There is no danger down here

On October 31st, 1918, as the First World War neared its end, celebrated war poet and officer of the Second Manchesters Wilfred Owen wrote home to his mother. Sadly, this would be his last letter. Four days later–exactly a century ago–Owen was shot dead as he led his company across the Sambre–Oise Canal. His mother

Our differences unite us

In 2012, 10-year-old Sophia Bailey-Klugh wrote and illustrated an endearing letter to U. S. President Barack Obama and, as the daughter of a gay couple, thanked him for supporting same-sex marriage. Her letter, and the reply she soon received, can be seen below. Transcripts follow each letter. (Huge thanks to Sophia’s family for allowing us to

You will then know how to talke to me

In September of 1864, as the American Civil War approached its conclusion, a slave-turned-soldier named Spotswood Rice wrote the following furious letter to his former owner, Katherine Diggs, and sternly warned her that she would soon be seeing him again: he was returning to Missouri, together with a thousand-strong army of black soldiers, to rescue

I shall always be near you

In 1861, as the American Civil War approached, a 32-year-old lawyer named Sullivan Ballou left his wife of five years and two sons at home, and joined the war effort as a major in the Union Army. On July 14th of that year, acutely aware that particularly perilous times were ahead, he wrote, but didn’t

To the next Burglar

As he slept upstairs on September 8th of 1908, two young burglars entered Mark Twain‘s home, took an entire sideboard into the garden and proceeded to break it open. They were eventually caught by police with a stash of silverware. The next day, with the help of an aspiring young artist named Dorothy Sturgis, Twain

Everyone has to be a child

Back in 1998, The Economist ran an article which resulted in a record amount of feedback for its author. The subject at hand was children: For children, just like cigarettes or mobile phones, clearly impose a negative externality on people who are near them. Anybody who has suffered a 12-hour flight with a bawling baby

The price for ridding society of bad is always high

In June of 1945, a striking letter arrived at the home of 3-year-old Dennis Helms in Washington, written on a chilling sheet of Adolf Hitler’s letterhead and dated V-E day. It had in fact been penned by Dennis’ father, Lt. Richard Helms, an intelligence operative with the Office of Strategic Services who, following Germany’s surrender

Please ask Ike to bring Elvis back

The following pleading letter is just one of thousands sent by desperate fans of Elvis Presley to the White House in the late-1950s, in an effort to have the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll returned to the United States from Germany, where he was posted with the U.S. Army. This particular missive was sent by

Sweetheart come

On February 7th of 1909, a 30-year-old mother of two by the name of Emma Hauck was admitted to the psychiatric hospital of the University of Heidelberg in Germany, having recently been diagnosed with dementia praecox (schizophrenia). The outlook improved briefly and a month later she was discharged, only to be readmitted within weeks as her condition deteriorated

I will treasure your letter

In September of 2006, following a desperately sad childhood that saw both drug-addicted parents murdered and the care of her younger siblings left in her hands, 16-year-old Sacia Flowers decided to write to J. K. Rowling and thank her for creating Harry Potter, her “best friend” during the most difficult of times. Her letter can be

I have just written you a long letter

The late, great Lt. Col. Alfred D. Wintle was opinionated, brave, comical, intelligent, and, most importantly, hugely entertaining. A true “character.” He once attempted to escape a hospital dressed as a female nurse in order to rejoin the war effort, but his monocle gave him away; as a prisoner of war in France during World War

Immortal Beloved

After his death in 1827, the following love letter was found amongst the personal papers of Ludwig van Beethoven, penned by the composer over the course of two days in July of 1812 while staying in Teplice. The letter’s unnamed recipient — Beethoven’s “Immortal Beloved” — remains a mystery, and continues to generate debate. Below are images of the

You are an “eight ulcer man on four ulcer pay.”

