité de l’atmosphère et les effets de couleur gaie. Les eaux font des taches d’un bel éméraude et d’un riche bleu dans les paysages ainsi que nous le voyons dans les crepons. Des couchers de soleil orangé pâle faisant paraître bleu les terrains - des soleils jaunes splendides. Cependant je n’ai encore guère vu le pays dans sa splendeur habituelle d’été. Le costume des femmes est joli et le dimanche surtout on voit sur le boulevard des arrangements de couleur très-naïfs et bien trouvés. Et cela aussi sans doute s’égayera encore en été.

Je regrette que la vie ici n’est pas à si bon marché que je l’avais espéré et je n’ai pas trouvé moyen jusqu’à présent de m’en tirer à aussi bon compte qu’on pourrait le faire à Pont Aven. J’ai commencé par payer 5 fr. et maintenant je suis à 4 francs par jour. Il faudrait savoir le patois d’ici et savoir manger de la bouillabaisse et de l’aïoli, alors on trouverait surement une pension bourgeoise peu coûteuse. Puis si on était à plusieurs on obtiendrait, je suis porté à le croire, des conditions plus avantageuses. Il y aurait peut-être un réel avantage pour bien des artistes amoureux de soleil et de couleur d’émigrer dans le midi. Si les Japonais ne sont pas en progrès dans leur pays il est indubitable que leur art se continue en France. En tête de cette lettre je t’envoie un petit croquis d’une étude qui me préoccupe pour en faire quelque chôse - des matelots qui remontent avec leurs amoureuses vers la ville qui profile l’étrange silhouette de son pont levis sur un énorme soleil jaune.

J’ai une autre étude du même pont levis avec un groupe de laveuses. Serai content d’un mot de toi pour savoir ce que tu fais et où tu iras. Poignée de main bien cordiale à toi-même et aux amis.

bien à toi


Translated transcript

My dear Bernard, having promised to write to you, I want to begin by telling you that this part of the world seems to me as beautiful as Japan for the clearness of the atmosphere and the gay colour effects. The stretches of water make patches of a beautiful emerald and a rich blue in the landscapes, as we see it in the Japanese prints. Pale orange sunsets making the fields look blue - glorious yellow suns. However, so far I’ve hardly seen this part of the world in its usual summer splendour. The women’s costume is pretty, and especially on the boulevard on Sunday you see some very naive and well-chosen arrangements of colour. And that, too, will doubtless get even livelier in summer.

I regret that living here isn’t as cheap as I’d hoped, and until now I haven’t found a way of getting by as easily as one could do in Pont-Aven. I started out paying 5 francs and now I’m on 4 francs a day. One would need to know the local patois, and know how to eat bouillabaisse and aïoli, then one would surely find an inexpensive family boarding-house. Then if there were several of us, I’m inclined to believe we’d get more favourable terms. Perhaps there’d be a real advantage in emigrating to the south for many artists in love with sunshine and colour. The Japanese may not be making progress in their country, but there’s no doubt that their art is being carried on in France. At the top of this letter I’m sending you a little croquis of a study that’s preoccupying me as to how to make something of it - sailors coming back with their sweethearts towards the town, which projects the strange silhouette of its drawbridge against a huge yellow sun.

I have another study of the same drawbridge with a group of washerwomen. Shall be happy to have a line from you to know what you’re doing and where you’re going to go. A very warm handshake to you and the friends.

yours truly,


You are Elvis Presley. I am Andy Kaufman.

On February 27th, 1969, 20-year-old Andy Kaufman wrote the following letter to his idol, Elvis Presley, and spoke of both his admiration for the King of Rock 'n' Roll and his desire to meet him in person. It would be another 3 years until Kaufman's now famous Elvis act was first televised—a performance which Presley himself later claimed to be his favourite Elvis impersonation.

Unfortunately, a portion of the letter is missing.

(Source: Jude Martins; Image above via YouTube.)


Feb 27, 1969

Leavitt Hall
645 Beacon St.
Boston, Msses, Room 629

Dear Mr. Presley,


Here I am at the old college desk writing you a letter for the first time in my life.

Here I am twenty years old. I have been an "Elvis Presley fan" since my grandfather bought me a copy of Elvis' Golden Records when I was seven. (Since then I have acquired every word you ever recorded, except three.)

You are Elvis Presley. I am Andy Kaufman. One day I shall meet you. I shall shake your hand. I shall say "Hello."

I know you, ya know? I really do know you. I have seen


as yours.) It's just an idea, but if it can't happen, can you arrange for me to just shake your hand and say hello? I mean, I've gone through a heckova lot these past few years, turning people on to you, dragging friends and parties to your movies. I don't even drink, smoke, or curse anymore.

Thanks for everything

(No kiddin', I feel like I'm writin' to Santa Claus or somethin'.)


Andy G. Kaufman

Daddy, my Poppy hasn't grown yet

On May 11th, 1964, the following heartwarming letter was written by war veteran David Bailey in relation to a missing Returned from Active Service badge. I'll offer no more details so as not to spoil the story.

Transcript follows. Thanks to Linda for the tip. 


16 Lambeth Street,
11th May, 1964

The Officer in Charge,
Department of Army,
Badges Section,
Victoria Barracks,

Dear Sir;

Re; Returned from Active Service Badge
NX174711, Gnr. Bailey D.J. 53 A.A. Regt.

I wish to apply for a re-issue of my Returned from Active Service Badge. This Badge has been missing for approximately 18 months. BADGE NO. A364591.

My son, when he was about three years old asked me to tell him why I was wearing the Red Flower on my coat, I explained that it was Poppy Day and at Flanders in the first war a hillside of poppies grew where the Soldiers, killed in the war, were buried.

He then asked me what my Badge was for and I explained its purpose. He then asked me if I had been killed in the War would a Poppy have been grown on top of me and I explained that it would.

The next day my badge was missing, the house was turned inside out but to no avail. A month went by and as I was cleaning out a drawer I came across the Poppy. My son saw this and then said "Daddy, my Poppy hasn't grown yet". On questioning him further he told me he PLANTED my Badge in the Garden somewhere, but after taking him around the gardens he could not tell me where he planted my Badge. During the course of digging various garden beds up the Badge has not been found and my son cannot remember where he put the badge but tells me that when the Poppy grows he'll be able to show me.

I am forwarding a cheque for 5/-d. as I believe that is the amount required for a new badge. I am informed this statement should be signed by a J.P. but as I am a J.P. I thought my own statement might cover any paper which may have to be completed.

