Monday, 31 May 2010

No way!

Here we have an awkward but amusing letter from Fahrenheit 451 author Ray Bradbury that hints at an embarrassing misunderstanding. I'm afraid I know nothing of the back-story with regards to this note; feel free to chime in below with any information you may have. I'd attempt some research myself but today is a public holiday and as such a perfect excuse not to.

Enjoy your day.

Transcript follows. The letter was sold at auction in January of this year.

Dear Nard:

If I recommended adultery, I don't remember hearing me say it!
Good Grief, how one can recommend that, would be beyond me. You must have misunderstood something I said!

No way!

So, be of good cheer!

We are both Christians together in a difficult world!

Much love. Survive the summer. Onward into Autumn! and SOMETHING WICKED on the screen at last, we hope. Starts filming in October!

(Signed, 'Ray')

Friday, 28 May 2010

These bastards let your brother die

To usher in the weekend we have a blistering attack on early-science fiction fandom from an unlikely source: science fiction novelist Robert Heinlein. In a letter to super-fan Forrest Ackerman, written during the final months of World War II, Heinlein begins by offering his condolences following the death of Ackerman's brother whilst serving his country, then proceeds to passionately condemn the inaction of most fans - the 'slackers', 'bastards', even 'neurotic, selfish, childish, insensitive and unimaginative, vicious bunch of jerks' - during the war, and sneer at their supposed collective superiority complex (see 'Fans are slans').

A truly fascinating letter.

Transcript follows.

311 S. Hicks St.
Philadelphia 2, Pa.
28 Jan 1945

Dear Forry,

Our hearts are sore at your loss and there is nothing we can say to relieve your personal anguish. Your brother died a noble and heroic death. It is my belief that he did in fact die to make a better world; it is for us who live on to see to it that a better world is accomplished. I am heartened that you regard it as your duty to follow through on his unfinished work.

I will not be able to supply an article for the fan publication you propose to publish in his memory. I dislike to have to tell you that I will not be writing for you, under the circumstances, and I feel that you are entitled to a full explanation. Forry, every day I am writing things which are, literally, dedicated to Alden, and to the many, many others who have died and are dying. My daily writings are dedicated to getting the war won quicker with the fewest number of deaths of our own. My writings are laboratory instructions, engineering reports, letters to manufacturers, and other things having to do with the tedious work of scientific research for war. It takes up all of my energy and all of my imagination and I have none left over for other matters. If I had any energy left over, I would know that I was not doing all that I could do and I would then, in truth, be disloyal to your brother's memory.

(I have, not a belief, not a conviction, but a knowledge of personal survival. You said on your post card that you wanted to discuss the matter with us someday. We will be honored to do so.)

Forry, you have sought my advice on matters which worried you in the past. You have not sought my advice in this matter, but I am going to presume on our old friendship to offer you some. I know that you are solemn in your intention to see to it that Alden's sacrifice does not become meaningless. I am unable to believe that fan activity and fan publications can have anything to do with such intent. I have read the fan publications you have sent me and, with rare exceptions, I find myself utterly disgusted with the way the active fans have met the trial of this war. By the fan mags I learn that many of these persons, who are readily self-congratulatory on their superiority to ordinary people---so many, many of these "fans" have done nothing whatsoever to help out. Many of them are neither in the army nor in war work. Many have found this a golden opportunity to make money during a war boom---by writing, by commercial photography, through the movies, or by other worthless activities---worthless when compared with what your brother Alden was doing. These bastards let your brother die, Forry, and did not lift a hand to help him. I mean that literally. The war in Europe would have been over if all the slackers in this country had been trying to help out---would have been over before the date on which your brother died. The slackers are collectively and individually personally responsible for the death of Alden. And a large percent of fans are among those slackers. Alden's blood is on their hands.

As for persons who are guilty not merely by sins of omission but who actively threw their weight against us, like that traitorous little bastard Jocquel, I have no words to describe them. It is a bitter thing that he should be alive while your brother is dead. It would be well for him to stay out of my sight when this is over. As for any of them, unless they have fought this war in every way they could to the best of their ability, I will not meet with them socially when this is over. I will not shake hands, speak, sit down, nor eat with them.

I am not alone in this opinion. You will find that my opinion is shared by Carnell and by Franklyn Brady. You will find it shared by many others of the grown-ups who know that a war is going on and know that it is not a game nor a joke nor a piece of fiction but a tragic business in which men like your brother Alden meet their deaths, too young and too horribly.