On the evening of December 5th, 1950, a carefully selected 3500-strong audience filled Washington’s Constitution Hall to witness a singing performance by Margaret Truman, the only child of then-U.S. President Harry Truman (also in attendance), and, despite the generally held consensus that her singing talents were lacking, a wave of positive reaction greeted her after the

It wasn’t a rip off; it was a love in

An inflammatory article in The New York Times provoked the following letter from John Lennon in 1971, defensively penned on a couple of sheets of in-flight stationery as the Beatle crossed the Atlantic. Journalist Craig McGregor’s piece, entitled ‘The Beatles Betrayal,’ was clear in its accusation: that a number of white bands — The Beatles in particular

A library is many things

Early-1971, in an effort to attract as many youngsters to the premises as possible, Marguerite Hart — children’s librarian at the newly-opened public library in Troy, Michigan — wrote to a number of notable people with a request: to reply with a congratulatory letter, addressed to the children of Troy, in which the benefits of

I am volunteering for the “Man in Space” program

On May 5th of 1961, Alan Shepard became the second person — and first American — to enter space, just three weeks after Yuri Gagarin orbited Earth. The following amazing letter was written by Shepard to his parents two years before, and marks the very first announcement of his plans to volunteer for the “Man

What great births you have witnessed!

In May of 1889, author Mark Twain wrote the following beautiful letter of congratulations to Walt Whitman, the indisputably influential poet behind, most notably, Leaves of Grass. The cause for celebration was Whitman’s upcoming 70th birthday, the imminence of which saw Twain pen not just a birthday wish, but a stunning 4-page love letter to human endeavour, as seen

I think I no how to make people or animals alive

In June of 1973, spurred on by the recent discovery of a dying bird in his garden, 9-year-old Anthony Hollander wrote to the presenters of the BBC’s much-loved children’s television show, Blue Peter, and asked for assistance in his quest to “make people or animals alive.” Below is his letter, and the encouraging response written by the programme’s

Permission to land

Top-left: A Huey thrown overboard; Top-right: Buang-Ly lands safely; Bottom: A rapturous welcome On April 30th of 1975, with the Vietnam War coming to a close and the U.S. evacuating as many people as possible from South Vietnam in Operation Frequent Wind, crew aboard the USS Midway were surprised to see a small two-seat Cessna O-1 Bird

Seat 29E

Mid-flight on December 21st, 2004, a Continental Airlines passenger — “disgusted” with the location of his seat due to its proximity to the lavatory — humorously wrote the following letter of complaint to the airline’s headquarters. The now-famous letter, complete with illustrations and vivid descriptions of the passenger’s stench-filled discomfort, found its way onto the

The Court would like to balance the scales

In November of 2010, upon realising that the forthcoming birth of his grandchild would probably occur midway through the mortgage-fraud trial on which he was working, Manhattan defence attorney Bennett Epstein wrote the following letter to the judge presiding over the case, Kimba Wood. The reason? To apply for a recess mid-trial so that, should

Darling Goodnight and Goodbye

In 1918, aged just 18, Rattanbai ‘Ruttie’ Petit converted to Islam and married a man 24 years her senior: then-president of the All-India Muslim League and eventual founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. The following few years were blissfully happy for the newlyweds, but a rift soon developed as Jinnah’s hectic political life took hold. In

You can beat it just like I did

On September 5th of 1994, eager to pose a question, 8th-grade student Branden Brooks found himself raising his hand during the Q&A session of a presentation by then-Senator Joe Biden. After the event, having noticed the young man’s stutter as he spoke, Biden pulled him to one side: “Sen. Biden told me that he used to stutter

A Plea for a raise, By Jack Kennedy

Late-1927, having just become a Boy Scout and acutely aware that his weekly allowance wouldn’t cover the costs of such a lifestyle, 10-year-old John F. Kennedy approached his father and asked for a raise of 30¢. Keen to teach the future President a quick business lesson, Kennedy Sr. immediately told him that, unless his plea

Have you heard about the Toad?