Yours faithfully,


David James Bailey

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Dear Mayor of New York City

It's no wonder that in a city as large and populous as New York, a steady stream of letters are written to the Mayor throughout the year by its citizens, the majority having been penned for different reasons. Below are just four such letters that I have plucked - with permission - from a truly fascinating book by the name of New York City Museum of Complaint, in which 132 complaint letters written between the years 1751 and 1969, all addressed to the Mayor of that time, have been compiled by Matthew Bakkom. The sheer variety of complaints and observations - in turn unique in their language and/or penmanship - combine to offer an incredibly intriguing snapshot of a type of correspondence rarely mentioned elsewhere.

Transcripts follow each letter.




Oct.21, 1935

To the Mayor of the
City of New York -

With this letter to you I am also resigning from my position buying a gun and starting a good fight - I have no criminal record - I do not mix with the cheap ladies or criminals - and will go a hell of a long ways before you get me


Your restaurants and other business institutions are going just a little to strong - 3 slices of tomato on 2 leafs of lettuce in the Automat cost 15c or 5c a slice for tomatoes which cost 25c a peck.

The dirty rats have not seen the blood of women and children in the gutter.


J. P. C-


Columbia College.

October 31, 1889.

Hon. Hugh J. Grant,
Mayor City of New York.

Dear Sir:-

I have learned with great regret that the Board of Aldermen have passed an ordinance forbidding the playing of all musical instruments upon the streets of the city. This ordinance, as it seems to me, proscribes and deprives of their means of subsistence a worthy class of our citizens. A class who are above the average in intelligence and morality and are gifted with special faculties which enable them to contribute to one of the most innocent of our pleasures. They are also educators of the taste and faculties of our population in music which is always elevating in its influence. Beside and above all this the street musicians in many parts of our city bring to our poorer population, especially the children, the only music they hear and no one can see the groups of delighted children who gather around the street band and organ grinder without proof that they are public benefactors. So in the interests of the multitude of poor who have so few pleasures and so many temptations, I venture to request respectfully that you will with-hold your official signature from this ordinance.

Yours very truly,




December 8th, 1911

Mayor Gaynor,
City Hall, N.Y.

Dear Sir:-

I would like to call your attention to the disgraceful acts that take place daily in Bryant Park.

I have occasion to pass through this park several times a day and have noticed that there is always a crowd of the lowest types of men and women sitting on the benches.

This morning about nine o'clock, I saw some of them with a bottle of whiskey; then about eleven o'clock, I again found it necessary to go down the street, and they were all drinking and carrying on; just now at three o'clock, I again went through the Park and three of these women and one man were yelling and using the foulest kind of language.

It seems to me that some of the policemen ought to notice the daily occurrences. It is an outrage that young innocent children should have to listen to such things and see such sights.

Yours very truly,

(Signed, 'C. H. Freudenthal')



New York Aug 21/88

Hon. Mayor Hewitt

Dear Sir

Is there such a Dept as the board of health in this city. A dead horse is waiting to be taken away for the last 24 hours in front of 41 Henry str. The stench is unbearable, and people in the neighborhood of which I am one were forced to sleep with closed windows last night.

Not a pleasant thing, I assure you.

Yours very truly,

Albert Oelzer
37 Henry str

Monday, 23 November 2009

Best regards, Kurt

On August 2nd of 1993, Kurt Cobain wrote the following letter to a hero of his: Beat legend William Burroughs. Cobain had been a fan of Burroughs for many years and in 1992 even collaborated with the author on The "Priest" They Called Him; however, to Cobain's dismay, they still hadn't met. And so, during preparation for the video to Nirvana's Heart-Shaped Box, he wrote to Burroughs and asked him to appear, even if it meant disguising his face to avoid unwanted attention. His invitation was politely declined.

The pair did eventually meet, in October of that year. Cobain passed away six months later.

(Source: Reality Studio; Image of Cobain via, image of Burroughs via.)

August 2, 1993

Mr. William Burroughs

Dear William:

It's a bit odd writing someone whom I've never met but with whom I've already recorded a record. I really enjoyed the opportunity to do the record -- it's a great honor to be pictured alongside you on the back cover. I am writing you now regarding the possibility of your appearing alongside my band (Nirvana) in the first video from our new album, "In Utero."

While I know that Michael Meisel from Gold Mountain Entertainment (my management company) has been speaking to James Grauerholz, I wanted the opportunity to personally let you know why I wanted you to appear in the video.

Most importantly, I wanted you to know that this request is not based on a desire to exploit you in any way. I realize that stories in the press regarding my drug use may make you think that this request comes from a desire to parallel our lives. Let me assure you that this is not the case. As a fan and student of your work, I would cherish the opportunity to work directly with you. To the extent that you may want to avoid any direct use of your image (thus avoiding the aforementioned link for the press to devour). I would be happy to have my director look into make-up techniques that could conceal your identity. While I would be proud to have William Burroughs appear as himself in my video, I am more concerned with getting the opportunity to work with you than I am with letting the public know (should that be your wish).

Having said that, let me reiterate how much I would like to make this happen. While I am comfortable letting Michael and James discuss this further, I am available to discuss this with you at your convenience.

Thank you very much for your consideration.

Best regards,

(Signed, 'Kurt')

Kurt Cobain

Friday, 20 November 2009

Al Capone is coming home

Following his release from prison late-1939, Al Capone returned to his home in Palm Island, Florida, and lived the last 7 years of his life in a state of confusion and bad health, brought on by a neuropsychiatric disorder caused by syphilis. Prior to said release, Miami Police Lieutenant James Barker caught wind of Capone's plans and, armed with some information relating to his mental health, saw an opportunity to file lunacy proceedings against the gangster and keep him out of harm's way. All Barker needed to begin the process was the official diagnosis relating to Capone's condition.

Below is the request sent to then FBI Director, J. Edgar Hoover, in an effort to obtain the documents.


City of Miami-Florida

November 17, 1939

Mr. John Edgar Hoover, Director,
Federal Bureau of Investigation,

Dear Director:

It is apparent from all this sickening publicity that Al Capone is coming to Miami to reside in the near future.

You informed me personally one evening at the Willard hotel that Capone is definitely afflicted with a brain disorder known as 'Paresis'.

I am going to endeavor to institute lunacy proceedings against Capone, and in order to meet with any degree of success, I would have to obtain a copy of the government doctor's diagnosis, relative to this condition, which if true will give me sufficient material to prove him a public menace.

