Wednesday 30 September 2015

Frederick Douglass Pens Letter to Harriet Beecher Stowe

"The most killing refutation of slavery is the presentation of an industrious, enterprising, thrifty and intelligent free black population." (Frederick Douglass)

In March of 1853, escaped slave Frederick Douglass penned a letter to fellow escaped slave Harriet Beecher Stowe regarding the plight of blacks in the United States.  Mrs. Stowe had just written and published a little book called Uncle Tom's Cabin which would lay the groundwork for the Civil War less than a decade later.  (For more information about Uncle Tom's Cabin, visit

Mr. Douglass opened his letter with:  "You kindly informed me...that you designed to do something which should permanently contribute to the improvement and elevation of the free colored peopled in the United States."  He went on to describe the social disease that blacks of his era suffered from:  "poverty, ignorance and degradation". (

Mr. Douglass explained that the only way that blacks could conquer the disease was to be put on an equal footing with whites, "in the sacred right to the pursuit of life, liberty and the pursuit happiness." He challenged Mrs. Stowe by saying;  "You dear madam can help the lifting these from the depths of poverty and ignorance...prejudice is a bar to the educated black among the whites; and ignorance is a bar to him among blacks." 

Frederick Douglass pointed out that America had three black lawyers at the time, but it was not near enough.  Furthermore, whites refused to employ them and blacks followed the lead of the whites.  Mr. Douglass announced that his master plan to improve the lot of the blacks was to open an industrial college.  As he concluded:  "...the most killing refutation of slavery is the presentation of an industrious, enterprising, thrifty and intelligent free black population."

Frederick Douglass portrait.jpg

Tuesday 29 September 2015

SS St. Louis: The Ship of Jewish Refugees Nobody Wanted

"Steaming back toward Europe, he promised his passengers he wouldn't return them to Nazi Germany and hatched a desperate plan to run his ship aground on the English coast if no safe port could be found." (

Canada has a history of receiving refugees from around the world.  However, our record has always been pristine.  In 1939, the SS St. Louis, with a boatload of Jewish refugees, was denied entrance into Canada and forced to return to Europe, on the brink of World War II.

It had only been less than a year since Kristallnacht, the night the Nazis descended on Jewish synagogues, shops and homes in Germany and Austria, smashing windows and seizing property. Ninety one Jews were murdered and 30,000 arrested.  Kristallnacht marked the beginning of Hitler's Final Solution.  Many Jewish families took flight.  

Captain Schroder, the commander of the SS St. Louis, felt personally responsible for the 907 Jewish refugees who boarded his ship in June of 1939.  In stark contrast to the treatment of Jews in Germany at the time, the captain ordered his crew to treat all of his passengers politely.  During the two-week trans-Atlantic crossing, the passengers ate hearty meals and listened to a dance band nightly.  The children played on the deck or swam in the swimming pool.  On Friday nights, families were permitted to hold their nightly prayers in the dining room, where Hitler's portrait was temporarily removed.

The passengers started to breath a sigh of relief, the further they travelled from Germany.  Adults told their children:  "We're going away.  We don't have to look over our shoulders anymore."  The relief, however, turned to trepidation once the SS St. Louis reached its destination.  In Cuba, authorities came aboard the ship to speak to the captain.  Passengers kept hearing the word "Manana" which means "Tomorrow".  But when tomorrow came, the response was the same.  Captain Schroder pleaded his passengers' case for seven days, but to no avail.

The SS St. Louis headed to the Florida coastline hoping America would grant asylum to the refugees. However, despite direct appeals to President Roosevelt, U.S. officials also denied the Jewish refugees entrance.

The refugees last hope was Canada.  When the SS St. Louis came within a two day steam of Halifax, Captain Schroder sent a plea to Canadian authorities to grant sanctuary to the Jewish refugees. University of Toronto history professor, along with other academics and clergy, personally petitioned Prime Minister McKenzie King.  "Much to our shame, King, who had many Jewish friends, didn't force the matter," said Lunn.

Steaming back to Europe, the refugees had lost all hope.  One passenger even slit his wrists and threw himself overboard.  "If I close my eyes, I can still hear the shrieks and see the blood," said a then six- year-old refugee who saw it happen.

While some gave up hope, Captain Schroder had another plan in mind.  Returning to Nazi Germany was out of the question.  "Steaming back toward Europe, he promised his passengers he wouldn't return them to Nazi Germany and hatched a desperate plan to run his ship aground on the English coast if no safe port could be found."

