Saturday, June 6, 2020

From the Vault: 3 Letters

From Bytes, May 28 2010:

The Pullman Bedbug Letter:

Whilst discussing a customer complaint with a client, I was reminded of the Pullman bedbug complaint. A quick enquiry on the internet enabled me to locate it and even, that debunker of urban myths and furphies, states that it is believed to be true.

The story is that on 4 March 1889, Mr Phineas P Jenkins, a salesman of pig-iron products, travelled on the sleeper of the Pullman Palace Car Company.

A disgression . . . 

The sleeping car, or “palace car”, had been developed by George M Pullman (above) who modelled them on the boats that travelled the Erie Canal. After Lincoln’s body had been transported by a Pullman sleeper, orders poured in. In 1867 he established the Chicago-based Pullman Palace Car Company. His railway cars incorporated such luxuries as freshly prepared gourmet meals in Pullman-operated dining cars, chandeliers, electric lighting, table lamps with silk shades, leather seating, and advanced heating and air conditioning systems. And, of course, the famed Pullman porters. Pullman sleepers operated until 1968.

Back in 1889, however, Mr Jenkins was moved to send a letter of complaint to the Pullman Palace Car Company at having had to share his bed with bedbugs. In return, he received a heartfelt apology from George M Pullman himself, the company president. The company had never heard of such a thing, Pullman wrote, and as a result of the passenger's experience, all of the sleeping cars were being pulled off the line and fumigated. The Pullman's Palace Car Company was committed to providing its customers with the highest level of service, Pullman went on, and it would spare no expense in meeting that goal. Thank you for writing, he said, and if you ever have a similar problem — or any problem — do not hesitate to write again.

Enclosed with this letter, by accident, was the passenger's original letter to Pullman, across the bottom of which the President had written, "Sarah - Send this S.O.B. the bedbug letter."

Although Mr Pullman and his sleeper cars are no longer with us, the bedbug letter lives on…

In November 2000 Ian Payne, a fan of actress Jean Simmons, wrote to the BBC to request a season of Jean Simmons films. In the same letter he requested an autograph of Lorraine Heggessey, the Controller of the BBC. He received back a short letter saying that it was unable to consider a Jean Simmons season at this time. Attached to his letter was a Post It Note saying “Nutter, polite fob off – no autograph.” The BBC subsequently “apologised unreservedly”, declaring it had tried to track the culprit from the handwriting but had been unable to identify the person responsible.

From Bytes, February 3, 2011:

The Cleveland Browns letter:

Another great moment in letter writing dating from 1974. That was the year that one Dale O Cox, a principal of the Akron law firm Roetzel & Andress, sent a letter on his firm’s letterhead to the Cleveland Browns at Cleveland Stadium. Cox, a Browns supporter, was disturbed by the practice of fans turning their programmes into paper aeroplanes and sailing them downwards, much as happens at the Sydney Entertainment Centre

A few days later Mr Cox received a letter from James N Bailey, General Counsel for the Browns:

There has been speculation as to whether the letters are a hoax or legitimate, but legitimacy was established by Michael Heaton of the Cleveland Plain Dealer who contacted both persons in late 2010.

James Bailey is now aged 66 and lives in San Diego. He blames the letter on youthful indiscretion: “I was all of 28 years old when I wrote that letter. I should have been more cautious. I’m just glad my mother’s not around to see that letter.”

As noted at the bottom of the letter, Bailey copied in Arthur Modell, the team owner, on the sending of the letter. Bailey has revealed that he was chewed out for it.

Cox is aged 72 and still practises law in Idaho. He advised Heaton that he is still a Browns supporter and, rather than being offended by Bailey’s response, he has himself used the letter a number of times himself.


From Bytes, September 13, 2010 and reposted since then, the last occasion in February this year.  It's one of my favourite posts so no apologies for reposting more than once.  Thanks again Noel for having introduced me to it.

Sir Archibald Clark Kerr

The following item was reposted in 2017 but is worth another airing for a couple of reasons: 
- Kate and I had another laugh over it on the weekend. 
- I love Sir Archibald Kerr's use of language in his letter. 
- I am pressed for time on this occasion and a reByte is better than no Byte. 

Caution: risqué content 

My father in law, Noel, drew my attention to a wartime letter by Sir Archibald Clark Kerr (1882-1951). Sir Archibald was an Australian who served as a British diplomat, being Ambassador to China 1938 to 1942, Ambassador to the Soviet Union between 1942 and 1946 and to the US between 1946 and 1948. 

Sir Archibald Clark Kerr

Tehran Conference, 1943. 
The Tehran Conference (codenamed Eureka) was a strategy meeting of Joseph Stalin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill from 28 November to 1 December 1943, after the Anglo-Soviet Invasion of Iran. It was held in the Soviet Union's embassy in Tehran, Iran. It was the first of the World War II conferences of the "Big Three" Allied leaders (the Soviet Union, the United States, and the United Kingdom). 

Seated from left: Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill. 
Standing from left: Harry Hopkins, Vyacheslav M. Molotov, W. Averell Harriman, Sir Archibald Clark Kerr, and Anthony Eden. 

Despite his many years of loyal service to Britain, his friendships with Stalin during WW2 and the Kaiser’s sister before WW1, and the fact that he was a disappointed suitor of the Queen Mother, he is today also remembered for a letter he wrote to Lord Pembroke in 1943 whilst he was Ambassador to Moscow:  

A transcript of that letter is as follows:

Lord Pembroke
The Foreign Office
6th April 1943 

My Dear Reggie,

In these dark days man tends to look for little shafts of light that spill from Heaven. My days are probably darker than yours, and I need, my God I do, all the light I can get. But I am a decent fellow, and I do not want to be mean and selfish about what little brightness is shed upon me from time to time. So I propose to share with you a tiny flash that has illuminated my sombre life and tell you that God has given me a new Turkish colleague whose card tells me that he is called Mustapha Kunt.

We all feel like that, Reggie, now and then, especially when Spring is upon us, but few of us would care to put it on our cards. It takes a Turk to do that.

Sir Archibald Clerk Kerr,
H.M. Ambassador.

Superb. One luxuriates in the beauty of the language, simple, informal, yet elegant.

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