In this age of electronic communication, it can be easy to forget the simple pleasure of receiving a personal letter. It’s a physical thing that someone has gone to the trouble of writing, addressing, stamping, and taking to the mailbox—all just for you. Despite the best intentions of those (usually) trusty postal workers, mail sometimes goes astray. And sometimes it goes very astray. It’s satisfying and heartwarming, then, to hear tales of lost mail that somehow—eventually—finds its way, even after decades in limbo.
1. THE WORLD WAR II LOVE LETTER
In 1945, British serviceman Charles Fleming sent a letter to his ‘dearest’ on American Red Cross writing paper, as he had left his usual stationery back at base. His affectionate letter and the photographs he included arrived at a Royal Air Force base in Lakenheath, England in 2009. A redirection by the Royal Mail sorting office in Peterborough caused the 64-year delay, and because its original envelope was somehow lost, the exact identities of the sender and recipient are unknown.
2. AN OLD YARN OF A LETTER
In 2015, a French woman in her 80s received a letter intended for her great grandfather. The tardy correspondence arrived at the home of Thérèse Pailla 138 years after the sender originally mailed it—in 1877. It was sent from Sains-du-Nord to Trélon, a mere six miles away. The letter’s topic was an order of yarn from Mrs. Pailla’s great-grandpa’s spinning mill.
3. ARMY HOSPITAL LETTER GONE AWOL
A letter postmarked Montgomery, Alabama that was originally mailed in 1944 to the American Red Cross Station hospital in California went AWOL in the postal system until 2011. The addressee, Miss R.T. Fletcher, was probably a nurse at the large Camp Roberts Army installation hospital, which was demolished years ago. The Camp Roberts Museum held the sealed letter, having failed to trace Miss Fletcher or the sender (the return address corner was torn off en route), but just a few days later Fletcher’s daughter came forward and said that not only was her mother the intended recipient, she was still living. After submitting some proof, the letter was finally delivered.
4. A VERY BELATED BIRTHDAY GREETING
A birthday card sent to a Brooklyn address by a caring mother to mark her daughter’s 19th birthday arrived a little belatedly—45 years late, in fact. Sealed with a lipstick kiss, the 6-cent-stamped card mailed by her late mother in 1969 understandably drew floods of tears from Susan Leifheitz when she finally received it in 2014.
5. MISSING MISSIVE TO MAINE MOTHER
When schoolteacher Miriam McMichael went to the effort of writing a nine-page letter to her mother, she could never have imagined that it would be delayed in the mail for 83 years. The letter—mailed in 1931 in Houlton, Maine to her mother’s address in Pittsfield—was eventually delivered to Miriam’s niece, Ann, in Cornville, Maine. When Ann MacMichael received the surprise 2-cent-stamped communication from her late aunt, in 2014, she revealed to reporters that Miriam apologizes in it for not getting round to writing sooner.
6. THE PONDEROUS PARTY RSVP
Mailing a polite RSVP to an event invite has gone out of fashion, though some etiquette enthusiasts still insist it’s quite rude not to send one. In 1919, Charles “Buffy” Babington sent an RSVP to his friend Percy Bateman about a Boxing Day party to be held at Percy’s home. As his RSVP was positive, we can assume that Buffy made it to the party. Percy may not have expected him, however, as Buffy’s letter disappeared into the postal system for 90 years. Jane Barratt, who now lives in the house that Percy Bateman once owned, received it in 2009. She has since passed it on to Percy’s 85-year-old daughter, Stella Pontin.
7. A LATE CAPITAL REFUSAL
A letter sent by government officials in Paris, France and intended for the town of Seix near Toulouse, some 500 miles due south, vanished for 220 years. The unwelcome document—originally mailed from Paris in 1790—confirmed refusal to grant Seix municipal capital status. An archivist in the village of Saix (note slight difference in spelling) 150 miles from Paris noticed and logged the letter in 1999, but the nonchalant village mayor didn’t get round to delivering it to Seix until 2010.
8. PAINFUL, 'HEARTFUL' LETTERS
You can actually pay to have your mail substantially delayed. According to the International Business Times, a premium postal service in Japan called “Heartful Letters” holds your letter for 10 years before delivering it. Sadly, this has led to some tragically poignant deliveries, such as the letter received by parents in 2014 from their daughter who had died in the 2011 tsunami. In the letter, mailed in 2004, the daughter mused about her prospects for settling down and starting a family.
