Friday, 26 February 2010

Salinger reviews Raiders of the Lost Ark

Letter removed at the request of the J.D. Salinger literary trust.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

I hadn't any idea that I talked about my guitar so often

Saul was just 14 when he wrote and illustrated the following letter to Michelle Young — an ex-girlfriend who had just recently ended their relationship and, in a previous letter, blamed the decision on Saul's unending talk of his guitar. The guitar obsession never ended and Saul soon became Slash, one of the world's most admired guitarists and member of Guns N' Roses, whilst Michelle stayed in the picture and after dating Axl Rose in the mid-80s became the subject of My Michelle, a song that frankly spoke of her drug-fuelled lifestyle, her father's career in "porno" and her mother's death.

Incidentally, the Starwood Club closed down two years later. Quiet Riot, however, went on to huge success and released an album in 1983 that topped the U.S. charts; unheard of for a heavy metal band.

Transcript follows.

(Source: Jeff at Hard Rock Memorabilia; Image of Slash in his youth via.)


Oct. 2. 79

Dear Michele,

Your letter scared me, upon first glance, I hadn't any idea what it was about, but when you told me, it struck in a strange way, I hadn't any idea that I talked about my guitar so often, I'm going to have to change that, no matter who I talk to.

It's a drag that it screwed up our relationship, you should have told me sooner, but I don't think that's the only reason, you just don't like me that much, and I can see why, because I'm a hard person to get along with at times.

But any I'm glad we got that straight, thank you for not lying to me. To get off the subject, you look really nice today, you get prettier & prettier every day. My weekend was pretty good. Steve came by and we went to a couple parties, and we went to the Starwood, I spent pretty much of my weekend on cloud 9 if you know what I mean.

I had never been in the Starwood before, like, we hung around outside, but I've never been inside. It's not such a hot place, I mean the Bands are alright, the girls are pretty (I still think you cuter than any of the girls there) the drugs are cool but it's not a place I would want to waste my life at. The most exciting part of the night was, a guy mouthed off to this black guy, and the black got a hundred friends and chased him around all Hollywood. It's a pretty crazy place. I'm going there next week to see Quiet Riot, because I hear there pretty good. One of these days I'll play there.

Love you





This leaf was perfect untill I put the fucking lines in it

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Dear Lucy

From 1971, a powerfully succinct letter from Nancy Spero to Lucy Lippard; two highly influential women whose paths crossed numerous times; Spero as a feminist artist, Lippard as a feminist art critic, historian and curator.

Transcript follows.

N Y OCT 29



(Signed, 'Nancy')

Monday, 22 February 2010

What does all this stuff about flying saucers amount to?

It wasn't until 1947, following an apparent mid-flight sighting by respected pilot Kenneth Arnold, that the American public were introduced to the term 'Flying Saucer'. Other sightings were reported almost instantly, and within weeks the whole world was awash with stories of contact from other planets. Five years later, following another intense bout of activity in the U.S., Winston Churchill sought the opinion of his advisers by way of the memo seen below. The response, which can also be read below, was quick and with good reason as in 1950 the MoD's Chief Scientific Adviser had secretly set-up the beautifully-named Flying Saucer Working Party - a committee dedicated to such matters - and an investigation had already taken place.

Many other fascinating UFO-related documents can now be seen at the National Archives.

Transcript follows. Many thanks to Martin.


What does all this stuff about flying saucers amount to? What can it mean? What is the truth? Let me have a report at your convenience.


28.July 1952

The various reports about unidentified flying objects, described by the Press as "flying saucers", were the subject of a full Intelligence study in 1951. The conclusions reached (based upon William of Occam's Razor) were that all the incidents reported could be explained by one or other of the following causes:-

(a) Known astronomical or meteorological phenomena
(b) Mistaken identification of conventional aircraft, balloons, birds, etc.
(c) Optical illusions and psychological delusions
(d) Deliberate hoaxes.

2. The Americans, who carried out a similar investigation in 1948/9, reached a similar conclusion.

3. Nothing has happened since 1951 to make the Air Staff change their opinion, and, to judge from recent Press statements, the same is true in America.

4. I am sending a copy of this to Lord Cherwell.

9th August, 1952.

Friday, 19 February 2010

The worst is to come...

From the Laboratory of Thomas Edison comes this brief letter to William Le Roy  Emmet, an award-winning engineer who began working at GE back when it was still known as Edison General Electric and then stayed with the firm for many years. In 1926 Emmet's success caught Edison's attention, and, as seen in the following note, provoked a congratulatory remark from the company's founder, followed by a warning about the road ahead.

Transcript follows.

From the Laboratory of Thomas A. Edison

Orange, N.J., Nov. 27, 1926

Mr. W. L. R. Emmet
General Electric Co
1 River Road
Schenectady, N.Y.

My dear Mr. Emmet:-

I want to thank you for your letter of the 23rd, with its enclosure, and at the same time to extend my congratulations to you on the successful outcome of your ideas.

The worst is to come, for it takes about seven years to convert the average man to the acceptance of a solved problem.