Forry, I want you to dedicate yourself to Alden's memory. To be faithful to him we now have two jobs to do. The first is to win this war as quickly as possible. You can do that by volunteering for something more useful than you are now doing. General Lear has said that he needs thousands of limited-duty clerks and such behind the lines in Europe to release able-bodied men for action. Or, perhaps, a re-examination will find you no longer limited in duty. In either case a Wac can edit your camp paper. The second job is, now and after the war, to see to it that it shall not happen again. There are many ways to do that and each must select his own---political activity of every sort, writing intended to stir people up, the willingness to combat race hatred, discrimination, limitations of civil liberty, generalized hates of every sort, whenever and wherever they show up. But I am damn well sure that fan activity is not the way to serve Alden's memory. Fandom has had a chance to prove itself and it has failed. I find the mags crowded with escapism and other nonsense; I find that fans now call themselves "Slans" (God save us!) on many occasions. I find many other evidences of group paranoia and of psychotic infantilism---and unwillingness to face up to adult problems and to cope with them. Forry, you may write the most inspiring things for a better world possible; if you direct them to this group, they will be worthless in carrying on with Alden's unfinished work, for they will fall on sterile ground. I am not generalizing; there are a few adults among them and there was a fair percentage before the war. I do not indict any who are carrying their load. But there are many (and you know that I am right) who are doing nothing and did nothing to save your brother's life. A bunch of neurotic, selfish, childish, insensitive and unimaginative, vicious bunch of jerks! It is time you quit associating with them and tackled the problems of the real world.

We are very fond of you, Forry. You are a fine and gentle soul. This is a very difficult letter to write; if I did not think you were worth it, I would not make the effort. This letter is for your eyes only; the ideas in it you are free to use but the letter is for you only.

I am very sorry your brother was killed; You may be sure that Leslyn and I will be faithful to his memory with all our strength.


(Signed, 'Bob')

Thursday, 27 May 2010

An offense that comes from misinterpretation is vulnerable

No sooner had the above cartoon been published than complaints from offended readers began to reach the offices of The Rebel Yell, student newspaper of the University of Nevada in Las Vegas. It was early-1997, not long after a controversial decision by the school board of Oakland to recognise Ebonics as a primary language had kick-started a national debate, and editorial cartoonist Alex Raffi had clearly hit a raw nerve with his irony-steeped piece. Multiple allegations of racism provoked the newspaper's staff to publicly back him, whilst Raffi himself drew another cartoon and offered explanations to as many people as possible, but it was this letter from Pullitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Berkeley Breathed in response to a request for guidance that provided the advice needed. Says Raffi:
Amazingly he offered me his advice. I learned a lesson early on that doing this kind of work is a privilege. You better be clear on what you mean. I still believe in the point of the cartoon but I executed it very poorly.
Transcript follows. Huge thanks to Alex Raffi for his permission to feature the letter.


June 3, 1997


Welcome to Editorial Cartooning. Having fun yet?

At your age and position, I went through an eerily similar situation. The offended were Hispanics at the University of Texas. They wanted my internal organs on a platter. My reaction was the same as yours: respond with a cartoon about everybody being so damned over-sensitive.

But... and this is a big one. But, I am now embarrassed looking back at the cartoon I had defended so defiantly before. I could have made the same point without pushing the delicate buttons. These skills I would learn in the following years... to a degree. Offending folks is a dandy pastime. It's our job, in a way. But an offense that comes from misinterpretation is vulnerable. Experience will teach you how to do so with minimal reader confusion... the Achille's heel of cartoonists. Offend with the cutting clarity of an idea well-expressed... and defend it to the death.

Finally, don't let the editors speak for you. That's not their job and they won't do it as convincingly. As a reader, I don't care what they say. I'd want to hear from you. If your point is well taken, but you can see where confusion was caused, then apologize for the latter, defend the former and pledge to continue with unwavering resolve and more practiced skill.

By the way, I am a member of PETA, and I am cancelling my subscription to the Rebel Yell due to the speciest nature of your other enclosed cartoon.

Go get 'em.

(Signed, 'Berkeley Breathed')

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Fancy a game of baseball?

During the sport's infancy, prior to the days of schedules and organised fixtures, American baseball teams formally arranged games by way of the postal system, in the form of the 'challenge letter'. Below is one such charming invitation, sent in 1860 by Jersey City's Hamilton Base Ball Club to the New York Knickerbockers; a team who, despite being one of the very first on the scene - and in fact participants in, and losers of, the first ever 'officially recorded' game of U.S. baseball - sadly ceased to exist in the 1870s as the sport became professionalised.

Transcript follows.

Hamilton Base Ball Club.
Jersey City, Sept. 13th, 1860

To the President & Members
of the Knickerbocker B B Club NY

Gentlemen, I am instructed by the "Hamilton Club," to invite the "First Nine" of your Club to play a match game of Base Ball ("on the fly") upon our grounds at Long Dock Jersey City, on Saturday Sept. 29th.