9. NAMESAKE MISTAKE
A letter postmarked 1958 sent to Clark C. Moore was delivered 53 years late ... to the wrong Clark C. Moore. Personal in nature, the letter from amorous “Vonnie” pleads for a quick response. When California University of Pennsylvania student Clark Moore received the letter in 2011, he had the university put out a call for the correct Mr. Moore. Upon tracking him down, it turned out that the intended recipient had in the intervening years married and divorced Vonnie, then changed his name to Muhammad Siddeeq. Understandably, Mr. Siddeeq had “mixed emotions” about finally receiving the letter.
10. VIETNAM WAR LETTERS
Tragically, letters written by soldiers in wartime sometimes remain unsent. Four letters confiscated from the body of a young U.S. Army sergeant, Steve Flaherty, by Vietnamese troops in 1969 took 43 years to find their way to their addressees. During the war, the letters became North Vietnamese propaganda tools. But, thankfully, times change. As part of a reconciliation exchange in 2012, Vietnam’s Defense Minister Phuong Quang Thanh handed the letters to U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who in return gave Thanh the diary of Vu Dinh Doan, a fallen Vietnamese soldier. Panetta then passed the four letters on to Flaherty’s family.
11. EMPTY ENVELOPE FROM GERMANY
In 2013, Missenden Abbey Conference Centre in Buckinghamshire, England, received a letter from Germany postmarked 1951. The envelope was addressed to Mr. Dunnill, who had served as warden of the 12th century abbey back in the early 1950s. The return name and address on the envelope was "Mr. D. W. Prengal, Flensburg-Murwik, Germany." Curiously, the envelope was empty. But Eva Neupauer-Jones, manager at the historic abbey, was still keen to track down the relatives of Mr. Dunnill and Mr. Prengal to hand over the 63-year-delayed empty communication.
12. LOST LETTER FROM JOHN LENNON
In 1971, John Lennon wrote a supportive letter to an aspiring young folk singer, Steve Tilston, after he read an interview with Tilston in a music magazine. In the interview, Tilston worries that wealth and fame might harm his songwriting abilities. Lennon advised him, “Being rich doesn't change your experiences in the way you think.” But Tilston did not set eyes on the letter until 34 years later. Addressed to Tilston and his interviewer at the offices of the magazine, ZigZag, it disappeared—probably sold to a collector. The story became the inspiration for Danny Collins, a 2015 movie starring Al Pacino.
13. LAST LETTERS
During the long, violently repressive era in Taiwan’s history know as the “White Terror,” many of the thousands of political prisoners due to be executed wrote goodbye letters to their families, but the authoritarian Taiwanese government withheld the correspondences. In 2008, Taiwan’s government gave the families photocopies of the letters, but refused to give the originals because they felt they belonged in the National Archives. After much fighting, the authorities agreed to give the actual letters to families in 2011. One of those letters was from Guo Ching, who wrote to his mother, wife, and children before he was executed in 1952. His daughter finally received his goodbye, almost 60 years after it was originally sent.
14. LOST LETTER TO PRESIDENTIAL LOSER
In 1949, the Augusta, Maine State House received a letter for the attention of James G. Blaine. The letter had been mailed from Pittsburgh 55 years earlier. Blaine—the Republican candidate who lost to Democrat Grover Cleveland in the 1884 presidential race—was not available, having died in 1893.
15. FROM JERSEY TO GERMANY
In 2012, 10 families finally received letters from German soldiers stationed on the island of Jersey during World War II. German forces occupied the small island in the English Channel, just off the coast of France, with the intention of using it as a staging post for an invasion of Britain. The letters, written in 1941, were stolen by local Jersey men angered by the occupation. Sixty-six years later, a man approached the Jersey archive, telling them he was given the letters as a teenager and sworn to secrecy. He hid them in his piano for decades before bringing them to the archive's attention. In 2012, 10 of the families were tracked down and the letters were delivered, but it wasn't easy. According to the BBC, "so much time had passed and Germany had changed geographically, with many letters addressed to places that no longer formed part of modern Germany."