I realize that the Federal Bureau of Prisons will not voluntarily release such a statement, and I seek your advice as to what procedure I should adopt to obtain such a document.

Your co-operation in this matter will be greatly appreciated and treated with the utmost confidence.

Respectfully yours,


James O. Barker, Lieut. Dets.,
Miami Police Dept.

2271 S.W.20th St.
Phone 46-413

This issue transcends all others

2 years prior to Hitler's rise to power in 1933, Germany was chosen as host of the 1936 Olympic Games. As the games approached and Hitler's regime shocked the world, the air was filled with rumours of boycott, both from individual athletes and entire governments. Walter White, then executive secretary of the NAACP, wrote a letter to Jesse Owens upon hearing of the athlete's intentions to attend and compete at the event, in an effort to persuade him otherwise. Owens, desperate to compete for his country in spite of its hypocritical stance regarding Hitler's policies, ignored all calls to boycott the games and went to Berlin. He won four gold medals.

Note: The letter below was never sent. However, it's my understanding that a near identical copy did reach Owens.

Transcript follows.



Official Organ: The Crisis

December 4th 1935

My dear Mr. Owens:

Will you permit me to say that it was with deep regret that I read in the New York press today a statement attributed to you saying that you would participate in the 1936 Olympic games even if they are held in Germany under the Hitler regime. I trust you will not think me unduly officious in expressing the hope that this report is erroneous.

I fully realize how great a sacrifice it will be for you to give up the trip to Europe and to forgo the acclaim which your athletic prowess will unquestionably bring you. I realize equally well how hypocritical it is for certain Americans to point the finger of scorn at any other country for racial or other kind of bigotry.

On the other hand, it is my firm conviction that the issue of participation in the 1936 Olympics, if held in Germany under the present regime, transcends all other issues. Participation by American athletes, and especially those of our own race which has suffered more than any other from American race hatred, would, I firmly believe, do irreparable harm. I take the liberty of sending you a copy of the remarks which I made at a meeting here in New York, at Mecca Temple, last evening. This sorry world of ours is apparently becoming in a fumbling way to realize what prejudice against any minority group does not only to other minorities but to the group which is in power. The very preeminence of American Negro athletes gives them an unparalleled opportunity to strike a blow at racial bigotry and to make other minority groups conscious of the sameness of their problems with ours and puts them under the moral obligation to think more clearly and to fight more vigorously against the wrongs from which we Negroes suffer.

But the moral issue involved is, in my opinion, far greater than immediate or future benefit to the Negro as a race. If the Hitlers and the Mussolinis of the world are successful it is inevitable that dictatorships based upon prejudice will spread throughout the world, as indeed they are now spreading. Defeat of dictators before they become too firmly entrenched would, on the other hand, deter nations which through fear or other unworthy emotions are tending towards dictatorships. Let me make this quite concrete. Anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic and anti-Negro prejudices are growing alarmingly throughout the United States. Should efforts towards recovery fail, there is no telling where America will go. There are some people who believe that a proletarian dictatorship will come. I do not believe this will happen and the course of history clearly indicates that it is not likely to happen. Instead, it is more probable that we would have a fascist dictatorship.

It is also historically true that such reactionary dictatorships pick out the most vulnerable group as its first victims. In the United States it would be the Negro who would be the chief and first sufferer, just as the Jews have been made the scapegoats of Hitlerism in Nazi Germany. Sinclair Lewis, in his last novel, IT CAN'T HAPPEN HERE, has written what seems to me to be a very sound picture of what may happen.

I have written at greater length than I had intended at the outset. I hope, however, that you will not take offense at my writing you thus frankly with the hope that you will take the high stand that we should rise above personal benefit and help strike a blow at intolerance. I am sure that your stand will be applauded by many people in all parts of the world, as your participation under the present situation in Germany would alienate many high-minded people who are awakening to the dangers of intolerance wherever it raises its head.

Ever sincerely,


Mr. Jesse Owens
Ohio State University


Thursday, 19 November 2009

Houdini's Last Trick

At New York's Shelton Hotel on August 5th, 1926, in plain view of invited journalists and using no breathing apparatus, Harry Houdini lay in a sealed casket at the bottom of a swimming pool for an hour and a half. His motivation for the feat was the opportunity to expose Egyptian fakir Rahman Bey, a man who at the time was wowing crowds with the same stunt but attributing his survival to supernatural powers. Hours after his success, Houdini generously wrote the following letter to Dr. W. J. McConnell, a physiologist at the U.S. Bureau of Mines who had been present at the event. In it, he detailed the burials and their effects and even provided temperature recordings for McConnell, who in turn used the data in studies relating to the survival techniques of trapped miners.

Sadly, Houdini passed away less than three months later as a result of a ruptured appendix.

Transcript follows.



August 5,1926.

Dr. W. J. McConnell:-

Want to dictate my experiences and feeling as soon as possible, while it is fresh in my mind. It is now 5:10 P. M. Have had one half an hour's sleep and feel fairly comfortable.

I have made two secret trials for the test and as you saw the coffin I used at the Boyertown Casket Company and have the measurements, I will eliminate that and let you add same. In the coffin I had 26,428 cubin inches of air and in the galvanised iron coffin which was submerged at the Shelton Baths, I had, 34,396 cubin inches which I believe gave me 7960 more cubin inches of air than in the Boyertown coffin. I will give you the tests and mark them, 1, 2 and 3.

#1 - Test was made in the coffin without being submerged. I remained this first time in same for one hour and ten minutes. Was comfortable which leaves me to believe that some air must have seeped through, though very little, it helped. I started to perspire after being in about forty-five minutes and was completely saturated with perspiration, but at no time was I in agony.

I scarcely moved. With my years of training, I can remain apparently motionless without an effort. I kept my eyes open for fear I would go to sleep. Dr. William Stone was in attendance, and they were very much afraid of the experiment. As it progressed their confidence grew, so did mine.

TEST #2 - Was made with a coffin that was specially made - that is, it had a lining of galvanised iron and was strengthened and tested until it was air-tight. I got into this Wednesday, August 4th about noon and remained submerged, the coffin being in a large box which you saw on the premises. Remained in this one hour and thirteen minutes. This time I was comfortable - somewhat cold (attached is a sheet of paper giving the temperature). There was plenty of moisture on the inside and I should judge about an inch and a half water on top of the coffin. I was watched constantly. Was much more comfortable than at the first test as far as my body was concerned, Started to draw long breaths after about fifty minutes. There was always an irritability there and thought it was simply temperament on my part.