Hoping that the above may prove acceptable, I remain,

Yours Truly

N.B. Shafer Sec'ty
Box 208. PO
Jersey City.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010


October, 1918: Trapped behind enemy lines in Charlevaux, France, and surrounded by hundreds of German troops, the few hundred surviving members of the Lost Battalion soon had another problem to deal with in the form of friendly fire. His men rapidly succumbing to the onslaught and with two birds already shot down, Major Charles Whittlesay dispatched a frantic message by way of their last surviving homing pigeon, 'Cher Ami':
When the pigeon miraculously arrived at the division headquarters 25 miles away he had been shot in the leg, breast and eye, and thanks to his efforts 194 members of the battalion were subsequently rescued. Cher Ami died from his injuries six months later, but not before being awarded the croix de guerre for heroic service.

Below is the transcribed message from that day.






MAJ 308th


G 3
G 2

Friday, 21 May 2010

Walt Disney's 25 million reasons to re-release Snow White

Here's a quick, easily digestible business lesson, brought to you by Walt Disney. It was 1952, and a recent visit by Walt to a local hospital had inspired one of the young patients to subsequently send him an inquisitive letter. The child, Blaine, simply wanted to know why Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs - originally unveiled to an adoring public early-1938 - was, yet again, being re-released that year.

The following letter was Walt's answer.

Transcript follows.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

May 14, 1952.

Dear Blaine -

Through the kindness of Dr. Barnard, I have received your note and will try to answer your questions.

SNOW WHITE was completed in 1937 and at that time it took us three years to make the picture, which cost $1,700,000.00 to produce.

Since SNOW WHITE was first released in 1937-38, we found from statistics that over 25,000,000 children had been born since it was first shown and that these children were now of an age where they would appreciate seeing SNOW WHITE. So that is the reason it was re-issued this year and all indications are that this re-issue will be very successful.

We are now finishing PETER PAN and I am sure this is a picture you will be interested in seeing.

Just to show you how costs have increased since we made SNOW WHITE, PAN will cost over $3,000,000.00 to produce, but I feel it is going to be a very good picture and it should return this investment to us.

Many thanks for your interest in our work and I hope I have the opportunity of seeing you again.


(Signed, 'Walt Disney')

Blaine Warner
c/o Harold D. Barnard, M.D.,
9730 Wilshire Blvd., Rm. 216,
Beverly Hills, Calif.


Thursday, 20 May 2010

Wills are subject to change

During his final fourteen years, actor W. C. Fields enjoyed an oft-turbulent relationship with Carlotta Monti, a minor actress who became his mistress in the early 1930s. In 1939, midway through their affair and with marriage out of the question (Fields, although separated, still had a wife), Monti informed Fields of her intention to marry another man. The letter below was his response; all at once pragmatic, supportive, generous and even humorous as he warns the woman he clearly still loves that his will 'is subject to change'.

As it happens, Monti was Fields' lover up until his death on Christmas Day, 1946.

Transcript follows.

W.C. Fields

Bel-Air, Calif.
September 12, 1939.

Dear Katrinka:

You must make up your own mind. If you are assured the man you are going to marry can take care of you in your old age and that is what you most desire, you should go ahead. I have given deep thought of how to protect one’s self from poverty in old age but have never found a solution. When I get an idea and analyse it thoroughly, I always find so many things can happen: The banks fail; insurance companies go on the blink; money is apt to be depreciated; stocks and bonds go to nothing; property values go so low you permit the state to sell it for delinquent taxes; nothing is certain but death.

Is the gentleman you intend to marry financially solvent? Can he take care of you when he gets old like me? How long have you been keeping company with him, or did he ask you to marry him when you met him first time last evening in the elevator? Why didn’t you let me know about him before? I might have been able to give you some advice. This is all so sudden

Is the gentlemen in question the one that happens to be just the handsomest thing anyone ever saw, who has the nice wife and was it two children, and you didn’t give a fig for him at the time? I remember you speaking of him while you were on here. I hope he or whoever it is will appreciate your kindness and that great love which you inherit from your Mother.

No matter what you decide to do, I have you now set in my will for about $25,000, one automobile and a cut in all my belongings, include my writings. Spending about $25.00 per week this would keep you twenty-five years. Now that I know your intentions, I will make it in weekly payments of $25.00 or $30.00 a week so that no P.I. or confidence man can rook you out of more than that amount at a time. You will always be assured of doughnuts and Java, married or unmarried, providing, of course, the banks hold up. Wills, of course, as you know, are subject to change which will happen if you do something which greatly displeases me.

Your statement of what you were informed I had said at Chasen's is too ludicrous to be repelled by serious denial.

Susie informed me that she had written you the kids were safe; consequently, I never mentioned it in my former letter.

