LONDON MAIL

Stone tablet

Periodically, a long lost letter is found and belatedly delivered to the addressee who is taken by surprise.  Pleasantly, it is hoped.  (Your friend and mine, Marc Kuhn, wrote a novel based upon such an occurrence.  It’s worth your reading time.)

A few weeks ago, residents of London were startled by a discovery of 400 examples of such correspondence.  Sadly, none of it could be forwarded because all potential receivers were deceased.  How unfortunate.  But not unexpected because the mail was dated: January 8, 57 —not 1957, but A. D. 57!  It was an example of London’s first mail, as well as “Britain’s oldest dated hand-written document.”

To give this discovery some historical context, here is a brief —hopefully somewhat accurate— time line.  London was founded after the Romans invaded Britain around A. D. 43.  A settlement was erected on the site of future London.  A Celtic invasion from the North, led by Queen Boudicca, leveled and burned everything.  It was rebuilt and remains to this day.

Returning to our story, London, or as it was known then, “Londinium”, was not a world commercial center as it is today.  But it was moving in that direction.  The documents were concerned with “beer deliveries, food orders, and legal rulings.”  Another discovery was an IOU.  Communications were not written on paper.  Messages were conveyed on wooden tablets coated in wax.  They were approximately the size of a large postcard —for those of you familiar with that quaint form of communication.  Over time, a unique combination of mud and water in the area preserved the wood although the wax vanished.  However, the writing or etching was carved into the wood and it can still be read.

lndonsitesInhabitants of that distant past could not imagine the London of today.  Its size would be beyond belief, as would the Tower of London, the Bridge of the city, and, as tourists can attest, The Eye.  But citizens of London today would be equally surprised that a postal delivery addressed “In London, to Mogontius” would arrive just as planned.   Even if it was opened over 2,000 years later.

*****

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About rcarmean

Two things... First, why have I decided to establish this blog? I like to put essays together. I research an idea or topic looking for information, statistics, stories, quotes, pictures, etc. I enjoy the process and seeing a finished product. I’m told that as I get older, new activities can help maintain energy and keep my brain alert. In other words, I am not doing this for money or fame. Second, regarding the gentleman in the collage of pictures above...it's not me. Those are photos of Christy Mathewson. Why him? When I was young, my primary activity was being sick. It took up much of my time. Eczema (a case so bad I was written up in a medical journal showing doctors what their patients COULD look like), asthma, and allergies. You know allergies: don’t eat this, don’t wear that, and, for Heaven’s sake, don’t touch any of these things (eg, dogs, cats, horses --I only saw horses in cowboy movies and TV shows, dust, swimming pools, my brother --OK, that’s an exaggeration, Rick was a fine brother). In my spare time between doctors' appointments, pills, and ointments, baseball kept me sane. In the 1940s and 1950s, when I grew up, pro footballI and basketball had not yet become extremely popular. Baseball truly was “the national pastime.” I listened to games on the radio (remember it? TV without the picture). I read magazines, books, and newspaper accounts of games. I collected baseball cards. I learned about the game’s history, as well as present. The same with its stars. One man stood out: Christy Mathewson. He was a great pitcher for the New York Giants in the early 20th century. But there was much more to him. At a time when professional athletes made little money (yes, there was such a time) and ball players were considered on the same level as actors, artists, and prostitutes, Mathewson stood out. One of his nicknames was: “The Christian Gentleman.” Most men is baseball drank, smoked, cursed, and fought —with other players, umpires, and fans. The fights were physical, not just verbal. Mathewson did none of these things. But he earned the respect of other players who did them all. Even Ty Cobb and John McGraw. There’s more. He was a college graduate (Bucknell University) when most men were lucky to have a high school diploma. He played other sports, including pro football which you wouldn’t recognize. He was handsome. He played in New York City, then as now, the largest city in the country. Excellence and popularity there meant fame and money. He dressed well. Today, his commercials would rival LeBron’s. And, finally, a hero’s life must have tragedy. After his playing career ended, WWI arrived. He suffered from influenza and was exposed to mustard gas. Chemical warfare. His lungs were damaged and he required treatment for the rest of his life. (Like my Grandfather who also fought in The Great War.) He died in 1925. He was 45 years old. I have his picture here because you need to know more about him than me. He was what an athlete could be. Players like him and their accomplishments got me through a sickly, painful childhood and can still sustain me in difficult times. *****
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