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Ann Kathleen Otto


A Passionate Request

At the recent 109th Annual Hartle Reunion a family member presented me with a letter dated November 17, 1909. It was written by my grandfather, Thomas Purl, to a man who would soon be a relative. Unlike the one postmark used today, this letter is stamped by five postal services beginning at Fort Monroe, Virginia, before reaching its destination. Six red two-cent stamps with George Washington’s profile are atop a beautifully written ‘Special Delivery’. No street address or zip code, just:

Mr. Milo Sanford.                                                                                                                                                                              Marseilles. Ohio.                                                                                                                                                                       .       Wyandot. Co.  

When my relative presented the letter, he smiled and said, “Look what it says. He’s asking for money.”                                      

“What would you expect,” I replied. “He’d lost everything.” Purl had a hard time of it early in life. If you haven't already, you can read about it in Yours in a Hurry. The young soldier was abrupt: “I will write to you at once and tell you what I want,” he began. He’s written Mr. Sanford, father of the groom, Harry Sanford, who is marrying Purl’s sister, Mary, on November 30. I can’t imagine my grandfather being so abrupt, but it’s obvious by the rest of the letter that there is a pre-wedding dinner on November 25—only eight days away—that he wants badly to attend.

A previous blog explained Purl’s circumstances. He lived in various family homes after his parents died. He lost his inheritance shortly after getting it, and joined the army. His seven siblings, including Mary, safely guarded their inheritances.

His war record is sketchy due to the July 12, 1973, fire at the National Personnel Records Center that destroyed approximately 16-18 million Official Military Personnel Files, so I didn’t know about his brief stay at Fort Monroe, Virginia, that first year.; or, that he’d gotten any leave that early in his military career. This would have been a great letter to to include in Yours in a Hurry. It describes Purl's situation at the time well.

I was glad to get one of his early letters. Even in later years, people marveled at his beautiful script (at right). He was supposedly an impulsive child, but he and all his siblings were well taught. Their older sister, Anna, was a school teacher. Purl worked as a railroad depot clerk until he retired. I’m sure they appreciated his 19th century calligraphy.

Have you ever uncovered a surprising letter from the past? What did it tell you? 

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