Now bear up because we all have our little upsets. Me for instance. Just now Uncle Whiskers in Washington is suing me for $56,500. back income tax; the Citron suit comes up tomorrow and Loyd Wright and Millikan are giving me the absent treatment. I can get no word from them or to them. I have my what seems like an unsolvable problem at Universal. My friend, Mr. Cowan, has double-crossed me eight different ways. A Mr. Barry is suing me for having stolen his script on the last picture. Another gentleman Eskimo by the name of Harry Yadkoe is also suing me, saying I stole the story from him. Mrs. Wilson has just called and informed me that Dr. Shaw, the owner of this house on the hill where I have felt so comfortable, is back from South America and wishes the house as soon as I can get out. Outside of that, everything is very calm and collected along the Wampoo.

Keep well and try to control your nerves and accept my really sincerest congratulations. I hope you will find peace, tranquility and love in your new venture. My best wishes and appreciation of your kindness.


(Signed, 'The Continental One')

The Continental Man

Miss C. Douglas,
55 West 69th St.,
New York, N. Y.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Like most junk science that just won't die, the polygraph stays with us

Without proper context, this letter - a highly critical analysis of polygraph testing written by an ex-CIA employee - would still be a captivating read; however it just so happens that the note was penned from prison by Aldrich Ames, a former counter-intelligence officer-turned-spy who in 1985 chose to sell information to the KGB that, ultimately, revealed the identities of most U.S. agents working in the Soviet Union. Approximately $2.7million richer, the blood of many executed agents on his hands, Ames then famously passed two separate 'lie-detector tests' carried out by the CIA, before finally being arrested by the FBI in 1994.

The following letter was sent in November of 2000 to Steven Aftergood - senior research analyst at the Federation of American Scientists - in response to an article he wrote for Science. It can be read here.

Transcript follows. Found via Happier Circumstance.

Dear Mr. Aftergood,

Having had considerable experience with the polygraph (well beyond that which you referred to), I read your very sensible essay in Science with great interest. I offer you a few comments on the topic for whatever interest or use they may have.

Like most junk science that just won't die (graphology, astrology and homeopathy come to mind), because of the usefulness or profit their practitioners enjoy, the polygraph stays with us.

Its most obvious use is as a coercive aid to interrogators, lying somewhere on the scale between the rubber truncheon and the diploma on the wall behind the interrogator's desk. It depends upon the overall coerciveness of the setting — you'll be fired, you won't get the job, you'll be prosecuted, you'll go to prison — and the credulous fear the device inspires. This is why the Redmond report ventures into the simultaneously ludicrous and sinister reality that citizens' belief in what is untrue must be fostered and strengthened. Rarely admitted, this proposition is of general application for our national security apparatus.

You didn't mention one of the intriguing elements of the interrogations of Dr. Lee which is in fact quite common — the false representation to the subject of the polygraph results. Because interrogations are intended to coerce confessions of one sort or another, interrogators feel themselves entirely justified in using their coercive means as flexibly as possible to extract them. Consistency regarding the particular technique is not important; inducing anxiety and fear is the point.

Polygraphers are fond of the technique used by psychics called cold reading, as a slightly less dramatic practice than actually lying to the subject about the results. In this sort of cold reading, the interrogator will suggest to the subject that there may be a potential problem, an ambiguous result, to one of the questions and inquire whether the subject knows of anything that might help clear it up, etc, etc.

Your account of the Redmond report — I haven't seen it — shows how another hoary slider is thrown past the public. The polygraph is asserted to have been a useful tool in counterintelligence investigations. This is a nice example of retreating into secret knowledge: we know it works, but it's too secret to explain. To my own knowledge and experience over a thirty year career this statement is a false one. The use of the polygraph (which is inevitably to say, its misuse) has done little more than create confusion, ambiguity and mistakes. I'd love to lay out this case for you, but unfortunately I cannot — it's a secret too.

Most people in the intelligence and CI business are well aware of the theoretical and practical failings of the polygraph, but are equally alert to its value in institutional, bureaucratic terms and treasure its use accordingly. This same logic applies to its use in screening potential and current employees, whether of the CIA, NSA, DOE or even of private organizations.

Deciding whether to trust or credit a person is always an uncertain task, and in a variety of situations a bad, lazy or just unlucky decision about a person can result not only in serious problems for the organization and its purposes, but in career-damaging blame for the unfortunate decision-maker. Here, the polygraph is a scientific godsend: the bureaucrat accounting for a bad decision, or sometimes for a missed opportunity (the latter is much less often questioned in a bureaucracy) can point to what is considered an unassailably objective, though occasionally and unavoidably fallible, polygraph judgment. All that was at fault was some practical application of a "scientific" technique, like those frozen O-rings, or the sandstorms between the Gulf and Desert One in 1980.

I've seen these bureaucratically-driven flights from accountability operating for years, much to the cost of our intelligence and counterintelligence effectiveness. The US is, so far as I know, the only nation which places such extensive reliance on the polygraph. (The FBI, to its credit in a self-serving sort of way, also rejects the routine use of the polygraph on its own people.) It has gotten us into a lot of trouble.