In the end, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee came to their aid.  The SS St. Louis docked in Antwerp, Belgium where the refugees were unloaded.  Some stayed in Belgium while others resettled in France, the Netherlands and England.  While the majority survived the Second World War, 254 were murdered by the Nazis who occupied three out of the four countries.

Captain Schroder wrote to the Committee on June 18, 1939, saying:  "Before I leave Antwerp, I take the opportunity to thank you once more sincerely for the cooperation we have received from you personally and the different Committees in organizing so efficiently the distribution of my passengers..." (  Sadly, for his humane treatment of the Jewish refugees, Captain Schroder was relieved of his command of the SS St. Louis and banished to a desk job.

Passengers on the St Louis as it arrives in Antwerp

Jewish refugees on board the SS St. Louis circa 1939 courtesy

Monday 28 September 2015

Dear Miss Breed Letters Shed Light on Japanese Internment Camp

"I was overwhelmed with joy to hear from you."
(Japanese-American internee)

Clara Estelle Breed, city librarian at the East San Diego Library, took a liking to the Japanese-American children who borrowed books.  Every week, they frequented the library, smiles on their faces.  But that all changed after Pearl Harbor.  In 1942, after President Roosevelt announced the interment of 120,000 Japanese Americans, the faces of these children became sullen.  Miss Breed decided to make a difference.

On the day that the San Francisco children accompanied their parents to the train station to travel to the camp, Miss Breed was there.  She handed out stamped, addressed postcards and asked the children to write to her about life in the camp.  Dozens of children took her up on the offer.  She received 250 letters, including one that opened:  "I was overwhelmed with joy to hear from you."  The letter continued:  "Now to answer [your questions] -- yes, we do have chairs and tables.  Father made them out of scraps of wood...But we do not have mattresses.  We use some our blankets as mattresses." (

The librarian was determined to make life more pleasant for the Japanese-American internees.  She visited the children in the camp, loaded down with reading materials and personal items like soap and toothpaste.  In 1943, Miss Breed also wrote articles protesting the treatment of the Japanese Americans, including "All But Blind" in the Library Journal, and "Americans With the Wrong Ancestors" in the Hornbook Magazine.

Miss Breed passed her collection of letters on to one of her former penpals, Elizabeth Yamada, who in turn donated the letters to the Japanese American National Museum.  

Note:  For more information, read Joanne Oppenheim's book Dear Miss Breed.

Sunday 27 September 2015

"The Eagle Has Landed" Earns Armstrong Fame

"We want to thank you for being so brave and walking on the moon.  We are proud that you are from Ohio." (Traci-Lea Barnardo)

In 1970, one month before the first anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing, a grade 1 student from Ohio penned a letter to Neil Armstrong.  "We want to thank you for being so brave and walking on the moon," opens the letter.  "We are proud that you are from Ohio."  The letter now sits in a file at Purdue University, one of 70,000 letters, cards and autograph requests received by the first man on the moon. (

Traci-Lea Barnardo was one of 600 million spectators to watch Neil Armstrong set his boot on the lunar surface in July of 1969.  It was one of those moments where everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing.  "Parents huddled with their children in front of the family television set, mesmerized by what they were witnessing.  Farmers abandoned their nightly milking duties, and motorists pulled off the highway and checked into hotels just to see the moonwalk."

Neil Armstrong, along with his fellow astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins, quickly entered the American lexicon.  A ticker tape parade, at which 4 million spectators were in attendance, was held in their honour in August of 1969.  Interviews and speaking engagements became part of the astronauts' routine.  Dozens of American elementary, middle and high schools adopted the name Neil Armstrong.  

However, Neil Armstrong did not embrace the limelight.  "I am, and ever will be, a white socks, pocket protector, nerdy engineer," he protested.  From the time he was a little boy, he wanted to fly. In 1936, he took his first ride in an airplane nicknamed the Tin Goose.  At 16, he earned his pilot's licence.  Armstrong received a degree in aeronautical engineering from Purdue University and flew 78 missions in the Korean War.  

Yet it wasn't his 78 mission flights in Korea that earned Armstrong his fame.  It was his one flight to the moon and the four words:  "The Eagle has landed."

New York City ticker tape parade for Apollo 11 astronauts circa August 1969 courtesy

Saturday 26 September 2015

Eleanor Roosevelt Invites Martin Luther King Jr. to Tea

"I am greatly interested in the Deerfield situation, because the problems of integration -- in schools, in churches and in job opportunities -- will not be resolved until all people can live anywhere in this wonderful land of ours." (Eleanor Roosevelt)

Eleanor Roosevelt presents Martin Luther King Jr. with an award from the Americans for Democratic Action circa 1961 courtesy

In March of 1962, Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of former President Franklin D. Roosevelt, reached out to Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.  She invited him to discuss an integrated housing project at Deerfield, Illinois.  The letter was unusual in two ways:  in the past, First Ladies had not gotten involved in politics; second she was a white woman socializing with a black man, a practice still questioned in the 1960's.