With all good wishes to you, I remain

Yours very truly

Thos. A. Edison


Thursday, 18 February 2010

Drive safely and don't abuse alcohol, drugs or candy

When asked by his teacher to write to a contemporary artist as part of a school project in 1997, 13-year-old Green Day fan Austin Kleon immediately opted to contact collage artist Winston Smith - the man responsible for creating the artwork for the band's 1995 album, Insomniac - and after finding his address via a gallery curator, Austin sent his letter to the artist and hoped for the best. A few months later when nearly all hope was lost, the stunning 14-page reply seen below, along with pages and pages of artwork, arrived at the teenager's home. He was ecstatic:
I couldn’t believe it. An artist—a real artist!—had written me back!

To me, it was the equivalent of Rilke writing back to the young poet. He told me about his life and his methods. He urged me to always question authority, stay away from drugs, and keep getting straight As so one day I could pay the bills. (An artist—a real artist!—was telling me it was okay to get straight As!) I’d never heard anybody talk about the kind of things he wrote about—art, America, growing up in a small-town—it was like a time-bomb that went off in my brain.

The letter, and I’m not exaggerating, changed my life.
Naturally the 13-year-old replied and to this day - 13 years later - they still correspond. Austin Kleon is now an artist and writer. Enormous thanks to both Austin, whose fantastic work can be seen at his website, and Winston Smith himself, whose stunning artwork can be viewed at his site.

Transcript follows.

7 March, 1997

Hiya Austin!

Thanks for the cool letter. Sorry for the delay in writting back but I've finally got time to sit and scribble, so here goes:

That's good that you're a straight-A student. That will come in handy later in life for little things like earning a living and other luxeries like food and shelter. Unfortunately I can speak from bitter experience. I was a straight-F student and I've been broke most of my life (as a result). So keep up the good work pal. Actually—a couple times I got D's or even a D+. They let me have that just because I occasionally turned in my homework. I used to wish I had a dog just so I could blame him for eating my homework (—a lie most teachers never bought anyway.) I guess I could have rented a dog and then feed him my homework—but it was cheaper just to not do the homework in the first place. The result was I never finished High School and, having no education or marketable skills, I was forced to become an artist.

That's a really cool name for your band "Insult to Injury". It covers two of my favourite things. (to do, not to get.) Yeah, I saw Kathy Spiering just a couple days ago and told her I'd heard from you. She was busy setting up a show—an art exhibit. She wanted me to add some pieces to it. The web site (Cyborganic) is pretty extensive—if you get to a certain part there are about a dozen or so pictures. At least that's how it used to be. I've only seen it 2 or 3 times. There's also a pretty long article in an internet magazine called "Addicted to Noise". I don't know how to locate it but I reckon it won't be too hard to find on the internet. It also features "movies"—kinda. Short kinetic clips from a stop-action animation I did for a Green Day video for European MTV. By the way—if you want to order my book you can call Last Gasp (the publisher). I think it's $25 plus shipping—probably $3 or $4—so about 28 or 29 total. Their number is toll free—1-800-848-4277. I don't have any spares around or I'd send you one. But I will send you stuff not in the book.

So as for your questions:

1. My collages have a 50's look to them because most of my source material is from war-time and post war era magazines—1940's to late 50's. That was the period of lush, exagerated color illustration. Then in the late 60's color fotografy took over and the rich color illustrations faded from use. Too bad. (so if you ever come across a nice stash of 1940's to mid 1950's Life magazines or Saturday Evening Post, etc, and you can get 'em cheap $2 each or less let me know and I'll buy them from you. I'm always on the look out for new (old) stuff. A friend of mine is sending me a set of old mags from the late 40's all about the future—all the cool stuff we going to have "in the future", like flying cars and picture-fones and mom bringing the groceries home in her own private Whirly-Bird (helicopter). It never happened, did it? Instead people drive the same bent-up cars (with gasoline costing ten times more) to the same lousy jobs (where they have to work twice as hard for half as much money) and their kids ride to school on the same old yellow school bus they rode 30 years before. That's the American Dream.

As you can probably tell, I have kind of a cynical attitude about the future—and the present. I had no idea there was even going to be a future. I was 10 years old durring the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962) and I had a flashlight and a bag of M+M's and a transistor radio packed up in a little bag so in case World War III happened I could go hide in the sewer. (I even used the threat of World War III as an excuse not to do my home work. I told that teacher that since the world was going to end anyway then what's the point of wasting time on homework?—she didn't buy that either. And she seemed disturbed that I pointed out this rather obvious point in front of the whole class. Yeah, if I'd known I was going to be around this long I would have taken better care of myself. So drive safely and don't abuse alcohol, drugs or candy. There'll be plenty of opportunity for that later.

Question/Answer #2: I don't care much for music as I'm too visually oriented to pay much attention to music. And I don't watch TV at all. I stopped that when I was 16 or 17. Television is bubble gum for the brain. It's the most dangerous drug in the world—worse here in America than anywhere else, but the rest of the world is fast catching up. And unfortunately I do see papers—most mainstream papers are owned by corporations that control what's printed in them so they are largely useless. I think it was Thomas Jefferson who noted that the more one reads newspapers the less one is informed. (in our day it would be: the more one is mis-informed.) So papers are a bit of my inspiration. More information is available from non-corporate sourse—such as lefty mags like "The Nation" or "In These Times" or "The Progressive" & "Utne Reader"—to name but a few. But actually most of my inspiration comes from my own sick mind and my own bizare personal experiences. Lots of my work is largely meaningless(outside of that which is clearly social satire or political satire) So much of it is just interesting new arrangements of images that may iether be funny, pretty or just weird.