On the other hand, there have been episodes in which high-level pressures to use or acquire certain persons entirely override pious belief in the polygraph. One instance which made the press is that of the Iranian connection in the Iran-Contra affair.

I wish you well in this particularly important theater of the struggle against pseudoscience: the national security state has many unfair and cruel weapons in its arsenal, but that of junk science is one which can be fought and perhaps defeated by honest and forthright efforts like yours.

Aldrich H. Ames
P.O. Box 3000
White Deer, PA 17887

PS I should say that all my outgoing mail goes through the CIA — unlawfully — for review, censorship and whatever use it chooses to make of it.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

It is my dream and goal to capture TRUTH

In 1988 as his record-breaking Bad World Tour rolled on, Michael Jackson penned a rare note to Bill Pecchi, a camera operator who, due to his recent work on the movie Moonwalker, had been asked to film crowd reactions prior to and during each of the 123 concerts. The letter followed a clearly emotional conversation between the two en route, and in it Jackson offers words of encouragement; politely tells Pecchi he can do better; shows glimpses of his perfectionism, and finishes by proclaiming his love for all people.

Transcript follows.



I very very seldom write letters but in this moving occasion I couldn't help myself. I want to thank you for putting the effort forward to capture the magic and excitement of the people of the world. What you do is a very personal and powerful medium to me. It is the art of stopping time, to preserve a moment that the naked eye can not hold, to capture truth spontaneause truth the depths of human excitement in human spirit. All else will be forgotten but not the film generations from now will experience the excitement you've captured, it truly is a time capsule. I will not be tottally satisfied until I know your at the right angle at the right time, to capture a cresendo of emotion that happens so quickly, so spontaneously.

What you have done was good, but I want the best, the whole picture, cause and effect. I want crowd reaction wide lens shots - depths of emotion, timing. I know we can do it. It is my dream and goal to capture TRUTH. We should dedicate ourselves to this. The person who makes a success of living, is the one who sees his goal steadily and aims for it unswervingly. That is dedication. There is no other way to perfection than dedication perseverance. Just tell us what you need to make it happen. Take the leadership to direct the other camera men. I've enjoyed working with you that is why I asked you to come, you have a gentle spirit thats very likable. Maybe I look at the world through rose colored glasses but I love people all over the world. That is why stories of racism realy disturb me. You hurt my heart and soul when you told me of your boyhood in Texas. Because in TRUTH I believe all men are created equal, I was taught that and will always believe it.

I just can't concieve of how a person could hate another because of skin color. I love every race on the planet earth. Prejudice is the child of ignorance. Naked we come into the world and naked we shall go out. And a very good thing too, for it reminds me that I am naked under my shirt, whatever its color. I'm sorry to bring up such past news, but in the car I was hurt by what you said. I'm so happy though that you have managed to overcome your childhood past. Thank God that youv'e graduated from such beliefs of ignorance. I'm glad I've never experienced such things. Teach your kids to love all people equally I know you will. I speak from heart saying I love you and all people especially the children, I'm glad God chose me and you.

Love M.J.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Come on, George. Loosen up. Swing, man.

Still feeling the strain following his hugely successful solo album debut three years previous, George Michael told the LA Times' Calendar Magazine in September of 1990 that he would be shunning the limelight prior to, and during, the decidedly low-key release of his new album, Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1; specifically there were to be very few interviews, no promotional music videos, and no tour. Many fans were understandably displeased with his approach, but the reaction of one person in particular will forever stand out.

The text of the following letter, written by Mr. Frank Sinatra, appeared in the same magazine the next week.  

Transcript follows.

(Source: Dolly; Image: Frank Sinatra, via.)


September 9, 1990

Dear Friends,

When I saw your Calendar cover today about George Michael, "the reluctant pop star," my first reaction was he should thank the good Lord every morning when he wakes up to have all that he has., And that'll make two of us thanking God every morning for all that we have.

I don't understand a guy who lives "in hopes of reducing the strain of his celebrity status." Here's a kid who "wanted to be a pop star since I was about 7 years old." And now that he's a smash performer and songwriter at 27 he wants to quit doing what tons of gifted youngsters all over the world would shoot grandma for - just one crack at what he's complaining about.

Come on George, Loosen up. Swing, man, Dust off those gossamer wings and fly yourself to the moon of your choice and be grateful to carry the baggage we've all had to carry since those lean nights of sleeping on buses and helping the driver unload the instruments

And no more of that talk about "the tragedy of fame." The tragedy of fame is when no one shows up and you're singing to the cleaning lady in some empty joint that hasn't seen a paying customer since Saint Swithin's day. And you're nowhere near that; you're top dog on the top rung of a tall ladder called Stardom, which in latin means thanks-to-the-fans who were there when it was lonely.