I was annoyed by movements, annoyed by one of my assistants swaying over my head, even twisting of the key. I gave the signal to let me out at seventy minutes and believe it took three minutes to unscrew the thiry-two bolts and screws on the coffin. There was no suffering. The first test, when the coffin was not in water, - when the lid was taken off and the fresh air touched me, it felt icy cold.

Test #3 - which you witnessed, I have reason to believe that the air in the Swimming Pool was rarified, because it was warm in the coffin before the two round plates were screwed on. As a matter of fact I was not comfortable at all and attributed it to the warmth of the place and the mechanical means of drawing air into the pool. At no time can I say I was as comfortable as during the other tests. The first day, the anxiety of an accident retarded me somewhat, but as you know I trained for many years as an escape artist and have been nailed in boxes and thrown into rivers; have been locked in milk cans for two and three minutes. The Torture Cell which I am now presenting I have performed for twelve years. This compels me to keep in physical condition and lung capacity all of the time.

In this test I had to breath heavily after about fifty minutes and was not sure of staying an hour. I hung along over an hour and thought I would do at least ten minutes more. By this time, I commenced to pant, that is draw rather long slow breathes. As I remembered in the first two tests, the temperature was less at my feet than at my head, I slid towards the foot of the box.

The irritability was pronounced. I was going to have them a top shaking the galvanised iron coffin, but wanted to get the benefit of the air action, having read some of your reports and figured out that by moving the box, the air would move. The time they let the box go and it sprang to the surface, the only fear I had was that there would be a rending of the coffin, allowing the water to force through and drowned me. As you know I was helpless and would have taken a number of minutes to get me out of a dangerous predicament. As you know, eight men held the coffin down and on same was about 700 pounds of dead weight. The men in moving around kept shaking it to and fro.

When the coffin was out of the water, there was a relief all over my body. In speaking with Mr. Spatz of the Boyertown Casket Company on August 6th, I told him how relieved I felt when that galvanised iron coffin sprang out of the water. He said this means that there was a give in the galvanising and the air in there had to go somewhere which forced me to be uncomfortable as that air naturally was forced into my body. The new one they are going to make, they will eliminate any chance of outside pressure having any effect on the inside.

Incidentally, the Boyertown Casket Company, furnished the bronze casket in which Rahmen Bey was sealed and soldered the first time when he was supposed to remain for one hour, but only stayed in same twenty-one minutes. They have gone out of their way a good deal with these experiments and know they are willing to co-operate with you at any time to find out just exactly what can be done in an air-tight coffin. We are all interested from a humanitarian viewpoint and any time I am in your vicinity, am gladly at your service.

I counted my respiration and averaged seventeen. When I dictated this I still had that metallic taste in my stomach and mouth. Felt rather weak in the knees. Have no headache but just seem listless.

When Collins, my assistant, phoned me that I had been in there for one hour and twelve minutes, I was going to stay three more minutes but watching my lungs rise and fall thought I could stand the strain for another fifteen minutes.

When the box jumped in the air, I felt water under my shoulders and reaching over found the handkerchief I brought into the coffin was wet. About this time I thought of it again and put it to my lips thinking it would help me, but outside of relieving the warmth on the mouth, lips and tongue and imagining it might help, I doubt if it had any air value. Nevertheless I kept it to my lips until I was ready to come up.

After one hour and twenty-eight minutes I commenced to see yellow lights and carefully watched myself not to go to sleep. I kept my eyes wide open. Moved on the broad of my back, so as to take all of the weight off my lungs, my left arm was across my chest. I laid on my right side, my left buttock against the coffin so that I could keep the telephone receiver to my ear without holding it and told Collins to get me up within that time.

At the hour and a half or 1:31, whatever the time was, again I had that comfortable feeling when the water pressure was off, not entirely relieving my accordion like movement of lungs, but I was at ease and when the coffin was opened, the lower plate, the coffin-seemed to expand and the rush of air lifted me practically off my back. Again I was irritable and wondered why they didn't take off the second plate. As you know I had a plate at the head, and one at the foot.

There is no doubt in my mind that had this test been where fresh air could have gotten in the galvanised iron coffin as I was put in same, I could readily have stayed fifteen or thirty minutes longer. I must tell you that I have been training for this practically three weeks. My lungs are in a remarkable condition and when I commenced to pump for air, after one hour and twelve minutes, I believe it was only the training that allowed me to remain.

In ordinary circumstances I can remain under water two minutes without any trouble. When I was a boy from sixteen to eighteen years of age I could do four minutes in a bath tub where there was not much pressure.

In making this test, I used a physic the day before, ate very light and about 10:25 A. M. August 5th had a fruit salad and a half a cup of coffee. Was somewhat nervous but that I attribute to the excitement of the test, not through any fear.

In the three weeks I was training, I reduced about twelve pounds. As the present time I weight 157½ pounds. If you want any other measurements or additional information I would be glad to let you have same.

Am having a coffin made with a glass top, and as soon as it is ready will let you know. I know you are doing a worthwhile work and as my body and brain are trained for this particular line, I am at your service. Don't be afraid to ask any question, I will be glad to let you know.

Regards and best wishes,

(Signed, 'Houdini')

P.S. I must tell you that every time I spoke I would gasp for air and was angry at Collins, my assistant making me raise my hand to ring the bell. Next time I do this, will take a pear shaped bell which I can hold in my hand and simply by thumb pressure push the button, although for you, believe the coffin with the glass cover, would be the most useful.

This is the Temperature at the second test, August 4, 1926.

Had two thermometers in the coffin - one at my feet and one at my head. This was in the coffin with the glass cover.

Time                Inside at head        Outside

12:05 P.M.              80                    65
12:15                       80                    65
12:20                       80                    65
12:25                       80                    65
12:30                       82                    67
12:35                       81                    67
12:40                       80                    67
12:45                       80                    67
12:50                       80                    67
12:55                       80                    67
1 : PM                     80                    67
1:05                         80                    67
1:10                         80                    67          
1:13                         80                    67

The thermometer at the feet was 77 degrees all during the experiment.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Slaughterhouse Five

In December of 1944, whilst behind enemy lines during the Rhineland Campaign, 22-year-old Private Kurt Vonnegut was captured by Wehrmacht troops and subsequently became a prisoner of war. A month later, Vonnegut and his fellow PoWs reached a Dresden work camp where they were imprisoned in an underground slaughterhouse known by German soldiers as "Schlachthof Fünf" (Slaughterhouse Five). The next month — February — the subterranean nature of the prison saved their lives during the highly controversial and devastating bombing of Dresden, the aftermath of which Vonnegut and the remaining survivors helped to clear up.

