Lost at the Dead Letter Office?

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In the years before World War I thousands of letters handled by this country’s postal service went undelivered. They ended up in the waste bin because they were addressed improperly or incompletely, or were illegible. When local postal workers were stumped about what to do with a letter they couldn’t deliver they forwarded the stray mail to the Dead Letter Office.

Only the Dead Letter Office had the authority to open letters which couldn’t seem to get delivered. Once opened, the contents of letters were considered sacred, so much so that the dead letter clerks were—and still are—forbidden to read any more of the communications than absolutely necessary to determine where the letters should go. The Post Office preferred to hire women or retired clergy, whom they felt could be trusted with items of value.

If something is lost in the mail, it feels like it has disappeared into the ether, like it was sucked into a black hole, like it no longer exists. But, it turns out, a lot of the mail we think is lost is actually in a designated place.  The Mail Recovery Centre is the contemporary name for the Dead Letter Office.  It’s where our lost mail ends up. And eventually, if our mail doesn’t find its way back to its rightful owner, it’s auctioned off to the highest bidder.

 

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It used to be that once the Post Office deemed they were out of room in the Dead Letter office they would auction off what they had to resellers that sold on EBay. But now like libraries, and other collectible businesses they have cut out the middleman and are selling online the dead mail  themselves.

Material from Canada’s Dead Letter Office continues to arouse the interest of a diversity of collectors of Canadian postal history.  So what did they find in the Ottawa Dead Letter office in February 1892 according to the newspaper?

$18,000 in cash, 4 writs, 6 mortgages, 8 waistcoats, 4 vests, 100 railway tickets, 85 railway passes, 16 neckties and 4 sets of false teeth-as well as a host of mail that could not be delivered.

 

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Come and visit the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page– what’s there? Cool old photos–and lots of things interesting to read.

Information where you can buy all Linda Seccaspina’s books-You can also read Linda in Hometown News and now in The Townships Sun

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About lindaseccaspina

Linda Knight Seccaspina was born in Cowansville, Quebec about the same time as the wheel was invented and the first time she realized she could tell a tale was when she got caught passing her smutty stories around in Grade 7 at CHS by Mrs. Blinn. When Derek "Wheels" Wheeler from Degrassi Jr. High died in 2010, Linda wrote her own obituary. Some people said she should think about a career in writing obituaries. Before she laid her fingers to a keyboard, Linda owned the eclectic store Flash Cadilac and Savannah Devilles in Ottawa from 1976-1996. After writing for years about things that she cared about or pissed her off she finally found her calling. Is it sex drugs and rock n' roll you might ask? No, it is history. Seeing that her very first boyfriend in Grade 5 (who she won a Twist contest with in the 60s) is the head of the Brome Misissiquoi Historical Society and also specializes in local history back in Quebec, she finds that quite funny. She writes every single day and is also a columnist for Hometown News and Screamin's Mamas. She is a volunteer for the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum, an admin for the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page, and a local guest speaker. She has been now labelled an historian by the locals which in her mind is wrong. You see she will never be like the iconic local Lanark County historian Howard Morton Brown, nor like famed local writer Mary Cook. She proudly calls herself The National Enquirer Historical writer of Lanark County, and that she can live with. Linda has been called the most stubborn woman in Lanark County, and has requested her ashes to be distributed in any Casino parking lot as close to any Wheel of Fortune machine as you can get. But since she wrote her obituary, most people assume she's already dead. Linda has published six books, "Menopausal Woman From the Corn," "Cowansville High Misremembered," "Naked Yoga, Twinkies and Celebrities," "Cancer Calls Collect," "The Tilted Kilt-Vintage Whispers of Carleton Place," and "Flashbacks of Little Miss Flash Cadilac." All are available at Amazon in paperback and Kindle. Linda's books are for sale on Amazon or at Wisteria · 62 Bridge Street · Carleton Place, Ottawa, Canada, and at the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum · 267 Edmund Street · Carleton Place, Ottawa, Canada--Appleton Museum-Mississippi Textile Mill and Mill Street Books and Heritage House Museum and The Artists Loft in Smith Falls.

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