Talent must not be wasted. Those who have it - and you obviously do or today's Calendar cover article would have been about Rudy Vallee - those who have talent must hug it, embrace it, nurture it and share it lest it be taken away from you as fast as it was loaned to you.

Trust me. I've been there.

(Signed, 'Frank Sinatra')

© 1990 Frank Sinatra

Friday, 14 May 2010

Again, Bet on Exterminator

A brief note from Ernest Hemingway to his publisher, Charles Scribner, written at some point in the mid-1920s. Not happy with the terms of a proposed new deal between the two, Hemingway chose to remind the publisher that he was in fact the fastest horse in his stable of authors; Exterminator being the name of a particularly successful racehorse of that era who is still regarded as one of the best of all time. Indeed Hemingway stayed with Scribner until his death, so it's safe to assume that the unsatisfactory percentage was increased.

Transcript follows.

July 15

Chas S —

Again, 10% will not Do.
Again, Bet on Exterminator.

Best and Fondest,

Ernest Hemingway

Thursday, 13 May 2010

The crime of being a Negro was far more heinous

Henry Ossian Flipper became, in 1877, the first African American to graduate from the United States Military Academy at West Point - an admirable achievement given both his being born into slavery in 1856 and the abhorrent treatment he received during his military training - and subsequently was the first African American commissioned officer in the U.S. Army. Despite being found not guilty of embezzlement at trial, a panicked attempt to hide a shortfall in funds in 1881 saw him dismissed from the Army for 'conduct unbecoming an officer and gentleman'. He fought tirelessly to clear his name until his death in 1940.

Below is a beautifully eloquent letter written by Henry; sent to chairman of the House Committee on Military Affairs John A. T. Hull in 1898, in support of a proposed bill to reinstate him in the Army.

It wasn't until 1999 - 101 years later - that Henry Ossian Flipper finally received a full pardon.

Transcript follows.

Santa Fe, New Mexico,

October 23, 1898.

Hon. John A. T. Hull,

Desmoines, Iowa.

Dear Sir:

I send you, in this mail and under separate cover, a printed copy of the Brief I have prepared in my case under Bill, H. R. 9849, which was so kindly introduced in the House for me by the Hon. Michael Griffin, at the last session of Congress.

In May last I submitted to you and to the members of the Sub-Committee a type-written copy of a Brief I had hastily prepared in Washington. I have carefully rewritten and revised that Brief and now send you a copy for your perusal and consideration.

In coming to Congress with my case, I do so because there is no individual or other tribunal to which I can go, no official or other official body with power to review the case and grant or refuse my petition. In coming to you, to the Committee and to Congress, I do not ask that aught be done for me from motives of mere sympathy and yet I cannot help feeling that all of us can and do sympathize with those who have been wronged. I am sure that, after reading my Brief through, you will understand and appreciate the struggle I made to rise above the station to which I was born, how I won my way through West Point and how I made as honorable a record in the Army as any officer in it, in spite of the isolation, lack of social association, ostracism and what not to which I was subjected by the great majority of my brother officers. You will recognize also the almost barbarous treatment to which I was subjected at the time I was accused and tried.

It will not be possible, I apprehend, for you or any member of the Committee to wade through the 1000 or more pages of the record, nor is it necessary, but, if you should do so, you will readily be convinced that the crime of being a Negro was, in my case, far more heinous than deceiving the commanding officer.

My utter helplessness and conviction then arose from that cause and without the generous assistance of yourself and the other gentlemen of the Committee, in Committee and on the floor of the House, I shall be equally helpless now.

I believe my case is a strong one as well as a meritorious one and one that will commend itself to you for approval and will enlist your sympathy and support.

I ask nothing because I am a Negro, yet that fact must press itself upon your consideration as a strong motive for the wrong done me as well as a powerful reason for righting that wrong.

I ask only what Congress has seen fit to grant to others similarly situated. I ask only that justice which every American citizen has the right to ask and which Congress alone has the power to grant.

In my Brief I offer for your consideration two cases, one occurring before my trial and of which I should have had the benefit as a precedent, and the other occurring after my trial. They will show how white officers of long years of experience and of high rank have been treated for the same offense as that for which I was tried and dismissed. I also present six precedents in which Congress has granted to dismissed officers what I am asking.

I do not believe Congress ever had before it a case as deserving of favorable action as my case, and for that reason I do not hesitate to appeal to you and to ask you to champion it for me and to see that both the Committee and the House take speedy and favorable action and pass the bill just as Mr. Griffin introduced it without amendment of any character. You will have my gratitude and that of my entire race, as well as the satisfaction of having righted a great wrong done to a member of a harmless but despised and friendless race.