Whilst holidaying with his wife in May of 1907, Kenneth Grahame wrote the first of fifteen letters to his son and ended it with mention of Toad, a fantastical character recently introduced to seven-year-old Alistair‘s bedtime stories, in part to better teach him right from wrong. His son was delighted and, over the coming weeks, his

The first mail to be carried over the Atlantic

Alcock & Brown shortly after takeoff | Image: Wikimedia On June 14th of 1919 at St. John’s, Newfoundland, Captain John Alcock and his navigator Lt. Arthur Brown made history as they began what would become the world’s first non-stop transatlantic flight. For their troubles they were awarded £10,000 by the Daily Mail, a newspaper then-renowned

I greet you at the beginning of a great career

Now widely considered one of the greatest books of poetry ever written, Leaves of Grass was first published in 1855 and financed entirely by its author, Walt Whitman. Whitman – then an aspiring, unknown poet – immediately sent one of the 795 copies to Ralph Waldo Emerson, a highly respected man who, a decade previous, had

All the ladies like whiskers

In 1860, having recently seen a picture of him without facial hair, an 11-year-old girl named Grace Bedell decided to write to Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln with a suggestion: to grow a beard. Her letter, and Lincoln’s reply, can be seen below. She met Lincoln a few months later, as the President-elect travelled victoriously to Washington,

To: My widow

On January 17th of 1912, following years of preparation, British explorer Capt. Robert Falcon Scott and his team reached the South Pole — an incredible feat that was quickly overshadowed upon arrival by the news that the race had already been won 33 days previous, by the Norwegians. Scott’s team, demoralised and tired, soon began their ill-fated

A true Lovers Knot to thee my Dear I send

Popular amongst a small section of Pennsylvania Quakers in the late-18th and early 19th century, the ‘True Lover’s Knot’ is both an undeniably romantic form of love letter and an impressively intricate, labyrinthian work of art of which very few examples still exist. Handcrafted using quill, brush and compass, the stunning knot seen below was

Ghosts in the White House

On June 12th, 1945, then-U. S. President Harry Truman wrote the following letter to his wife, Bess. She had recently taken their daughter to visit relatives over the summer, and Truman’s subsequent attempts to work had been somewhat hampered by the endless noises and draughts emitted by the White House; a building which at the time was desperately in

Some mean man killed my dady too

Above: Monroe Young Jr. III On November 22nd of 1963, whilst travelling through Dealey Plaza in an open-top limousine, then-U.S. President John F. Kennedy was tragically shot dead; millions of stunned people around the world immediately began to mourn. On December 1st, 1963, just over a week later, a young empathetic schoolboy named Monroe Young Jr. wrote the following heartbreaking

Be an unbeatable person and avenge my death

On the evening of May 23rd, 1945, in the Japanese town of Chiran, Masanobu Kuno sat down and hand-wrote the following farewell letter to his 5-year-old son, Masanori, and 2-year-old daughter, Kiyoko. The next day, Captain Kuno proudly boarded his explosive-laden aircraft, took to the skies and, as did thousands of other Kamikaze pilots during World War

Ym raed Yssac

A fleeting glance at the following, beguiling letter would more often than not result in the assumption that it had been penned in a foreign language, when in actual fact it is a charmingly coded message – hint: try reading each word backward – sent playfully to an eight-year-old girl named Cassandra in 1817, by

Joan of Arc’s Call for Arms

November 9th, 1429, with her forces’ weaponry and other supplies severely depleted following months of successful fighting, Joan of Arc dictated and signed the following letter to the population of Riom in the hope of rounding up replenishments in time for the Siege of La Charité. Approximately 17 years of age and illiterate, Jeanne was more

Fifty Lady Sharpshooters Await

As the Spanish-American War loomed in April of 1898, celebrity sharpshooter Annie Oakley – a Buffalo Bill performer so famous that she was essentially the world’s first female superstar – decided to donate her resources to the government by sending the following letter to then-U.S. President William McKinley. The offer was simple: Oakley would supply the