Developper Morris Milgram had successfully planned an integrated community in Concord Park, Pennsylvania.  He hoped to do the same in Deerfield, Illinois.  His plan included 51 housing units, 12 of which would be reserved for blacks.  However, when the community found out, they fought to stall the development.  The builder launched an appeal with the Illinois Supreme Court.  

Eleanor Roosevelt penned a letter to Martin Luther King Jr. inviting him to tea to discuss the issue. The former first lady pointed out:  "I am greatly interested in the Deerfield situation, because the problems of integration -- in schools, in churches and in job opportunities -- will not be resolved until all people can live anywhere in this wonderful land of ours."(

In a time when blacks were usually found in the kitchen, not the Oval Office, of the White House, these words from a former First Lady were considered revolutionary.  In fact, Mrs. Roosevelt had been a vocal opponent of segregation from the time her husband first became president.  She was not afraid to take a stand.  At a public meeting in 1938, she defied Jim crow laws by moving her chair out of the whites only section of the audience to the aisle which separated the blacks from the whites.  Mrs. Roosevelt resigned from the daughters of the American Revolution after they refused to let black singer Marian Anderson perform at Washington's Constitution Hall.  

Eleanor Roosevelt & Marian Anderson in Washington DC courtesy

For her stance against segregation, the KKK threatened to have her kidnapped.  FBI head J. Edgar Hoover, had her followed.  Mrs. Roosevelt carried a pistol around with her for protection.

While Eleanor Roosevelt stood up for the proposed integrated neighbourhood in Deerfield, Illinois, the Supreme Court refused to side with the builder and the development was never completed.  The former First Lady might not have won the battle, but she did win the war.  In 1963, President Kennedy initiated Civil Rights legislation which President Johnson signed in 1964.    

Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in a 1960 letter to Mrs. Roosevelt:  "Once again, for all you have done, and I'm sure will continue to do to help extend the fruits of Democracy to our southern brothers, please accept my deep and lasting gratitude."  Eleanor Roosevelt passed away on November 7, 1962.

Friday 25 September 2015

Jackson's Indomitable Spirit as Indispensable as Fuel for his Car

"Throughout it all, Jackson's indomitable spirit and sheer enthusiasm was as indispensable as the fuel for his car." (Ken Burns)

Horatio Nelson Jackson took out a fountain pen and paper to write a letter to his beloved wife back home in Vermont.  The motorist, at a stopover in Idaho, had just undertaken to cross the United States, from coast to coast, in a Winton roadster, a feat never performed before.  The tone of his letter suggested that he had nothing but minor setbacks thus far.  In truth, he encountered enough problems to sink a ship.  But his "indomitable spirit" kept him going.

"Just a line to say everything is all right with your wandering boy..." is how Jackson opened his letter of June 17, 1903.  He described how the running gear of the front wheels had broken down.  "We have patched it up and shall leave in the morning hoping that it will take us to Cheyenne." (

The roadster, nicknamed the Vermont, suffers constant breakdowns on Jackson's jury across the continent.  But that is not all.  In the era before paved roads, Jackson endures "speed bumps the size of Mount Everest" which caused innumerable flat tires.  In an age without gas stations, the roadster was constantly running out of oil.  Before the invention of GPS, Jackson and his co-driver often got lost.  With no roof or windshield, Jackson endured the heat of the desert.  In an age before hotels and motels, he ate inedible meals and drank tainted water.  To top it all off, this married man suffered many lonely nights without his wife by his side.

Jackson ended his letter with the words:  "Well, old girlie, I can't say anymore -- you know how I feel.  I shall make up for lost time."  Jackson kept to his word.  The roadster pulled into New York City on July 26, 1903.  The cross country motorist returned to Vermont for a reunion with his wife soon after.

Supplies replace the back seat of the Vermont. Photo Credit: University of Vermont, Special Collections

The loaded down Winton roadster circa 1903 courtesy

For more information:

1.  Read "Horatio's Drive:  America's First Road Trip" at
2.  Watch Ken Burn's documentary "Horatio's Drive:  America's First Road Trip" (2003).

Thursday 24 September 2015

The Queen of the Falls Eclipsed by the Maid of the Rapids

"We returned to Cincinnati but could get no booking.  I think it was because the Wagenfuhrer woman had imposed on the public." (Annie Edson Taylor)

It was October 1901 and the plump 63 year old schoolmarm Annie Edson Taylor had a unique retirement plan.  She would go over Niagara Falls in a barrel and use her star status to make enough money to live on.