3. The seamlessness? That's tough. I just cut as carefully as possible. It takes lots of time. (keeps me out of trouble...) And I try my best to match up images that will be in proper proportion with each other. That is very time consuming, locating them and sorting through them.

#4: My history—well—I grew up in the middle of nowhere—in Oklahoma, you're lucky, you live in Circleville. I lived in Squaresville. So when I turned 17 I split. I flipped to Italy and studied art and remained there for over 6 years. When I returned to America I hitch-hiked out to San Francisco (only because the only person I knew in America happened to live in California). Then for a couple of years (1976-1977) I was a roadie for different Bay Area bands like Santana, Journey, Tower of Power, The Tubes, Quick Silver Messenger Service, and other washed-up nobodies. Then the punk scene began to rear its ugly head and I started making posters for bands—some didn't even exist. I just made them up as a joke to illustrate my particular style of art. Then I met up with Biafra and Dead Kennedys and the rest is history. (or mystery.)

Question #5: My art—well, like I say, try to order my book and also in about 3 months (I hope) there will be a second book out that I'm working on right now. It's called, "Been wrong so long it looks right to me". I've also got some other LP art out there an stuff in various magazines. I do a thing each month for the last year or so in Spin Magazine. It's an illustration for a monthly editorial page called Topspin. (usually page 14 or 18). Your discription of the "Insult to Injury" record cover is great. While reading it I got an image in my head and then saw your sketch and it was exactly the same. I was imagining this poor beat-up, tired-out rat staring blankly out the window as the wreking ball is just about to hit his only shelter, and the rat's thinking—"Oh swell, I had a really crappy day and now this." I know the feeling.

The wierd thing is—I know I don't have any images of a wrecking ball and crane—I showed your sketch to my girlfriend and she liked it too. But a day later I was going through a magazine when I was waiting for Kathy Spiering to hang my artwork for her show at this cyber cafe and guess what I found:—yep—a wrecking ball. Too wierd, huh? "There are no coincidences." So I'll do my best to cook up a piece that resembles your idea. Now I gotta locate a rat. I can do that. I like rats.

Enclosed are some recent pieces I did plus some old things. There's a (slightly trimmed) better color version of the Green Day LP cover. Its original title is: God Told Me To Skin You Alive. Speaking of Green Day—I was sitting in a pizza joint in Oakland with a friend not too long ago when this guy with green hair came up and kissed me!—I looked up in shock and realized it was Tre (the drummer in the band who I've known since he was about your age—and now he's a millionaire, so keep practicing your music!) I hadn't seen him since I visited backstage in Florence, Italy when we all happened to be in Italy at the same time. He said they have 30 new songs and may be doing a new record very soon. Tre's a good egg, as are Bill and Mike. Mike's wife just had a baby. They all have kids now.

Also enclosed is a (kinda long) interview w/ me that just came out in a punk 'zine called "All The Answers" out of Arizona. The guy who wrote it up spells worse than I do and he left out quotation marks that would make it much clearer, but it's ok.

Like I say, I'll try to come up with some good imagery so you and your band can use it as a poster or (maybe) even a CD cover.

So I've looked about for stuff that might help on your project for the art class. This is probably too much to use but you can sort through it and pick out what will work.

By the way—it may take me quite some time to get finishing that CD cover so I hope it's nothing you need right away. I've got some projects coming up I have to work on so sit tight. I'll eventually get round to it.

Ok pal, hang in there. Keep up the straight-A's and always think for yourself. Good luck on the art class project—let me know how it turns out. Don't get lost or killed. And remember, you can lead a horse to water but a pencil must be lead.



Wednesday, 17 February 2010

People who write sonnets should be hung

Robert Bly has never been afraid to speak his mind. The notoriously opinionated, highly influential poet, author, editor, translator and activist wrote the following note to an aspiring poet when he was editing The Sixties; a legendary poetry journal which, as a result of its highly critical tone, attracted an inordinate amount of written reaction from readers. This particular reader had clearly inflamed Bly's well-known distaste for rhyming poetry, and his response was both focused and swift.

Transcript follows.

Briarwood Hill, Pine Island, Minn.

Dear Mr. Rogers,

We believe that all people who write sonnets should be hung to the nearest lamp post.

Yours sincerely,

Robert Bly

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

In defence of Jim Jones

Even in 1978, the very year he orchestrated the mass-suicide that ended over 900 lives in Jonestown, cult leader Jim Jones could count on people as influential as politician Harvey Milk - recently the subject of an Academy Award-winning movie - to fight his corner in his absence. With Jones and congregation relocated to Guyana following increased speculation about the church in San Francisco, Milk - an advocate of Peoples Temple and personal correspondent of its founder - wrote the following letter to then-President Jimmy Carter in an effort to defend Jones' reputation in light of comments made by former member Timothy Stoen.