Lou Gehrig’s Disease

In July of 1939, after nine years of fruitless treatment, multiple sclerosis sufferer Bess Bell Neely took a chance and wrote to baseball legend Lou Gehrig in the hope that he may be able to help. Gehrig himself had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis the previous month following a visible decline in his health

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

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

An idiot of the 33rd degree

In November of 1905, an enraged Mark Twain sent the following superb letter to J. H. Todd, a salesman who had just attempted to sell bogus medicine to the author by way of a letter and leaflet delivered to his home. According to the literature Twain received, the “medicine” in question — called “The Elixir of

Hang on, my love, and grow big and strong

It took nine months for Iggy Pop to reply to then-21-year-old Laurence’s fan letter, but really the timing couldn’t have been more perfect as on the morning his thoughtful note did arrive at her home in Paris, Laurence’s family were being evicted by bailiffs. Laurence recalls that moment back in 1995: “By the time I

Art is useless because…

In 1890, following the publication of Oscar Wilde‘s novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, an intrigued young fan named Bernulf Clegg wrote to the author and asked him to explain a now-famous line included in its preface: “All art is quite useless.” To Clegg’s surprise, Wilde responded with the handwritten letter seen below. Transcript follows. (Source: The Morgan; Image: Oscar Wilde, via.)

The birth of Bonfire Night

On 26th October, 1605, William Parker, 4th Baron Monteagle, received a letter, seen below, in which he was advised, anonymously, to stay away from Parliament the following week as a “terrible blowe” was expected to meet all those present. That terrible blow was in fact The Gunpowder Plot, a plan to blow up the Houses

I wish I could spare Nancy from this painful experience

On November 5th of 1994, five years after leaving office, 83-year-old Ronald Reagan hand-wrote the following open letter to the American people and revealed that he had recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, a surprisingly common, incurable form of dementia that affects many millions of people around the world. He lived with the disease for a further ten

What a dandy car you make

From 1932 until its bloody conclusion in May of 1934, Bonnie Parker, Clyde Barrow and an ever-changing gang of accomplices became a nationwide talking point as a result of a murderous crime spree which spanned the Central United States. Naturally, such a high-profile criminal gang depended on high-powered transport to evade the authorities and judging

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus

In 1897, on the advice of her father, eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon wrote a short letter to the editor of New York’s now-defunct newspaper, The Sun, in which she sought confirmation of Santa Claus’ existence. In response, Francis Pharcellus Church published an editorial on September 21st — entitled ‘Is There a Santa Claus‘ — which went on to

The Quill Letter

I’ve spoken before about the secretive communication methods used during the Revolutionary War – see The Masked Letter and Fire or Acid – and here’s another, decidedly lower-tech example: The Quill Letter. The idea was simple and effective: messages were delicately written on long, extremely thin strips of paper, then rolled up and inserted into

This rain of atomic bombs will increase manyfold in fury

At 11:00am on August 9th, 1945, just a minute before the second atomic bomb in the space of three days was dropped on Japan, a B-29 bomber named The Great Artiste quietly dropped three canisters from the sky. Inside each of the canisters, alongside a shockwave gauge designed by American physicist Luis Alvarez, was an

We have a message from another world

In the summer of 1899, while alone in his Colorado Springs laboratory working with his magnifying transmitter, the inimitable Nikola Tesla observed a series of unusual rhythmic signals which he described as “counting codes.” Having just detected cosmic radio signals for the first time, Tesla immediately believed them to be attempted communications from an intelligent

BRUCE IS GREAT…

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

Thousands of other Daddies went too…

On October 21st of 1942, not long after being called to New Guinea to fight the Japanese forces during World War II, a young Australian soldier named John Byrnes decided to write to his 2-year-old daughter in an effort to explain his situation. His letter can be seen below. It’s beyond beautiful. (Update: It seems