Mrs. Taylor, who lost her husband in the Civil War, had eked out a living as a charm school teacher in Bay City, Michigan.  Her students, however, dwindled over the years; no one wanted to learn how to dance from an old, portly woman.  She concocted a scheme to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel, a feat never performed before.

On October 24, 1901, a rowboat towed Mrs. Taylor's oak barrel out to Grass Island where she, petticoats and all, tucked herself into it.  After 20 minutes of bobbing up and down the Niagara River, Mrs. Taylor made the terrifying plunge over the precipice, landing in the gorge below.  Miraculously, the barrel was not cut to shreds on the sharp rocks that poked out of the water.  The barrel was retrieved by a group of men who pulled the schoolmarm out unharmed, save a scratch on her forehead.  The New York Times touted the headline:  "Woman Goes over Niagara in a Barrel."

Annie Edson Taylor thought her work was done.  She was immediately inundated with offers for carnival tours, lecture series and public appearances.  But her work had only just begun.  For promoting herself was more difficult than she first thought.  Once the public found out that Mrs. Taylor was an old woman, their interest in her started to wane.  To complicate matters, her promoter, Mr. Russell, had his own way of doing things.  In a 1902 letter to the Lyceum, Mrs. Taylor complained about Mr. Russell:  "His villainous temper, worse grammar and spelling disgusted all those with whom he attempted to do business." (

Furthermore, a much younger daredevil Martha Wagenfuhrer had stolen Annie Edson Taylor's thunder.  As Mrs. Taylor wrote in her letter:  "We returned to Cincinnati but could get no booking.  I think it was because the Wagenfuhrer woman had imposed on the public." Mrs. Wagenfuhrer, the Maid of the Rapids, also had a barrel.  Her claim to fame was riding the Niagara Rapids.

She had planned her trip for September 6, 1901, the day that President McKinley would be attending the Pan Am Exposition in Buffalo, with a side stop at Niagara Falls.  Sadly, the president was felled by an assassin's bullet at the exposition and he never made it to the Falls.

Mrs. Wagenfuhrer came close to death as well that day.  Climbing into her barrel around 6 pm, she rode along the Niagara Gorge, getting caught in the Whirlpool Rapids for a full hour.  Finally, a Great Gorge Railway Illumination Car was hailed to search for her barrel in the descending darkness.  By the time Mrs. Wagenfuhrer was extracted from the barrel, she was unconscious; rescuers took 10 minutes to resuscitate her. (

Although the Queen of the Falls had performed a much more spectacular feat than the Maid of the Rapids, the latter was a much younger, more beautiful woman.  Furthermore, audiences were not receptive to Taylor's monotone voice and lack of presence.  On the other hand, "as a vaudevillian, [Wagenfuhrer] had a brassy stage presence that Taylor couldn't hope to replicate."

Mrs. Taylor, frustrated due to her lack of engagements, fired her promoter who in turn started working for the more marketable Mrs. Wagenfuhrer.  He absconded with the famous barrel, leaving the Queen of the Falls high and dry.  Annie Edson Taylor struggled financially for the next two decades.  She passed away, "blind, broke and ailing," on April 30, 1921.

Wednesday 23 September 2015

Nixon's Letter Welcome Respite from Watergate

"Now you be a good boy and eat your vegetables like I had too [sic]!" (John W. James III)

After a year of dealing with issues like Watergate, a break in, Deep Throat and a cover up, the letter that President Nixon received on July 12, 1973 was a breath of fresh air.  Nixon had just been released from the hospital after suffering from pneumonia.  An eight year old boy offered his advice to the ailing president.

"I heard you were sick with pneumonia.  I just got out of the hospital yesterday with pneumonia and I hope you did not catch it from me.  Now you be a good boy and eat your vegetables like I had too [sic]!  If you take your medicine and your shots, you'll be out in 8 days like I was!"

President Nixon was so touched by the letter that he read it aloud to his White House staff.  The following summer, Nixon was forced to admit he had a role in the cover up of the Watergate break in and resigned.  The letter now sits in the Richard Nixon Library.  

Tuesday 22 September 2015

Coach Boone Battles Racism on the Football Field

"I can't make you like each other, but I will demand that you respect each other." 
(Coach Herman Boone)

When Coach Herman Boone walked into the dining hall at his football camp in 1971, he saw whites sitting at white tables, blacks at black tables.  He marched his team onto the bus and took a field trip    -- to Gettysburg.  In the early morning hours, the boys' eyes still half closed, Coach Boone told them about the young men who, over a hundred years before, had fought about the same thing that they were fighting about.  Only now they were wearing tombstones for hats.  The following morning, Coach Boone saw "a noticeable change in the dining hall".