Nine months later, on November 18th, 1978, Congressman Leo Ryan and four others were shot dead as they attempted to leave Jonestown following an inspection of the settlement and then, fearing the end was near, Jim Jones instructed his followers to poison themselves and commit 'revolutionary suicide'.

Just days later, as San Francisco began to come to terms with the loss of many former residents, both Harvey Milk and Mayor Moscone were shot to death by Dan White

Transcript follows. 



February 19, 1978

President Jimmy Carter
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear President Carter:

I am the Supervisor for District Five in the City of San Francisco. The Peoples Temple Christian Church is not located in my District, so I have no political ties or obligations to this church. I am writing to call an urgent concern of theirs to your attention. I am concerned at what I understand is the endorsement of some of our Congressmen for the efforts of Timothy Stoen against Rev. Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple. There are some facts I feel you should be informed of:

Rev. Jones is widely known in the minority communities here and elsewhere as a man of the highest character, who has undertaken constructive remedies for social problems which have been amazing in their scope and effectiveness. He is also highly regarded amongst church, labor, and civic leaders of a wide range of political persuasions. Our own Board of Supervisors has presented Rev. Jones with a Certificate of Honor, unanimously passed by all members, praising the church for its many projects "which have been so beneficial to all the citizens of the Bay Area." On the same occasion, he was also presented with a unanimously passed resolution by a Republican State Senator, Milton Marks representing that legislative body.

Timothy and Grace Stoen, the parties that are attempting to damage Rev. Jones' reputation, and seriously disrupt the life of his son, John, have both already been discredited in the news media here. The most widely-read columnist in the area, Herb Caen, printed Mr. Stoen's sworn testimony that John is not his child but rather Rev. Jones. Grace Stone is reported involved in what could be considered a blackmail attempt against another leader in the minority community, Dennis Banks, reported in the two major dailies with her name also given in Mr. Banks' sworn affadavit about the attempt.

It is outrageous that Timothy Stoen could even think of flaunting this situation in front of our Congressmen with apparently bold-faced lies. I have learned in addition, that he has pressured these Congressmen towards unwitting compliance with promoting State Department intervention in the custody case now pending in Guyana.

Not only is the life of a child at stake , who presently has loving protective parents in Rev. and Mrs. Jones, but our official relations with Guyana could stand to be jeopardized, to the potentially great embarassment of our State Department.

Mr. President, the actions of Mr. Stoen need to be brought to a halt. It is offensive to most in the San Francisco community, and all those who know Rev. Jones to see this kind of an outrage taking place.


(Signed, 'Harvey Milk')

Harvey Milk

cc: Rep. John Burton; Rep. Phillip Burton; Lt. Gov. Mervyn Dymally

Monday, 15 February 2010

President Einstein

On November 17th of 1952, following the death of Israel's first President, then-Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion decided to offer the job to Albert Einstein by way of the following letter via the Embassy of Israel in Washington. As we now know, the offer was declined; the response can also be read below.

Less than three years later, Einstein passed away.

Transcript follows.

(Source: Elzo; Image: Einstein, via Wikipedia.)


November 17, 1952

Dear Professor Einstein:

The bearer of this letter is Mr. David Goitein of Jerusalem who is now serving as Minister at our Embassy in Washington. He is bringing you the question which Prime Minister Ben Gurion asked me to convey to you, namely, whether you would accept the Presidency of Israel if it were offered you by a vote of the Knesset. Acceptance would entail moving to Israel and taking its citizenship. The Prime Minister assures me that in such circumstances complete facility and freedom to pursue your great scientific work would be afforded by a government and people who are fully conscious of the supreme significance of your labors.

Mr. Goitein will be able to give you any information that you may desire on the implications of the Prime Minister's question.

Whatever your inclination or decision may be, I should be deeply grateful for an opportunity to speak with you again within the next day or two at any place convenient for you. I understand the anxieties and doubts which you expressed to me this evening. On the other hand, whatever your answer, I am anxious for you to feel that the Prime Minister's question embodies the deepest respect which the Jewish people can repose in any of its sons. To this element of personal regard, we add the sentiment that Israel is a small State in its physical dimensions, but can rise to the level of greatness in the measure that it exemplifies the most elevated spiritual and intellectual traditions which the Jewish people has established through its best minds and hearts both in antiquity and in modern times. Our first President, as you know, taught us to see our destiny in these great perspectives, as you yourself have often exhorted us to do.

Therefore, whatever your response to this question, I hope that you will think generously of those who have asked it, and will commend the high purposes and motives which prompted them to think of you at this solemn hour in our people's history.

With cordial personal wishes,

(Signed, 'Abba Eban')

Abba Eban

Professor Albert Einstein
Princeton, N.J.


Einstein's response:

I am deeply moved by the offer from our State of Israel, and at once saddened and ashamed that I cannot accept it. All my life I have dealt with objective matters, hence I lack both the natural aptitude and the experience to deal properly with people and to exercise official functions. Therefore I would also be an inappropriate candidate for this high task, even when my old age didn’t interfere with my forces more and more [...] I am the more distressed over these circumstances because my relationship to the Jewish people has become my strongest human bond, ever since I became aware of our precarious situation among the nations of the world.