To my good friends ye Postmasters

Over 70,000 Londoners were left homeless in 1666 when, in the early hours of September 2nd, a fire that began in a bakery on Pudding Lane swiftly grew to consume and devastate the entire city. It is believed that approximately 13,000 residences burnt to the ground. As London’s first Post Office at Cloak Lane surrendered

If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong

Three years into the American Civil War, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln wrote the following letter in order to summarise on paper some points he had previously made regarding the recruitment of slaves as Union soldiers and, ultimately, their freeing from the institution of slavery itself. Come the end of the war, all slaves in the

The Ax

On November 30th, 1954, a character by the name of Charlotte Braun made her debut in the much-loved comic strip, Peanuts. Loud, brash and opinionated, “Good Ol’ Charlotte Braun” quickly annoyed the strip’s readers and on February 1st, 1955 — after just 10 sightings — she appeared in a storyline for the last time. 45

Fire or Acid

American physicist Benjamin Thompson wrote the following letter in 1775 at the start of the American Revolutionary War, a war during which Thompson, a loyalist, acted as a spy for the British Army. The letter actually contains two different messages. The first, longer message spans three pages, was readable by all and is notable in

I was ready to sink into the earth with shame

Getting hideously drunk at a dinner party and embarrassing yourself is certainly nothing new. As far back as the 9th Century, the beautifully named ‘Dunhuang Bureau of Etiquette’ insisted that local officials use the following letter template (dated 856) when sending apologies to offended dinner hosts. The guilty party would copy the template text, enter

The word God is the product of human weakness

In January of 1954, just a year before his death, Albert Einstein wrote the following letter to philosopher Erik Gutkind after reading his book, “Choose Life: The Biblical Call to Revolt,” and made known his views on religion. Apparently Einstein had only read the book due to repeated recommendation by their mutual friend Luitzen Egbertus

I can’t spell. I’m very upset

April 1964: The U.S. Department of Labor introduces new rules relating to foreign musicians entering the country, in effect making it more difficult for them to do so unless they can demonstrate a unique talent. The very recent onset of Beatlemania in America, coupled with misleading reports by the American press regarding this issue, results

And don’t get me started on the Scoutmasters

To conclude today’s child-centric trio of letters, I present to you a beautifully observant, expertly written complaint from a schoolboy by the name of Richard Millington which verges on comedy gold. The letter was sent to President Kennedy in February of 1963, just a few years after the U.S. government introduced the President’s Council on

My good friend Roosvelt

In November 1940, thirteen years before spearheading the revolution that would ultimately see him replace dictator Fulgencio Batista as leader of Cuba, a teenage Fidel Castro—aged fourteen, not twelve as he inaccurately claimed—wrote a somewhat cheeky letter to the then president of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and asked him for some money: a

I ♥ U

Experts believe the following love letter to be approximately 100 years old. If you have some time to kill, I’d suggest attempting to solve the code yourself before looking at the transcript. The idea’s simple: each image represents a piece of text, e.g. ☼day would translate as Sunday. Good luck. Slightly larger photo here. More info

TO A TOP SCIENTIST

In 1957, following the announcement that the Soviets had trumped the U.S. with the successful launch of Sputnik 1, Australian schoolboy Denis Cox urgently sent the above letter to the Royal Australian Air Force’s Rocket Range at Woomera, in an attempt to enter Australia into the Space Race. Much to Denis’ dismay, his letter, addressed

I can and will do more good as a Federal Agent at Large

Elvis Presley was an avid collector of police badges and the owner of dozens from departments and agencies the length and breadth of the United States. But, there was one badge in particular that he was desperate to get his hands on—one which had, for a long time, proven elusive: a badge from the Bureau

From Hell

On October 15th of 1888, Mr George Lusk, Chairman of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee—a group of concerned citizens who actively searched for the person responsible for a spate of killings known as the “Whitechapel murders”—received this chilling letter from someone claiming to be infamous serial killer Jack the Ripper. It was sent along with a