Relying upon you, as I do, I have the honor to be,

Very truly yours,


Wednesday, 12 May 2010

I will be stopping Calvin and Hobbes

Late-1995, ten years after it was first syndicated, Bill Watterson sent the following letter to the thousands of newspapers which carried his widely-adored Calvin and Hobbes comic strip, in doing so announcing the forthcoming end of its run. True to his word, on December 31st of that year the final, 3'160th strip - seen above - appeared in publications around the world, and millions of hearts began to break.

Many thanks to Kirsty for the letter.

Transcript follows.

Calvin and Hobbes

Dear Editor:

I will be stopping Calvin and Hobbes at the end of the year. This was not a recent or an easy decision, and I leave with some sadness. My interests have shifted however, and I believe I've done what I can do within the constraints of daily deadlines and small panels. I am eager to work at a more thoughtful pace, with fewer artistic compromises. I have not yet decided on future projects, but my relationship with Universal Press Syndicate will continue.

That so many newspapers would carry Calvin and Hobbes is an honor I'll long be proud of, and I've greatly appreciated your support and indulgence over the last decade. Drawing this comic strip has been a privilege and a pleasure, and I thank you for giving me the opportunity.



Bill Watterson

Tuesday, 11 May 2010


An eloquent, supportive and neatly handwritten note to a pen-pal by the name of Aneisha Howard, written in 1999 on the inside of a motivational greeting card. The sender - 'not the guy that the media has portrayed' - happened to be John Gotti, a notorious American gangster and one-time head of the Gambino Family in New York City who, at the time of writing, was seven years into a life sentence for 'thirteen counts of murder, conspiracy to commit murder, racketeering, obstruction of justice, illegal gambling, extortion, tax evasion, and loansharking'.

More can be learnt about the unlikely pen-pals in this New York Times article from 2002.

Transcript follows.


I hope this finds you, Caleb and Jazzrufa in good health and happy. As you can see I received your letter. Judging from your letter you have lots of energy, lots of ambition, and are a very caring mother - very unique these days. I'm sure your projects will be super successful one day soon - at least I wish it so. By the by, you're right - I'm not "the guy that the media has portrayed", and I want to compliment you for keeping an open mind and being able to see through their hype! I also want to thank you for your concern, I am fine. Take care, and stay strong!


John Gotti

Monday, 10 May 2010

The Birth of Public Enemy No.1

In March of 1933, eight years after being jailed for a failed attempt to rob a local grocery store, future 'public enemy' John Dillinger wrote the following demanding letter to his father in an attempt to secure his own early release. Luckily for Dillinger, but not so much for the rest of the population, his father complied and in May of that year - after a campaign and petition - he was paroled. Within a matter of months he robbed a bank and was quickly arrested, only to be broken out immediately by three ex-prison mates whilst awaiting trial, thus signalling the beginning of a trail of bank robberies and murders, plus another prison escape, for which John Dillinger and his gang are now so famous.

This period was recently depicted - albeit rather loosely in parts - in the movie Public Enemies.

Transcript follows.

Mr. John W. Dillinger
R. R. 2
Mooresville, Ind.

Dear Dad.

A friend of mine is mailing this for me so I thought I would outline a few things that I want you to do without fail. Mr. Wade can do me a world of good so ask him to write a letter to the board specifying that Singleton only done two years and that in his opinion and the courts opinion I have been punished sufficuntly and that in there opinion I would make good if given the chance, also be sure and have Mr. Wade to get the Judge and Prosecutor that sentenced me and the present Judge to sign my papers. Dad things are so unsettled that there may be a few changes on the board before April. I want you to get a big petition up ((8 or 10 hundred names)) and have it all ready but don't turn it in until about the 8th or 10th of April no later than the 10th for the papers have to be in fifteen days before the meeting, in the meantime have Dr. Comer or some other of your friends to see Frank Sheets and ask him to help us. He is a friend of Mr. Moorman, and he is the main guy on this board so you can realize how much good Mr. Sheets can do me if he will write Mr. Moorman in my behalf. Get after Emmett to see that fellow or any one else that has a political pull. Ask Emmitt if he knows Father Weber from West Indpls. if so see him for he has more power than Mussolini. You watch the papers and if the Governor makes any changes in the board you will have to see if you can locate someone that has a connection with one of the board members and ask him to give us a boost. Dad it is imperitive that you appear up hear for me when the board meets and make a plea for me. Tell them you have bad health and you are getting up in years and you need my help on the farm as you are unable to do much and Hubert isn't strong enough to help you much and in view of the fact that Singleton only done two years you think I have been sufficently punished and you are sure I will make good if given a chance. Have Dr. Comer and two or three prominent business men to write to the board testifying to your ill health and poor circumstances. If you and some of your friends can get Mr. Morgan to help me it will throw a lot of weigh to the board in my behalf. All he would have to write is he thinks I have been sufficently punished and that he would like to see me have a chance to make good. Get Bud to help get my petition fixed up. I wish you would make a trip to Indianapolis and see Rev Fillmore and Howard Phillips and any other of your former business aquaintances you never know what connections they might have and any of them will be willing to help us if they can in any way. A fellow in here owes me $15 and will send it to you this way. Tell Hubert to send me an address of one of his boy friends and this party will send him a check for $15 and he can cash it and give the money to Hubert for you to pay your expenses up here. The reason I have to have someone else's address is this party cant send money to you in your name for its against the rules so we have to go about it in around about way. Tell Bud to only give me the address and say so and so is living at the following address. Well Dad so long and get busy and be sure and do all I ask hope I will see you and some of the rest in April.