Below is an incredible letter he wrote to his family that May from a repatriation camp, in which he informs them of his capture and survival. 25 years later, in 1969, Vonnegut's stunning book, Slaughterhouse-Five, was released.

Transcript follows.

(This letter, along with 124 other fascinating pieces of correspondence, can be found in the bestselling book, Letters of Note. For more info, visit Books of Note.)


Pfc. K. Vonnegut, Jr.,
12102964 U. S. Army.


Kurt Vonnegut,
Williams Creek,
Indianapolis, Indiana.

Dear people:

I'm told that you were probably never informed that I was anything other than "missing in action." Chances are that you also failed to receive any of the letters I wrote from Germany. That leaves me a lot of explaining to do -- in precis:

I've been a prisoner of war since December 19th, 1944, when our division was cut to ribbons by Hitler's last desperate thrust through Luxemburg and Belgium. Seven Fanatical Panzer Divisions hit us and cut us off from the rest of Hodges' First Army. The other American Divisions on our flanks managed to pull out: We were obliged to stay and fight. Bayonets aren't much good against tanks: Our ammunition, food and medical supplies gave out and our casualties out-numbered those who could still fight - so we gave up. The 106th got a Presidential Citation and some British Decoration from Montgomery for it, I'm told, but I'll be damned if it was worth it. I was one of the few who weren't wounded. For that much thank God.

Well, the supermen marched us, without food, water or sleep to Limberg, a distance of about sixty miles, I think, where we were loaded and locked up, sixty men to each small, unventilated, unheated box car. There were no sanitary accommodations -- the floors were covered with fresh cow dung. There wasn't room for all of us to lie down. Half slept while the other half stood. We spent several days, including Christmas, on that Limberg siding. On Christmas eve the Royal Air Force bombed and strafed our unmarked train. They killed about one-hundred-and-fifty of us. We got a little water Christmas Day and moved slowly across Germany to a large P.O.W. Camp in Muhlburg, South of Berlin. We were released from the box cars on New Year's Day. The Germans herded us through scalding delousing showers. Many men died from shock in the showers after ten days of starvation, thirst and exposure. But I didn't.

Under the Geneva Convention, Officers and Non-commissioned Officers are not obliged to work when taken prisoner. I am, as you know, a Private. One-hundred-and-fifty such minor beings were shipped to a Dresden work camp on January 10th. I was their leader by virtue of the little German I spoke. It was our misfortune to have sadistic and fanatical guards. We were refused medical attention and clothing: We were given long hours at extremely hard labor. Our food ration was two-hundred-and-fifty grams of black bread and one pint of unseasoned potato soup each day. After desperately trying to improve our situation for two months and having been met with bland smiles I told the guards just what I was going to do to them when the Russians came. They beat me up a little. I was fired as group leader. Beatings were very small time: -- one boy starved to death and the SS Troops shot two for stealing food.

On about February 14th the Americans came over, followed by the R.A.F. their combined labors killed 250,000 people in twenty-four hours and destroyed all of Dresden -- possibly the world's most beautiful city. But not me.

After that we were put to work carrying corpses from Air-Raid shelters; women, children, old men; dead from concussion, fire or suffocation. Civilians cursed us and threw rocks as we carried bodies to huge funeral pyres in the city.

When General Patton took Leipzig we were evacuated on foot to ('the Saxony-Czechoslovakian border'?). There we remained until the war ended. Our guards deserted us. On that happy day the Russians were intent on mopping up isolated outlaw resistance in our sector. Their planes (P-39's) strafed and bombed us, killing fourteen, but not me.

Eight of us stole a team and wagon. We traveled and looted our way through Sudetenland and Saxony for eight days, living like kings. The Russians are crazy about Americans. The Russians picked us up in Dresden. We rode from there to the American lines at Halle in Lend-Lease Ford trucks. We've since been flown to Le Havre.

I'm writing from a Red Cross Club in the Le Havre P.O.W. Repatriation Camp. I'm being wonderfully well feed and entertained. The state-bound ships are jammed, naturally, so I'll have to be patient. I hope to be home in a month. Once home I'll be given twenty-one days recuperation at Atterbury, about $600 back pay and -- get this -- sixty (60) days furlough.

I've too damned much to say, the rest will have to wait, I can't receive mail here so don't write.

May 29, 1945


Kurt - Jr.

John McCain's favourite joke

Back in 2003, John Hargrave of posed as a 10-year-old schoolboy and sent a written request to 100 U.S. Senators. Armed with a mythical 'government project' set by his Social Studies teacher, Hargrave's temporary alter-ego politely asked each Senator to reply to him with his or her favourite joke. Thankfully, some responded. Below is my personal favourite, written by a certain Mr. John McCain a few years after his unsuccessful presidential campaign in 2000. Unfortunately for McCain, following his second campaign in 2008, the joke still stands.

The other Senators' replies can be read here.



May 8, 2003

Mr. John Hargrave
PO Box 57013
Babson Park, MA 02457-0012

Dear John:

Thank you for contacting my office to request a joke for your project. I am happy to oblige.

Here is my favorite joke: I feel terrible for all the mothers in the state of Arizona. Because, as you know, Barry Goldwater from Arizona ran for President of the United States, Morris Udall from Arizona ran for President of the United States, Bruce Babbitt from Arizona ran for President of the United States, and I, John McCain from Arizona ran for President of the United States…Arizona may be the only state in the nation where mothers no longer tell their children that some day they can grow up and be President of the United States.

It was a pleasure to hear from you. If you would like information regarding my interests and history as a Senator, please refer to my website:

Please do not hesitate to contact me in the future.



John McCain
United States Senator


Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Philip K. Dick on dreams

Science fiction novelist Philip K. Dick wrote many letters to Claudia Bush; a woman who, due to a thesis she was writing, had chosen to initiate contact with the author as he was the subject of her paper. Below is one of the letters he wrote. In it, Dick tells of a recurring dream he experienced for months in which a mysterious book made a seemingly important appearance, then goes on to conclude the letter with an amusing postscript. Interestingly, the letter was written just 5 months after Dick experienced the life-changing visions he subsequently documented in Exegesis.

Transcript follows.


