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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Chain of Fools

Apparently, there is a rich and long history of chain letters and should you be interested, I recommend Daniel W. VanArsdale’s "Chain Letter Evolution".

It was there I turned to investigate yet another curiosity in the family archives.  In 1895 Mrs. Mary Page, a neighbor of the Cass Family, sent a chain letter to Nora.  In it, Mrs. Page asks Nora to make copies of the letter and send canceled stamps to help a young lady crippled from the age of six, etc.  If, no one breaks the chain and the stamps arrive at a specific address in Kanesville, ILL, then a Kanesville medical institution would help the young lady.  To me there are red flags everywhere including the fact that it’s Kaneville and not Kanesville.  But more serious is the question of why an unnamed medical institution that had the power to heal this unfortunate person would need canceled stamps to proceed?

Amusing as it is to think of this letter making the rounds of farmers’ wives in the late 19th Century piquing their charitable instincts, why would Nora hold onto it? At some point in the 20th Century it became an artifact but who saw that and still kept it so that it is here today 116 years later in my hands? 

Originally, Nora may have held on to it to remind her of the good deed she had done.  But had she even followed the laborious protocol and done it?  I have feeling that she tucked the letter away and hoped Mrs. Page never mentioned it again.  I’d like to think Nora didn’t worry about whether her participation really mattered, or her decision not to really would result in “a serious loss to the enterprise”.  Was that young lady really a cripple or just a clever philatelist?

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