In the 1950's and 1960's, schools were integrated across the United States.  The city of Alexandria, Virginia was no exception.  Parker-Gray, a black school, and George Washington and Hammond, both white high schools, were integrated into one school called T. C. Williams in the fall of 1971.  Resistance came from both blacks and whites.  Suddenly, children could not graduate from the same school as their parents or grandparents.  Alexandria students had to be bussed from one end of town to the other, often bypassing their "home school" on the way.  Blacks and whites would share the same classrooms for the first time in Alexandria.

With the integration of the schools came the integration of the sports teams.  T. C. Williams football team was in a shambles.  It was crying out for leadership.  And that came in the form of head coach, Herman Boone, a black who grew up in North Carolina.  A controversial decision, Boone was hired by the city of Alexandria instead of the more experienced white coach, Bill Yoast.  

Like baseball's Jackie Robinson, Herman Boone knew that if he were to be accepted by whites, he would have to deliver a top notch performance.  From the moment he set foot on the T. C. Williams field, he was a disciplinarian.  For the first time, white football players were facing off against blacks. And these were blacks who were originally on opposing teams.  But that didn't matter to Boone who reminded them:  "I can't make you like each other, but I will demand that you respect each other."

As Boone explained:  "Nobody wanted me to succeed but me."  But the T. C. Williams coach started to deliver immediately.  President Nixon heard about the fuss and sent his aide, Dr. Browne, to check out the Titans shortly after they returned from Gettysburg.  The interaction among the players likely accounts for some of the growing respect between blacks and whites.  However, as one former player points out:  "Boone's gradual acceptance by fans, neighbours and colleagues might have more to do with winning than enlightenment."  Like Jackie Robinson, Herman Boone knew how to win.  

With a no loss record, the Titans went on to win the Virginia State Championship that year and were ranked second in the United States.  Not just an inspiration at T. C. Williams, they inspired their entire community.  Richard Nixon called them "the team that saved Alexandria".  Coach Boone had a large part to play in that transformation.

Monday 21 September 2015

When FDR Said "Play Ball"

"Here is another way of looking at it -- if 300 teams use 5,000 or 6,000 players, these players are a definite recreational asset to at least 20,000,000 of their fellow citizens -- and that in my judgement is thoroughly worthwhile." (Franklin D. Roosevelt)

In the months following the attack on Pearl Harbor, America was focussed on battling the Japanese. Few had the time to think about sports.  The 1940 Olympics had been cancelled.  Why not cancel baseball as well?  Spring training was just around the corner.  The baseball commissioner Landis wanted to know if the season would go ahead or not.  It would be up to the President.

As a young lawyer in New York City, Franklin D. Roosevelt used to sneak off to Giants games at the Polo Grounds.  As President, he made a record eight opening day appearances.  So when the rubber hit the road, his love of baseball took precedence.  Roosevelt pointed out that healthy young men were needed for the service.  However, once that need was filled, the remaining players could lace up their cleats once again.

Roosevelt said that the baseball industry could employ many Americans.  He reminded the commissioner that baseball was relatively inexpensive to watch (at the time).

Above all, baseball could serve as a moral booster for Americans during the dark days of the war.  "I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going."  The President announced "Play ball" and the 1942 season went ahead as planned.  Once again, Roosevelt had his pulse on the heart of the American people.  And he gave them what they wanted. 

FDR throws out the opening pitch in Washington DC circa 1934 courtesy

Sunday 20 September 2015

The Four Vagabonds Take to the Open Road

"Come, Thomas, leave your shop while we have time.  And let's take to the open road for strawberry days!" (John Burroughs)

There is a giant photo hanging from the ceiling at Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.  It features four iconic men -- Henry Ford, with his piercing blue eyes, Thomas Edison with his dark, bushy eyebrows, Harvey Firestone, with his moustache and John Burroughs, with his flowing white beard -- lounging on an old mill wheel.  The picture represented an oxymoron:  here were four men, three of whom were millionaires, hanging out on a camping trip like regular guys.  Here is the story of The Vagabonds.  

                                   On an ancient waterwheel in West Virginia in 1918,the Four Vagabonds pose for a cameraman. Left to right are Harvey Firestone, Henry Ford, John Burroughs and Thomas A. Edison.