July 5, 1974

Dear Claudia,

Since I last wrote you (sending on the 7 page letter to Peter Fitting plus the 2 page letter to you) I have continued to have the same dream again and again which I mentioned: a vast and important book held up before me which I should read. Yesterday, for example, since Tessa and Christopher had gone off on a picnic, I took several naps and had four dreams in which printed matter appeared, two of them involving books.

For three months, virtually every night, I've had these dreams involving written material. And within the last few days it became obvious that a specific book was indicated. That the ultimate purpose of these dreams was to call my attention to an actual book somewhere in the real world, which I was to find, then take down and read.

The first dream on July 4 was much more explicit than any before; I took down my copy of Robert Heinlein's I WILL FEAR NO EVIL, a large blue hardback U.K. edition, for two men to look at. Both men said this was not a book (or the book) they were interested in. However, it was clear that the book wanted was large and blue and hardback.

In a dream a month ago I managed to see part of the title; it ended with the word "Grove." At the time I thought it might be Proust's WITHIN A BUDDING GROVE, but it was not; however, there was a long word similar to "Budding" before "Grove."

So I knew by the first part of the day yesterday that I was looking for a large blue hardback book --very large and long, according to some dreams, endlessly long, in fact-- with the final word of the title being "Grove" and a word before it like "Budding."

In the last of the four dreams yesterday I caught sight of the copyright date on the book and another look at the typestyle. It was dated either 1966 or possibly 1968 (the latter proved to be the case). So I began studying all the books in my library which might fit these qualifications. I had the keen intuition that when I at last found it I would have in my hands a mystic or occult or religious book of wisdom which would be a doorway to the absolute reality behind the whole universe.

Of course the possibility existed that I didn't have the book in my library, that I would have to go out and buy it. In several dreams I was in a bookstore doing just that. One time the book was help open before me with its pages singed by fire on all sides. By that I took it to be an extremely sacred book, perhaps the one seen in the Book of Daniel.

Anyhow today I looked all day around the house, since Tessa has been sick with a sunburn, and all at once I found the book. The three month search is at last over.

As soon as I took down the volume I knew it was to be the right one. I had seen it again and again, with ever increasing clarity, until it could not be mistaken.

The book is called THE SHADOW OF BLOOMING GROVE, hardback and blue, running just under 700 huge long pages of tiny type. It was published in 1968. It is the dullest book in the world; I tried to read it when the Book Find Book Club sent it to me but couldn't.

It is a biography of Warren G. Harding.


(Signed, 'Phil')

Phil Dick

P.S. This is on a level, and it goes to show you that you should never take your dreams too seriously. Or else it shows that the unconscious or the universe or God or whatever can put you on. A three-month gag. (If you want to read the book I'll mail it to you. Postage should be enormous. You got three years ahead in which you have nothing planned?)

Thousands of other Daddies went too...

On October 21st of 1942, not long after being called to New Guinea to fight the Japanese forces during World War II, a young Australian soldier named John Byrnes decided to write to his 2-year-old daughter in an effort to explain his situation.

His letter can be seen below. It's beyond beautiful.

(Update: It seems that John Byrnes didn't make it back.)

Transcript follows. Images courtesy of Australia Post.

Oct 21, 1942

My Dear Little Girl,

Last night was a beautiful moonlit night. Every star that studded the sky was sparkling like a jewel. The air was crisp, but faintly perfumed, with all the fragrances only a lovely spring night can devise. Today it is raining hard, the wind is fierce and cold. Yes! It is miserable, something you want to pass by quickly, so that the night will again be beautiful.

Life too, Anne, is like the weather. Some days are so lovely, the happenings of those days so enchanting, you never can forget them. Some are so unhappy, you wish they never happened but, alas, they must for your life, your Mother’s, mine, everyone’s is so mixed up with joy and sadness that you never have one or the other for long. One replaces the other with a speed that is amazing.

Thus it happened just two years ago. Your Mother knew and I knew that you were going to be born. Those days were anxious ones, Anne. As the days went by your Mother used to smile at me with those lovely brown eyes. Eyes that shone with courage and resolve. If she had anxiety in her mind she never showed it but it must have been there. In my heart and mind torments raged that no one will ever know. But through all the doubts all the worries and all the long, anxious hours an end came, bringing with it, you.

From that hour, it was early in the morning, the lives of two people were filled with inexplicable happiness. When I called to see your Mother that day I shall never forget the beauty, the happiness that shone up at me from her precious little face. Neither will I forget the pride and the joy that surged right through me when the nurse brought you along and I held you in my arms.

Soon we took you home. The months sped by, and you gradually took a hold in our hearts. You laughed so much at such silly things we did to claim your attention. We showed you off to so many people. Your eyes, so big and questioning never failed to win admiration. Your curly hair was indeed a special joy.

And as each month sped by you grew. First you sat up, then stood up, then crawled, then walked. As each stage passed funny little incidents occurred. Perhaps no one ever noticed them or remembered them. But your Mother and I did. Every night, when I came home from work, there were stories of your conduct through the day to be told. Some days you were good and others you were naughty. Like, for instance, the day when a little mischievous spirit seized onto you and strips of wall paper came from the wall, Other thoughts came crowding into my mind, memories of days gone by when we laughed at you, scolded you, and, some serious times when we worried over you.

The first year of your life passed away, quickly perhaps, but you grew so quickly every day was an adventure not only for yourself but for us. You had a party for your first birthday, and although you sat up like Jacky you probably will never remember it. But that day you got “Goog’ga” for a present. Poor “Goog-ga”. As each week passed he got dirtier and more worn. And the dirtier he got the more you loved him. Then at Xmas,”Teddy” came along. Dear old Teddy. So plump and with such a frizzy coat. In a few months he was still plump but his hair was not so frizzy. Then, you’d never go to sleep unless Teddy and “Goog-ga” were tucked in with you. You’ll never know how angelic, how like a cherub you looked, when after your bath you were popped into bed with your little playmates. Indeed God is good. How many times have your Mother and I crept in to see you sleeping. And how many times have I wiped away tears, gentle little tears of happiness from her eyes when we came out.

All those days were so beautiful, like the night I sat and watched yesterday evening. But soon came the rain. Your lovely country, so free and so proud, was fighting for its life. Those indeed were dark days. I had to leave Mother and you and become a soldier. Thousands of other Daddies went too, because we had to fight so that all the Mothers and little boys and girls could live happily. That was many months ago. I do not know how long it will be before we will be home again together. But rain my little darling does not last for ever.
Through the blackest clouds a little piece of blue appears. The wind blows, and soon the clouds go. So too will peace come and then we can be all happy again.