Friday, 7 May 2010

Don't keep remembering what you've lost

In 1964, more than forty years after losing his own leg in a childhood accident, award-winning cartoonist Al Capp - creator of the wildly successful Li'l Abner strip - generously sent the following letter to a young fan who had recently become a fellow amputee. It's beautifully written, and one can only imagine just how valuable such an empathetic letter of support from a personal hero must have been at that time.

Transcript follows.


May 28, 1964

Master Mel Dinker
Columbus Hospital - Room 276
3321 North Maryland Avenue
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Dear Chip,

I understand you have lost a leg and of course you are not exactly happy about it.

I was about your age when I lost mine, and I have learned a few things since then which you probably have not yet had time to find out for yourself.

The main trick is not to keep remembering what you've lost, but all the rest you have left. When you can do that, other people will too, not because they are afraid of hurting you, but because it just won't be important.

The next step is to get to be the master of your artificial limb and to start doing all the things you did before, just as soon as possible. I will not tell you that your artificial leg will do the job your real one did, anymore than glasses are better than eyes, but it does a pretty darn good job, and soon enough it will mean no more to you than glasses do to those who wear them.

Of all the major misfortunes that can happen to the human body, the loss of a leg is perhaps the least. I don't expect you to know that now, but you will know it.

Good luck!

(Signed, 'Al Capp')


Thursday, 6 May 2010

How to wash George Harrison's car

In 1962, Beatles guitarist George Harrison wrote the following humorous letter — a tongue-in-cheek, step-by-step guide to washing his car — to a young Beatles fanatic by the name of Susan Houghton. It's worth noting that the owner of the soon-to-be-grime-covered Ford Classic at Forthlin Road, as mentioned in step 7, was a certain Mr. McCartney.

Transcript follows.

(Source: Hard Rock Memorabilia; Image of Harrison, via.)


Dear Susan,

I hope you had a good chrimbo, and have a happy nuclear ☮ too. Thank you for giving my mum flowers and chocs. [It was you wasn't it??] Thanks also for the card, in fact THANKS A HEAP SUSAN. "Your too kind" John Lennon

Instructions for washing car:-

1/. Use plenty of soapy clean water, preferably warm.

2/. When car is [though it may take a lot of water]- clean, leave to dry off for about 20 minutes. [You can have a cup of tea now].

3/ Now ask mother to find some dusters, [2 each] and with the polish, apply with no.1 duster over an area of about 1 sq foot at a time, in a circular motion. Don't leave it too long before polishing off. This should be carried out until the car is spotless, and gleaming clean. [Don't forget the wheels!]

4/. Take 1 brush or vacuum cleaner, and have a bash at the carpets. They too can be made to look like new.

5/. The windows [interior] should be polished now, after which you can retire for another tea.

6/. Before returning home, I suggest you look over the car again, for any parts you may have missed out, on finding, they should be cleaned accordingly.

7/. Now proceed to 20 Forthlin RD. with about 6 buckets full of dirty muddy greasey water, where a shiney Ford Classic will be seen. Spread contents of the buckets evenly, so as to leave a nice film of muck over the car. You can now return home knowing you have done your deed for the day. Thank you!!!

Proceedings should be carried out about the 8th of January.

Thanks again for the cheerio for now don't forget Ban the Bog.

Love from George [Harrison] xxxxxx

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Why should I?

Sensing an opportunity, the UK government's marketing department approached the incredibly popular novelist Agatha Christie in 1961 in an effort to drum up some publicity; the assumption being that Christie, having just been awarded an honorary degree by the University of Exeter, would in return be more than happy to help.

Christie's response was humorously succinct, and, for its recipients at least, disappointing.

Transcript follows.

April 20th 1961

Dear Mr. Kittermaster

I'm sorry I must refuse your suggestion, but I don't enjoy this sort of thing — so really why should I?!

Also I don't see why the conferment of a degree should be an excuse for publicity. I am most averse to the idea.

Yours sincerely,

Agatha Christie