The old film reel circa 1918 features a caravan of six vehicles, two Fords, two Packards and two trucks, meandering down a dirt road.  Inside are The Vagabonds:  Ford, Edison and Firestone, all industrialists, and the naturalist, Burroughs.  It's a "seize the day" type of trip as Burroughs writes in his letter to Edison:  "Come, Thomas, leave your shop while we have time.  And let's take to the open road for strawberry days!" 

This is no regular camping trip, however.  Inside the vehicles, The Vagabonds have packed enough supplies to outfit an army.  The black and white film shows the industrialists, clothed in suits and ties, eating a hearty meal in a dining tent at a large round table, complete with a lazy susan.

The twelve day trip takes the caravan through six states:  Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina and Maryland.  In Tennessee, they camped in the Great Smoky Mountains.  There the Vagabonds partook in many adventures.  The 81-year-old Burroughs, 71 year old Edison, 55 year old Ford and 50 year old Firestone engaged in rifle shooting, cradling contests (shearing wheat), tree-chopping, tree climbing and sprinting.   Burroughs, the naturalist, won the tree chopping competition.  Firestone and Ford seemed adept at the rifle shooting.

Ready, aim, fire! Ford (left) and Firestone went shooting together during their 12-day road trip

Back at the camp, the foursome built a gigantic campfire and engaged in heart to heart talks.  The black and white film shows Ford leaning over and speaking directly into Edison's ear, likely because he was hard of hearing by this point.  Likely the talk turned to business at some point, as Ford used to be employed by Edison at the Illumination Company.  Firestone supplied Ford with tires for his Model T's.  

But there is something refreshing about seeing the foursome convening with nature.  Ford and Edison even bathed in the creeks that they hiked along.  One black and white photograph shows Ford and Edison, straight razors in hand, shaving outside of their tents.  At night time, the foursome retired, each in a separate tent marked with his name on it.  

Shaving time on a summer morning in 1921 in the Great Smokies. Left to right: Henry Ford, Bishop William F. Anderson, Harvey Firestone (stooping). Thomas A. Edison and President Warren G. Harding. Ford seems to be managing without a mirror, perhaps in deference to the President who is making use of one. Bishop Anderson, fully dressed, apparently was an early riser. Firestone, Edison and the President display a variegated assortment of undershirts.

The camping trip, which became an annual exploration of the country, was inspired by a camping trip that the Ford and Edison families took to the Florida Everglades in 1914.  The elderly Burroughs passed away in 1921, but the three other Vagabonds continued the tradition each year.

Saturday 19 September 2015

General Lee Imparts Wisdom to Son

"Duty, then, is the sublimest word in our language.  You cannot do more; you should never wish to do less." (General Robert E. Lee)

We all know General Robert E. Lee was the well respected leader of the Confederate Army during the Civil War.  Offered the chance to lead the Union Army by President Lincoln, he chose to fight for the South, despite his wish for the country to remain intact.  He developped a reputation as a shrewd tactician and won battles against far superior Northern troops. He paid dearly for his decision to side with the South:  when the war ended, Lee's home, Arlington House, was confiscated by the North and became a graveyard for fallen soldiers. (

But General Lee was also a husband and father.  Almost a decade before the Civil War broke out, on his way to New Mexico with his regiment, Lee penned a letter to his beloved son, Custis.  He wrote:

"Your letters breathed a true spirit of frankness; they have already given myself and your mother great pleasure.  Say what you mean on every occasion and take it for granted you mean to do right."

When General Lee was offered command of the Union Army, he felt like, as a Virginian, he could not turn his back on the South.  As he recommended to his son:

"Above all, do not appear to others what you are not."

General Lee went on to talk about duty.  He mentioned the Connecticut Legislature and how its session was interrupted nearly 100 years previous on a dark, dark day, likely the result of an eclipse. Some thought it was the end of the world -- Judgement Day.  An old Puritan legislator said that if it was Judgement Day, that he desired to be at his place doing his duty and moved that candles be brought in so that the legislators could proceed.  

"Duty, then, is the sublimest word in our language.  You cannot do more; you should never wish to do less." 

Robert E. Lee and son, Custis, at his right, circa 1866 courtesy

Friday 18 September 2015

Jacqueline Kennedy's Letter to Khrushchev

"So now, in one of the last nights I will spend in the White House, in one of the last letters I will write on this paper at the White House, I would like to write you my message."  
(Jacqueline Kennedy)

On December 1, 1963, the tears had barely dried on her cheeks when Jacqueline Kennedy sat down and drafted a letter to Premier Krushchev, thanking him for sending a representative to her husband's funeral.  Although hundreds of thousands had lined up to view President Kennedy's coffin while it lay in the Capitol, although hundreds of thousands more had lined the route of the President's caisson, and millions had watched the funeral procession on television, this mourner stood out (  Only a year before, Kennedy and Krushchev had faced off at the brink of World War III.  