Because I’m a soldier now Anne I cannot attend your birthday this year. You are going to have a party and I wont be there. But while that party is on I’ll be thinking of you and your Mother. Thinking of the day you came along, and of the days that have gone by since. You are lovely now, like your Mother. Some day, when you grow up, some man is going to be lost in your loveliness, like I was when I fell in love with your Mother. But no matter. We cannot have you forever. While we do we’ll teach you all the lovely things of life, and there are so many beautiful things in life. There are, too, bad things and, these also we will tell you about so that you’ll know how to pass them by.

Maybe it will be years before you will be able to read this letter but when you can you’ll know at least how much we love you and how much you mean to us.

I am looking forward to seeing you soon and to seeing those big brown eyes of yours laugh back at me. Until then my little girl.

Goodbye and God bless you on your birthday.

From your adoring


Monday, 16 November 2009

Flight is possible to man

This extremely confident letter from one half of the Wright Brothers - Wilbur - was their first contact with renowned engineer Octave Chanute, an aviation pioneer and author of Progress in Flying Machines who went on to offer the brothers much invaluable advice over the coming years. It was written three years prior to their first controlled flight and presents their plans to Chanute with a view to obtaining some guidance in return. In the letter, Wilbur also mentions the failures of Otto Lilienthal, a fellow aviator who was among the first to fly successfully using a glider. He passed away in 1896 after falling and breaking his spine.

All 5 pages of the letter, in large format, can be seen here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 

Transcript follows.


Wright Cycle Company
1127 West Third Street
DAYTON, OHIO, May 13, 1900

Mr. Octave Chanute, Esq.
Chicago, Ill.

Dear Sir;

For some years I have been afflicted with the belief that flight is possible to man. My disease has increased in severity and I feel that it will soon cost me an increased amount of money if not my life. I have been trying to arrange my affairs in such a way that I can devote my entire time for a few months to experiment in this field.

My general ideas of the subject are similar to those held by most practical experimenters, to wit: that what is chiefly needed is skill rather than machinery. The flight of the buzzard and similar sailors is a convincing demonstration of the value of skill, and the partial needlessness of motors. It is possible to fly without motors, but not without knowledge & skill. This I conceive to be fortunate, for man, by reason of his greater intellect, can more reasonably hope to equal birds in knowledge, than to equal nature in the perfection of her machinery.

Assuming then that Lilienthal was correct in his ideas of the principles on which man should proceed, I conceive that his failure was due chiefly to the inadequacy of his method, and of his apparatus. As to his method, the fact that in five years' time he spent only about five hours, altogether, in actual flight is sufficient to show that his method was inadequate. Even the simplest intellectual or acrobatic feats could never be learned with so short practice, and even Methuselah could never have become an expert stenographer with one hour per year for practice. I also conceive Lilienthal's apparatus to be inadequate not only from the fact that he failed, but my observations of the flight of birds convince me that birds use more positive and energetic methods of regaining equilibrium than that of shifting the center of gravity.

With this general statement of my principles and belief I will proceed to describe the plan and apparatus it is my intention to test. In explaining these, my object is to learn to what extent similar plans have been tested and found to be failures, and also to obtain such suggestions as your great knowledge and experience might enable you to give me. I make no secret of my plans for the reason that I believe no financial profit will accrue to the inventor of the first flying machine, and that only those who are willing to give as well as to receive suggestions can hope to link their names with the honor of its discovery. The problem is too great for one man alone and unaided to solve in secret.

My plan then is this. I shall in a suitable locality erect a light tower about one hundred and fifty feet high. A rope passing over a pulley at the top will serve as a sort of kite string. It will be so counterbalanced that when the rope is drawn out one hundred & fifty feet it will sustain a pull equal to the weight of the operator and apparatus or nearly so. The wind will blow the machine out from the base of the tower and the weight will be sustained partly by the upward pull of the rope and partly by the lift of the wind. The counterbalance will be so arranged that the pull decreases as the line becomes shorter and ceases entirely when its length has been decreased to one hundred feet. The aim will be to eventually practice in a wind capable of sustaining the operator at a height equal to the top of the tower. The pull of the rope will take the place of a motor in counteracting drift. I see, of course, that the pull of the rope will introduce complications which are not met in free flight, but if the plan will only enable me to remain in the air for practice by the hour instead of by the second, I hope to acquire skill sufficient to overcome both these difficulties and those inherent to flight. Knowledge and skill in handling the machine are absolute essentials to flight and it is impossible to obtain them without extensive practice.

The method employed by Mr. Pilcher of towing with horses in many respects is better than that I propose to employ, but offers no guarantee that the experimenter will escape accident long enough to acquire skill sufficient to prevent accident. In my plan I rely on the rope and counterbalance to at least break the force of a fall. My observation of the flight of buzzards leads me to believe that they regain their lateral balance, when partly overturned by a gust of wind, by a torsion of the tips of the wings. If the rear edge of the right wing tip is twisted upward and the left downward the bird becomes an animated windmill and instantly begins to turn, a line from its head to its tail being the axis. It thus regains its level even if thrown on its beam ends, so to speak, as I have frequently seen them. I think the bird also in general retains its lateral equilibrium, partly by presenting its two wings at different angles to the wind, and partly by drawing in one wing, thus reducing its area. I incline to the belief that the first is the more important and usual method.

In the apparatus I intend to employ I make use of the torsion principle. In appearance it is very similar to the "double-deck" machine with which the experiments of yourself and Mr. Herring were conducted in 1896-7. The point on which it differs in principle is that the cross-stays which prevent the upper plane from moving forward and backward are removed, and each end of the upper plane is independently moved forward or backward with respect to the lower plane by a suitable lever or other arrangement. By this plan the whole upper plane may be moved forward or backward, to attain longitudinal equilibrium, by moving both hands forward or backward together. Lateral equilibrium is gained by moving one end more than the other or by moving them in opposite directions. If you will make a square cardboard tube two inches in diameter and eight or ten long and choose two sides for your planes you will at once see the torsional effect of moving one end of the upper plane forward and the other backward, and how this effect is attained without sacrificing lateral stiffness. My plan is to attach the tail rigidly to the rear upright stays which connect the planes, the effect of which will be that when the upper plane is thrown forward the end of the tail is elevated, so that the tail assists gravity in restoring longitudinal balance.