Friday, 12 February 2010

The greatest novel I've ever written

In 1973, four long years before the novel was published, Philip K. Dick sent an initial outline of A Scanner Darkly to his agent Scott Meredith, along with the covering letter seen below. Dick was clearly enthused and his fervour was understandable as this new work drew heavily on his own experiences whilst a heavy amphetamine user. In fact, this was - according to the author himself - the first novel he had written whilst 'clean'.

Transcript follows.

Feb 28, 1973

Dear Scott:

Here is the outline for my proposed new novel. A SCANNER DARKLY, which I told you about. It's a good long outline, running well over sixty pages. I guess you can't sell it to any publisher until I write a bunch of sample chapters, but anyhow this is what I'll be working on for quite some time.

If you'd like to show it --for example to Doubleday-- that would of course be fine with me. Otherwise, hang onto this outline while I continue from my carbon.

Let me know what you think of it, and meanwhile I'll keep you posted as to how I'm coming with the novel itself.


Philip K. Dick
3028 Quartz Ln #3
Calif 92631

P.S. I swear, Scott, this is shaping up to be the greatest novel ever written. Or at least the greatest novel I've ever written, anyhow.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

I cannot conceal my annoyance

As you read the following letter from Harlan Ellison - particularly the incredible first paragraph - bear in mind that Thomas Pluck, the letter's recipient, was an avid fan of Ellison's at the time and had previously paid good money to become a member of the Harlan Ellison Recording Collection, thereby gaining access to more of the author's work. Also remember that this was his first contact with the author; not the latest bothersome letter in a relentless stream of correspondence to which such a response would be more understandable.

That said, it's a joy to behold, and I'd personally be quite proud to have provoked such a grumpy response from 'possibly the most contentious person on Earth'.

Transcript follows. Huge thanks to Thomas of 'Pluck You, Too!' for his permission to show the letter. 


10 November 89

Mr. Thomas Pluck
Nutley, New Jersey

Dear Mr. Pluck:

All a writer has is time and a portion of talent. Answering queries from readers eats away at the former, thus disallowing full use of the latter. I continue to beseech my readers not to burden me with this sort of personal need, but every day I receive a dozen items that demand my response. Yours is one of them. My wife advises me that you are a HERC member, and thus are deserving of attention, but I cannot conceal my annoyance at having to depart from deadline work to satisfy your curiosity. Please don't do this to me again.

The quotation "...there are men whom one hates until a certain moment when one sees, through a chink in their armour, the writhing of something nailed down and in torment," comes from the short story "Busto is a Ghost, Too Mean to Give Us a Fright" by the late Gerald Kersh.

The story appeared in a long out-of-print collection of Kersh's work, titled I GOT REFERENCES, published in England and, to the best of my knowledge, never reprinted here. That was the case with most of Kersh's work. He was an American, one of the finest writers of the 20th century, revered in England and shamefully ignored in his homeland. He died in 1968, to our eminent loss. I knew him first through his work, then through correspondence and, though we never met in person, he became my friend; and I edited a small collection of his best stories in 1968, just prior to his death. The book was titled NIGHTSHADE & DAMNATIONS and was published by Gold Medal in paperback. Copies turn up, from time to time, in used bookstores and this slim volume contains "Busto is a Ghost..." and ten other brilliant, stunningly original Kersh stories.

I commend his writing to you. If you can obtain copies of his two best novels NIGHT AND THE CITY and FOWLER'S END(both of which had U.S. editions) or anything else by Kersh, you will find yourself in the presence of a talent so immense and compelling, that you will understand how grateful and humble I felt merely to have been permitted to associate myself with his name as editor.

All best otherwise,

(Signed, 'Harlan Ellison')


Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Don't F*ck With The Quote

In 1992, prior to the release of Connie Willis' new novel, Doomsday Book, Random House editor Amy Stout approached multi-award winning - and notoriously blunt - science fiction author Harlan Ellison for a quote. The following letter was sent to Stout in reply and includes the blurb as requested, plus explicit instruction with regards to its use. To the eagle-eyed amongst you: yes, Ellison's spelling mistake was bravely corrected.

Edit: Although it was changed for the blurb, it seems that 'irresistable' may be a legitimate spelling after all.

Transcript follows. Many thanks to the submitter, who wishes to remain anonymous.


12 February 92

Dear Amy:

You may use this on Connie's new book. In full, no ellipses, no altering for any edition. And send me a copy of the book, please. And warn the troll drones in your art and publicity departments that if they fuck around with the quote, change it or alter it for a meaning not intended, I will come and find them and kill them so dead I'll murder their ancestors!



"The writing of Connie Willis is irresistable. Clever, cunning, and capable of tantalizing the most demanding reader."


Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Where do you expect our children to live?

Believing such a novel and symbolic form of correspondence more likely to reach and influence its intended audience, L. McKenzie wrote the following plea in 1980 to then-U.S. President Jimmy Carter on a piece of 2x4, and mailed it to the White House. McKenzie built houses for a living and as such was particularly affected by the current recession, so he wrote to Carter and urged him to help struggling mortgage-holders by supporting the Brooke-Cranston bill. Little did he know, but that downturn was actually the first, milder drop in what turned out to be a 'double-dip' recession.

Transcript follows.