In a delicate hand, Jacqueline wrote:

"I send it [the letter] only because my husband cared so much about peace and how the relation between you and him was central to this care in mind.  He used to quote your words in some of his speeches:  'In the next war, the survivors will envy the dead.' (

It had only been a little over a year since President Kennedy had looked out his Oval Office window, his arms folded, worry etched on his face, agonizing over how to react during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  For thirteen days, the world stood at the brink of war.  Kennedy and Krushchev drafted and exchanged several letters, carefully measuring each word (see "Building Missiles Like Sausages" at  The exchanges brought new meaning to the term Cold War.

The former First Lady continued:

"The danger which troubled my husband was that war might be started not so much by the big men but by the little ones.  While big men know the needs for control and self-restraint  -- little men are sometimes moved by fear and pride.  If only in the future the big men can continue to make the little men sit down and talk, before they start to fight."

Just over a week before, Jacqueline Kennedy had been living in the White House, the wife of a president, raising their son and daughter.  But on November 22, 1963, all that changed.  Jacqueline sat beside her husband as he was gunned down in a Dallas motorcade by an assassin.  She watched the priest stand over the President's bullet-ridden body and administer the last rites at Parkland Hospital. She laid her husband to rest on a hill at Arlington overlooking Washington D.C. (

And now she was drafting an eloquent letter to a Soviet leader, even offering political advice, challenging him to be the "bigger man", all on the heels of the personal tragedy.  Jacqueline ended her letter with a nod to Kruschev's wife:  

"I read that she had tears in her eyes when she left the American Embassy in Moscow, after signing the book of mourning.  Please thank her for that."  

Eloquence, grace, class:  that sums up Jacqueline Kennedy.

Three-year-old John F. Kennedy Jr., salutes his father's casket in Washington three days after the president was assassinated in Dallas. Widow Jacqueline Kennedy (center) and daughter Caroline Kennedy are accompanied by the late president's brothers Sen. Edward Kennedy, left, and Attorney General Robert Kennedy.

A veiled Jacqueline Kennedy waits for the Presidential caisson, her daughter Caroline on her right, and John Jr. on her left, saluting his father's coffin as it heads to Arlington Cemetery on November 26, 1963 courtesy

Thursday 17 September 2015

Carnegie's Letter Leads to Hill's Bestseller Think and Grown Rich

"Armed only with a letter of introduction from Carnegie, Hill set out to interview 500 people of the caliber of Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, John D. Rockefeller, George Eastman, William Wrigley Jr. and Charles M. Schwab." (Marelisa Fabrega)

The Scottish-American steel magnate Andrew Carnegie challenged the up and comer Napoleon Hill:  interview 500 businessmen and find out their secret to success.  "Armed only with a letter of introduction from Carnegie, Hill set out to interview 500 people of the caliber of Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, John D. Rockefeller, George Eastman, William Wrigley Jr. and Charles M. Schwab." (  It took him 20 years, with many bumps in the road, but Hill reached the finish line; and he came away with the bestseller Think and Grow Rich.

Napoleon Hill was born in a one-room log cabin in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia in 1883 to a life of poverty and illiteracy.  At 9 years old, his mother passed away.  Young Napoleon was angry.  Enamored with the outlaw Jesse James, Napoleon was known to wear a six shooter in his belt and terrorize the mountainside.  

His father soon remarried and his stepmother saw his potential.  She challenged young Napoleon to use his imagination for writing and spent the next year tutoring her stepson.  The new Mrs.  Hill offered to buy Napoleon a typewriter.  "If you become as good with a typewriter as you are with that gun, you may become rich and famous and known throughout the world." (

Napoleon rose to the challenge.  He found that he had a way with words and by 15 years old, he was a freelance reporter for mountain newspapers.  Soon he was writing for the Bob Taylor magazine where he was challenged to get an interview with Andrew Carnegie.  But it would not be as simple as picking up a telephone and placing a call.  Napoleon wrote not one but 50 letters to the steel magnate.  Finally, tired of seeing the same request, and admiring his persistence, Carnegie granted Hill his request.  The interview changed Hill's life.

Carnegie outlined a plan for Hill to write a book about the secrets to financial success by interviewing successful businessmen.  The steel magnate drafted a letter which gained Hill entrance to the offices of America's most sought after businessmen.  Hill discovered that all of the men he interviewed had several traits in common:  a definiteness of purpose; a strong belief in themselves; and an uncanny ability to bounce back from failure and adversity.