My experiments hitherto with this apparatus have been confined to machines spreading about fifteen square feet of surface, and have been sufficiently encouraging to induce me to lay plans for a trial with a full-sized machine. My business requires that my experimental work be confined to the months between September and January and I would be particularly thankful for advice as to a suitable locality where I could depend on winds of about fifteen miles per hour without rain or too inclement weather. I am certain that such localities are rare.

I have your Progress in Flying Machines and your articles in the Annuals of'95,'96, & '97, as also your recent articles in the Independent. If you can give me information as to where an account of Pilcher's experiments can be obtained I would greatly appreciate your kindness.

Yours truly,

Wilbur Wright

You must have the wrong author

The BBC have just uploaded a small collection of correspondence to and from author Enid Blyton and it makes for fascinating reading, providing more proof that Blyton, whilst adored by the millions of children who read her material, had a tougher time when it came to convincing adults that she was a writer of talent. Rather than reproduce one of those letters here, I thought I'd post this instead. Blyton wrote it in 1964 to then Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies, in response to some derogatory remarks he made about her book Bob the Little Jockey. Blyton was clearly distraught at the thought of more negativity, and by the end of the letter seemed convinced that the PM had either suffered a slip of the tongue or bad-mouthed the wrong author.

Transcript follows.


Green Hedges
Penn Road
Beaconsfield Buck

September 8.64

Dear Sir Robert

I am having many disturbing letters from Australia, all of which inform me that you had told the press there of a "terrible book", which, you say is written by me, about a little boy whose father was a jockey; and because on the day of the big race the father fell ill, the little boy rode in his place - according to some letters you even used the word "immoral" for this book - The letters are very indignant of course, as the writers all know my books very well, and know that not one of them is immoral or "terrible". I would hardly have been one of the most popular children's authors here or overseas if that had been so.

I think you must be mistaken in the author's name - it could note be mine, because I would never write an immoral or terrible book for children. My name as a children's writer stands high here, and it is an unjustified stain on my character, and has shocked a great many people here, especially those who hold my work in esteem. I am sure I could not now be one of the leading chidren's writers, if your criticism were true - nor would my books be translated, as they are, into dozens of different languages!

I am certain it was a slip on your part, and I would be grateful if you would set aside this grave slur on my name as a writer - it could harm me and my books for children very much and I am sure you would not mean to do that? May I hear from you please? I have about 30 English publishers and almost 100 foreign ones, and should be very pleased if I could inform them that you had not accused me of writing "terrible books" or of being immoral, and that the racing book if disliked so much was certainly not one of mine!

Yours Sincerely

Enid Blyton

Friday, 13 November 2009

This is me

Colorado artist Allen Tupper True - at one time consulting artist at the Hoover Dam - wrote and drew the following note to his daughter Jane whilst staying in New York, 1927. The illustration on the hotel letterhead clearly didn't convey a realistic sense of scale in Allen's eyes, so he modified the picture for his daughter's benefit and added himself to the scene. To receive such a stunning letter must have been a joy.



Dear Jane.

Many thanks for your letter and a lot of kisses for you.



This is a lot more what New York looks like. This is me.

..the brains of a cross-eyed titmouse..

Below is a fascinating letter from the creator of Tarzan and John Carter, Edgar Rice Burroughs, to his daughter in 1941, 29 years after the first Tarzan story was published. Burroughs penned a large number of letters during his lifetime but I chose to highlight this one for a few reasons: 1) The impressive letterhead address of "Tarzana, California." Such was the success of his work, the district in which he had a permanent home was named in his honour; 2) The Honolulu address. Burroughs lived there for a while in later life and became a war correspondent after the Pearl Harbor attack, just months after this letter was sent; 3) The negative public reaction he mentions is quite surprising, his related 'titmouse' rant hilarious; 4) The second story he mentions - Wizard of Venus - was not discovered until after his death in 1950, and not published until 1964, 23 years after this letter was written.

For more things Burroughs, head on over to ERBzine.


Edgar Rice Burroughs
Tarzana, California

1298 Kapiolani Boulevard
Honolulu T H

January 24 1941

Joan darling:

Your letter of the 14th was very welcome, as are all your letters. Although you sent it via air mail, it must have come by boat; as it was eight days getting here, and there has been no Clipper in for about a week. We were supposed to have had one this morning, but the morning paper now says it will arrive tomorrow; so I am sure your letter wasn't on it. Quick, Watson, the needle!

Am glad that you liked THE DEPUTY SHERIFF. I wrote it in the summer of 1930, and we peddled it around to every magazine in the United States, with no buyers. I think Ralph did finally get rid of it to some magazine; I've forgotten which one now. I always liked it, and couldn't understand why it didn't sell readily. I guess the trouble was that all they wish from me is highly imaginative stuff. If anyone says a kind word about my work nowadays, as you did, I nearly break down and cry. I have had so many refusals lately and had my classics so gratuitously insulted over here that I have lost confidence in myself. I am getting damned sick of hearing people apologize to me for reading my stories, or pretend to grouse because they have had to read them to their children, or say that they used to read them while they were in kindergarden but have not read any for years and years. It used to amuse me, but I guess I must be losing my sense of humor. I think I shall come right back at the next one with a retort courteous, such as: "Well, you homely looking abortion, if you had the brains of a cross-eyed titmouse you'd keep your fool mouth shut instead of knocking inspired literature that has entertained a hundred million people for over a quarter of a century !!!" Do you think that would stop 'em? or is it too courteous?

Am just starting another goofy Venus story, THE WIZARD OF VENUS. This guy is something of a hypnotist, and he has every one in his valley buffaloed into believing that he has turned all their friends and relatives into zandars (Amtorian pigs). One family keeps their daughter in a pen back of the castle. All with apologies to Merlin, the Arthurian legend, and Mark Twain.

There is something in your letter that I do not understand - Oh! I just got it. "M.A.S." - Mutual Admiration Society. It had me guessing for a while. It has been a long time since I heard it. I, too, wish that I were back where I could see you children often. Am sure that I still have a few laughs left under my belt that the weird Burroughs wit would bring out.

Are you getting any more movie work? and did Jim get the flying instructor job? I certainly hope so. Wish Hulbert would do something with his singing. The first thing he knows he'll have a long, white beard and have to be pushed onto the stage in a wheel chair; and I understand that there have been very few successes under such circumstances. There would always be the danger that, when he took a high note, his upper plate would fall out and get lost in his beard.

Yes, the Pacific is some puddle, and at the present writing I am no puddle jumper.

I will now terminate this foolishness. Lots of love, darling; give my best to Jim and kiss the children for me.


(Signed, 'Papa')

Head Janitor, M.A.S.