Dear Jimmy

The general economy may be in a recession but housing is in a depression. Immediate action must be taken to assist our industry - it equals 5 Chrysler Corporations. Thousands of jobs and companies are being lost along with the tax dollars plus added costs i.e. unemployment compensation. Available and affordable funds must be made available now - a good start would be Brooke-Cranston. Where do you expect our children to live? This piece of 2x4 is not wasted if you get the message and then put in your wood burning stove.


Monday, 8 February 2010

I can't fight any longer

By the age of just 22, influential novelist Virginia Woolf had already suffered two nervous breakdowns—brought on, it’s believed, by the deaths of her mother and half-sister in quick succession, and then her father some years later. Unfortunately, the struggle didn’t end there for Virginia, and she fought off numerous bouts of depression throughout her lifetime, until the very end.

One evening in March of 1941, Virginia attempted to end her life by jumping into a river; however, she failed and simply returned home, sodden. Sadly, she persisted, and a few days later, on March 28th of 1941, she tried again and this time succeeded in escaping a lifetime of mental illness.

On the day of her death, unaware of her whereabouts, Virginia’s husband, Leonard, discovered this heartbreaking letter on their mantelpiece. Her body was found weeks later in the River Ouse, the pockets of her coat filled with heavy rocks.

Transcript follows.

(This letter, along with 124 other fascinating pieces of correspondence, can be found in the bestselling book, Letters of Note--reproduced by permission of the Estate of Virginia Woolf.)



I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can't go through another of those terrible times. And I shan't recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can't concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don't think two people could have been happier till this terrible disease came. I can't fight any longer. I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you will I know. You see I can't even write this properly. I can't read. What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that — everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can't go on spoiling your life any longer.

I don't think two people could have been happier than we have been.


Friday, 5 February 2010

Framed by an idiot, passed by muttonheads

"Only one thing is impossible for God: to find any sense in any copyright law on the planet" - Mark Twain
In July of 1876, less than a month after the novel's initial release in England, copies of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer had begun to circulate the U.S. in large numbers. One would expect Twain to have celebrated such a development, however the book wasn't due its U.S. release for another four months, these 'pirated' editions having been produced in Canada by publishers Belford Brothers, entirely legally according to the Canadian Copyright Act of 1875. For the remainder of his career, Twain fought to see copyright laws changed and the letter below is a prime example of his subsequent frustrations, written in 1880 to friend, fellow author and, briefly, politician Rollin Dagget following an unsuccessful appeal to James Blaine.

Transcript follows.

May 1.

Dear Daggett—

I want to go to Washington, but it ain’t any use, business-wise, for Congress won’t bother with anything but President-making. My publisher got me to send a letter of his to Blaine a month or two ago, in which our grievance was fully set forth. I didn’t believe Blaine would interest himself in the matter, & I was right. You just get that letter from Blaine, & cast your eye over it, & try to arrive at a realizing sense of what a silly & son-of-a-bitch of a law the present law against book-piracy is. I believe it was framed by an goddamd idiot, & passed by a Congress of goddamd muttonheads.

Now you come up here—that is the thing to do. I, also have Scotch whisky, certain lemons, & hot water, & struggle with the same every night.

Ys Ever


If you want to see how thoroughly foolish section 4964 is, just read it & substitute the words “U. S. treasury note” for the w “copy of such “counterfeit U. S. treasury note” for the words “copy of such book.”

My books sell at $3.50 a copy, their Canadian counterfeit at 25 & 50 cents. If I could sieze all the Canadian counterfeits I could no more use them to my advantage than the Government could use bogus notes to its advantage. The only desirable & useful thing, in both cases, is the utter suppression of the counterfeits. The government treats its counterfeiters as criminals, but mine as erring gentlemen. What I want is that mine shall be treated as criminals too.


Thursday, 4 February 2010

I had seen Amelia Earhart!

On July 2nd of 1937, 39-year-old Amelia Earhart disappeared over the Pacific Ocean whilst attempting to circumnavigate the globe in a Lockheed Model 10 Electra, just five years after famously becoming the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic. Despite multiple search efforts, neither Earhart or her navigator Fred Noonan were ever found. Weeks after the pair's disappearance, Earhart's husband received the following letter of support from a distraught fifteen-year-old schoolgirl named Alicia Curnutt, in which she affectionately recounted a meeting with Earhart prior to the flight.

Transcript follows. Many thanks to Timothy Grove.

July 23, 1937

Dear Mr. Putman,

A tall slender girl stepped out of her airplane and smiled to the waiting reporters then turned and walked toward the hangar with her navigator and friend. I had seen Amelia Earhart! The thought sent blood rushing through my body. Shortly afterwards when she was alone; I ran joyishly up to her and asked for her autograph. Yes! It was her smiling at me. I trembled and sighed: "I sure wish I was going with you, Miss Earhart on your trip around the world." Her smile dimmed and seriously she said: "It is not going to be so eazy." I wanted to talk to her more t than anything else in the world, so I decided to wait and see if I could get her alone again. I watched and finally she walked out of the gate and I ran up to her. I told her of my desire to be like her and asked about the plans for of her globe trot. Her voice so low and pleasant was music to my ears. The words she said to me will always be treasured as long as I live. I knew that if I could be just like Amelia Earhart I would be the happiest person alive. I dreamed about her but she was greater and better than my simple dreams could ever make her.

