Random slings & arrows

Social media, 1908: ‘I would like to correspondent with you’

Travel with me to a pre-digital time when social networkers used pens, paper and postage to find new friends and exchange messages.

In that era of the 20th Century B.C. (Before Computers), some students and young adults used mail to turn distant strangers into contacts. Their version of a virtual world, a Second Life, came through pen pal connections.

That sort of armchair adventure appealed to Rose M. Geis, as you see from this card sent a week before Thanksgiving during the last century’s first decade. With a fountain pen’s neat strokes and capital letter flourishes, she wrote:

I saw your name to exchange postals. And I would like to correspondent with you.
Answer soon.

Her invitation, postmarked the morning of Nov. 21, 1908, went from Syracuse’s northwest side to Robert L. Stuart on the edge of downtown Detroit at 888 Porter Street (where the Lodge Freeway now carries commuters).

Because Robert saved the card and because he sought pen pals, presumably through a classified-style listing in a pulp magazine or other publication, he likely replied that fall to Rose’s three-sentence entreaty. Answer soon.

Whether they corresponded (or correspondented, as Rose would say) beyond two postcards can’t be known . . . but is a thread a novelist or screenwriter could weave into an imaginative narrative that brings Rose to Detroit or Bob to Syracuse.

What’s not fiction is that I hold something each of them held slightly more than a century ago. I admire the graceful curlicues on Rose’s signature and both addresses . . . as well as the stylized logo of Rudolph Bros. Souvenir Postal Cards . . . and an ornately designed 1-cent Benjamin Franklin stamp issued in 1903.

Mainly, I appreciate the flip side campus scene from my alma mater — a view of the Carnegie Library at Syracuse University — that led me to pick up this memento for a few dollars at a flea market. Now I wonder how it wound up there, possibly after sitting in a Stuart family closet, trunk or attic for many decades.

Sitting at a desk without a fountain pen, ink bottle or postcard stamp, I think about young Rose, young Robert and this form of one-to-one social media that left an artifact to display where we indulge a similar interest in communicating . . . connecting . . . correspondenting.

How about you?

Did you or someone you know every have a pen pal? Travel back to that time and share a memory here. Answer soon.

[Originally posted Aug. 29, 2009 as a Facebook Note.]

The postcard’s face shows the Carnegie Library at Syracuse University, my alma mater.


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