Samara O'Shea


The folks at The Alliance of Pentaphilic Curators in Chicago were happy with my eulogy, but they asked me to add a few more juicy examples of letters. Who can blame them? I found some fun ones and had to share. Admittedly, I wanted to turn it around quickly so I headed over to Letters of Note for all the material. And with this project we prove that the intrigue of letter writing will never die!

Below: The first paragraph is in the original, the other two are additional:

Addendum to the Eulogy

Many an important moment has taken place on the precious pages of the letter. In October 1793, Marie Antoinette used the letter to say her final goodbye to her sister in law, hours before going to the guillotine. A March 1827 letter captured 17-year-old Edgar Allan Poe’s teenaged angst as he told his foster father he was leaving the house and never coming back. On March 12, 1901, Andrew Carnegie wrote a generous letter to J.S. Billings and announced that he would be happy to finance the building of sixty-five branches of the New York Public Library—costing $5.2 million total, which Andrew had, of course, in cash. In December 1909, James Joyce wrote a series of letters to his wife Nora in which he described, in great detail, his fondness for her flatulence. So you see, no topic is off limits.

A December 1945 missive saw Ernest Hemingway at his most forthright. He wrote to Ezra Pound’s lawyer, declaring that “He has not been normal mentally for at least the past ten years.” On January 20th 1961, while President Kennedy was giving his inauguration speech, Jack Kerouac was writing to Timothy Leary describing his recent mushroom trip. He said, “Mainly I felt like a floating Kahn on a magic carpet with my interesting lieutenants and gods.” At the end of the decade, on February 27th 1969, 20-year-old Andy Kaufman wrote a fan letter to Elvis. He stated plainly and truthfully that, “You are Elvis Presley. I am Andy Kaufman.”

A few years later, in April 1974, author E. B. White wrote to the children of Troy, Michigan, at the behest of its librarian, and told them how wonderful books can be. He said, “Books hold most of the secrets of the world, most of the thoughts that men and women have had. And when you are reading a book, you and the author are alone together—just the two of you.” The same is true of letters! In 1996, 13-year-old Sarah found herself alone with Director Quentin Tarantino. He responded to her fan mail with praise, “Thank you for your very lovely letter. It’s the best letter I’ve gotten all year long. It’s cool to hear a girl into horror flicks.”