Then that tragic day of July 2, 1937! When my sister told me Amelia was missing, I stared at her and a lump came to my throat. It seemed impossible for Amelia to be gone. Each radio broadcast I expected them to have found her. Four days later I went to the hospital to have my Appendix operated on. The only thing I wanted to hear was that Amelia had been found and what casual remark she would have to say. And yet the days dragged by without news of anykind. I wanted to choke the Navy for not finding her. I wanted to know her with all my heart yet I felt as if I knew her like a sister. I know that if I had a seaplane I would have gone out July 2, and I know I would have found her somewhere. If only they had found some evidence that she was alive or dead I could rest in peace. I feel she is alive and I know she needs us. I am only fifteen and a Junior in High School in Glendale.

On the walls above my desk are pictures of Amelia. Every time I look at them I wonder if she is alive what she is doing. The highest compliment my friends can give me is that they think I look like her. There are the same number of letters in my name and Amelias. My fondest hope is being like Amelia in every way possible. She will always be in my thoughts as the greatest American. I think you can understand why I will always regard Amelia too good to live on this earth. I wrote this letter to tell you how much your wife means to me. I wanted you to know that there are so many other people all over the world who love and miss her like you do.

I hope always to remain Amelias fondest fan,


Alicia Curnutt


P.S. As soon as I finish school I intend to take up flying as a carreer and within a few years intend to duplicate Amelias flight with fewer stops.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

This is the second fan letter of my long career

It's nice to know that someone as supremely gifted as Norman Rockwell (born on this day in 1894) wrote fan letters. Realise too that this particular example wasn't penned by Rockwell as a child but in 1948 when he was both 54 years of age and already extremely established as an artist. It was written to Al Parker - another incredible talent and fellow illustrator whose work can be appreciated via this fantastic Flickr set - and was sent in response to a piece Parker produced for an edition of Ladies' Home Journal.

Transcript follows.


February 25th

Dear Al-

This is the second fan letter of my long career.

It is prompted by your superb illustration on page 34 of the current Ladies' Home Journal.

It is simply extraordinary. Your amazing creativeness, taste and versatility.

While the rest of us are working knee-deep in a groove you are forever changing and improving.

You have brought more freshness, charm and vitality to illustration than any other living illustrator.

Now at last I have said it and I feel much better because I have been believing this for a long, long time.



Tuesday, 2 February 2010

I am to be executed

For the best part of twenty years until she died, Mary Stuart was either imprisoned or on trial in England at the behest of her first cousin, Elizabeth I. Her entire life was anything but normal, having been crowned Queen of Scots at nine months of age, married and widowed by the time she was seventeen, and even Queen of France for a short period. She also had her eye on the English throne, and that cemented her downfall. The following farewell letter was written by Mary, then aged 44, in the early hours of February 8th, 1587, to the brother of her deceased first husband. Just six hours later, as mentioned in the correspondence, she was beheaded in front of 300 witnesses.

Transcript and translation follow.

(Source: National Library of Scotland; Image via.)

Reyne descosse
8 feu 1587

Monssieur mon beau frere estant par la permission de Dieu pour mes peschez comme ie croy venue me iecter entre les bras de ceste Royne ma cousine ou iay eu beaucoup dennuis & passe pres de vingt ans ie suis enfin par elle & ses estats condampnee a la mort & ayant demande mes papiers par eulx ostez a ceste fin de fayre mon testament ie nay peu rien retirer qui me seruist ny obtenir conge den fayre ung libre ny quapres ma mort mon corps fust transporte sellon mon desir en votre royaulme ou iay eu lhonneur destre royne votre soeur & ancienne allyee.

Ceiourdhuy apres disner ma este desnonsse ma sentence pour estre executee demain comme une criminelle a huict heures du matin ie nay eu loisir de vous fayre ung ample discours de tout ce qui sest passe may sil vous plaist de crere mon medesin & ces aultres miens desolez seruiters vous oyres la verite & comme graces a dieu ie mesprise las mort & fidellementproteste de la recepuoir innocente de tout crime quant ie serois leur subiecte la religion chatolique & la mayntien du droit que dieu ma donne a ceste couronne sont les deulx poincts de ma condampnation & toutesfoy ilz ne me veullent permettre de dire que cest pour la religion catolique que ie meurs may pour la crainte du champge de la leur & pour preuue ilz mont oste mon aulmonier lequel bien quil soit en la mayson ie nay peu obtenir quil me vinst confesser ny communier a ma mort mays mont faict grande instance de recepuoir la consolation & doctrine de leur ministre ammene pour ce faict. Ce porteur & sa compaigne la pluspart de vos subiectz vous tesmoigneront mes deportemantz en ce mien acte dernier il reste que ie vous suplie comme roy tres chrestien mon beau frere & ansien allye & qui mauuez tousiours proteste de maymer qua ce coup vous faysiez preuue en toutz ces poincts de vostre vertu tant par charite me souslageant de ce que pour descharger ma conssiance ie ne puis sans vous qui est de reconpenser mes seruiteurs desolez leur layssant leurs gaiges laultre faysant prier dieu pour une royne qui a estay nommee tres chrestienne & meurt chatolique desnuee de toutz ses biens quant a mon fylz ie le vous recommande autant quil le meritera car ie nen puis respondre Iay pris la hardiesse de vous enuoier deulx pierres rares pour la sante vous la desirant parfaicte auuec heurese & longue vie Vous le recepvrez comme de vostre tres affectionee belle soeur mourante en vous rendant tesmoygnage de son bon cueur enuers vous ie vous recommande encore mes seruiteurs vous ordonneres si il vous plaict que pour mon ame ie soye payee de partye de ce me que debuez & qu'en l'honnheur de Jhesus Christ lequel ie priray demayn a ma mort pour vous me laysser de quoy fonder un obit & fayre les aulmosnes requises ce mercredy a deulx heures apres minuit

Vostre tres affectionnee & bien bonne soeur

Mari R

Translated Transcript
Queen of Scotland
8 Feb. 1587

Royal brother, having by God's will, for my sins I think, thrown myself into the power of the Queen my cousin, at whose hands I have suffered much for almost twenty years, I have finally been condemned to death by her and her Estates. I have asked for my papers, which they have taken away, in order that I might make my will, but I have been unable to recover anything of use to me, or even get leave either to make my will freely or to have my body conveyed after my death, as I would wish, to your kingdom where I had the honour to be queen, your sister and old ally.

Tonight, after dinner, I have been advised of my sentence: I am to be executed like a criminal at eight in the morning. I have not had time to give you a full account of everything that has happened, but if you will listen to my doctor and my other unfortunate servants, you will learn the truth, and how, thanks be to God, I scorn death and vow that I meet it innocent of any crime, even if I were their subject. The Catholic faith and the assertion of my God-given right to the English crown are the two issues on which I am condemned, and yet I am not allowed to say that it is for the Catholic religion that I die, but for fear of interference with theirs. The proof of this is that they have taken away my chaplain, and although he is in the building, I have not been able to get permission for him to come and hear my confession and give me the Last Sacrament, while they have been most insistent that I receive the consolation and instruction of their minister, brought here for that purpose. The bearer of this letter and his companions, most of them your subjects, will testify to my conduct at my last hour. It remains for me to beg Your Most Christian Majesty, my brother-in-law and old ally, who have always protested your love for me, to give proof now of your goodness on all these points: firstly by charity, in paying my unfortunate servants the wages due them - this is a burden on my conscience that only you can relieve: further, by having prayers offered to God for a queen who has borne the title Most Christian, and who dies a Catholic, stripped of all her possessions. As for my son, I commend him to you in so far as he deserves, for I cannot answer for him. I have taken the liberty of sending you two precious stones, talismans against illness, trusting that you will enjoy good health and a long and happy life. Accept them from your loving sister-in-law, who, as she dies, bears witness of her warm feeling for you. Again I commend my servants to you. Give instructions, if it please you, that for my soul's sake part of what you owe me should be paid, and that for the sake of Jesus Christ, to whom I shall pray for you tomorrow as I die, I be left enough to found a memorial mass and give the customary alms.

Wednesday, at two in the morning
Your most loving and most true sister

Mari R

Monday, 1 February 2010

John Lennon signed my album

On the afternoon of December 8th, 1980, outside his apartment in New York, John Lennon, one of the most famous and recognisable faces on Earth, was approached by an autograph hunter who silently handed him a copy of Lennon’s album, Double Fantasy, to sign (see photo above). Lennon obliged. In roughly the same area just a few hours later, that same man, Mark Chapman, shot John Lennon four times in the back, killing him, and then waited for the police to arrive. Six years later, while incarcerated at Attica Correctional Facility in New York, Lennon’s killer wrote a letter to a memorabilia expert with a question.

Transcript follows.

(Source:  The Letters of Note book.)

April 10, 1986

Dear [redacted]

First, I'd like you to keep this letter confidential - between us only. Thank you.

I heard you today on Andy Thomas's BUFFALO TALKS (WWKB) and felt at least from your voice, I could write you concerning a very personal matter. I also have some random questions which will follow.

On December 8, 1980 I shot and killed John Lennon. Before this, earlier in the afternoon, I had asked him to sign his Double Fantasy album. He did this also signing the date: 1980. I then placed this album behind the security guard's booth where it was found after my arrest. I have tried unsuccessfully for years (and 2 attorneys) to get this item back, seeking to place it at auction and donating the money to a children's charity. I felt it was the least I could do. Now, is there any way to assess the value of an item such as this? I have often wanted to write a dealer (Charles Hamilton comes to mind) concerning this but haven't. I guess listening to you convinced me I could trust you - I'm somewhat of a recluse.

Is there a value that could be assigned to an item like this? Is this something that could only be determined at auction? Please let me know your feelings on this.

I have an autographed Autobiography of Sophie Tucker (it's inscribed) and was wondering if this is worth anything. There is NO dust wrapper and the condition isn't that great.

Also, do you have any Stephen King holograph material available? What is the worth of such items?

Any J.D. Salinger letters available? I would like any holograph letters.

Could you send me any addresses of other dealers who might have any of the above items?

Thank you Kindly,


81 A 3860
BOX 149
ATTICA, NY 14011