The latter trait served Hill well.  In 1926, he and the editor of the Canton Daily News, had just run an expose revealing Prohibition era gangsters and their operation of bootleg liquor which they had been distributing to local schoolchildren.  In gangster style, the editor was gunned down in cold blood.  The gangsters waited for Hill at his house, but the writer did not make it home after his car broke down. A nervous Hill received an anonymous note telling him to leave town, which he did.

In West Virginia, Hill had to make a clean start.  It was there that he re-committed himself to finishing the project that he had started under the guidance of Carnegie.  He wrote a book, Law of Success, which after many rejections, was published in 1928. 

Almost a decade after his first book came out, Hill secured a publisher for his second book, drawing on his original interviews with businessmen, called The Thirteen Steps to Riches.  Initially rejected, Hill's wife pleaded his case and the publisher relented under the condition that the title be changed to Use Your Noodle to Win More Boodle.  Mercifully, the title was changed later to Think and Grow Rich.  Within three weeks, Hill's new book was sold out.  By the end of the Great Depression, it had sold millions of copies.  By Hill's death in 1970, it had sold 20 million copies.  Today, it has sold over 70 million copies.  It all started with a letter signed by billionaire Andrew Carnegie.

Napoleon Hill circa 1904 courtesy

Wednesday 16 September 2015

Young Italian Girl Pens Letter to Auschwitz Survivor Primo Levi

"The question you ask me about the Germans cruelty has long perplexed historians." (Primo Levi)

In 1982, a young Italian girl penned a letter to Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi, after reading his book If This is a Man.  The letter sat in a treasure box for decades.  Recently it was published in the Italian newspaper La Stampa.

After Monica Perosino read the Primo Levi's 1947 novel, If This is a Man, her head was buzzing with questions.  "Why didn't anyone do somthing to stop the massacre?  Were the Germans evil?"  It was hard to imagine that something as horrific as the Holocaust could happen.  Little Monica got out a piece of stationery and penned a letter to the Italian author posing her poignant questions.  Then she took out a Turin phone book, where she lived, and searched for Levi's address.  She postmarked her letter and waited for a response.

I'm sure no one who went through the gates of Auschwitz would ever forget the horror.  And Levi was no exception.  In his time at the concentration camp, from February of 1944 to January of 1945, Levi saw enough horror stories to fill several books.  Yet somehow he was able to write an eloquent response to Monica.  He explained:

"The question you ask me about the Germans cruelty has long perplexed historians.  In my opinion it would make no sense accusing of cruelty the whole German nation of those days -- let alone pointing the finger at today's Germans... Nevertheless, many Germans must have known directly or indirectly what was going on...I would accuse the Germans of those days of selfishness, of being indifferent and intentionally ignorant..."

On the one hand, many Germans (and non-Germans) aided and abetted the Nazis during the Holocaust.  On the other hand, there were Germans who stepped up to the plate and saved Jewish lives, at great risk to their own lives:  who hid Jewish children; who employed Jews in their factories to prevent them from being deported to concentration camps (Oskar Schlinder); who renounced the Nazis from the pulpit (Dietrich Bonhoeffer for which he was executed); and who even helped Jews from within the walls of the concentrations camps.

Back in Italy, Monica grew up to become a journalist.  For a long time, she forgot about Primo Levi's letter, which sat in a treasure box in her apartment.  Recently, she rediscovered it when she was packing to move.  Her editor at by La Stampa, the same newspaper that Primo Levi had written for. convinced her to publish it.  Monica thought it was an appropriate course of action, explaining:
"I understand his [Primo Levi's] answer wasn't just for me, it was for everybody."

Note:  For more information, read Primo Levi's book Survival in Auschwitz.

Primo Levi circa 1940s courtesy

Tuesday 15 September 2015

Nelson Mandela's Letter from Prison Praises The Power of Positive Thinking

"The Power of Positive Thinking and The Results of Positive Thinking both written by the American psychologist Norman Vincent Peale may be rewarding to read.  The municipal library should stock them...He makes the basic point that it is not so much the disability that one suffers from but one's attitude to it." (Nelson Mandela referring to his wife's heart condition)

Nelson Mandela, imprisoned in 1962 for his anti-apartheid stance, wrote a letter to his wife from prison seven years later.  He had just found out she was suffering from blackouts, likely related to her heart condition, and recommended that she read the book The Power of Positive Thinking.  

I am not surprised that Mandela suggested such a book given that he survived almost 30 years of imprisonment.  It would have been easy for the political prisoner to have become bitter and wasted away in jail.  It would have been easy for him to give up on his family.  It would have been easy for him to give up on his cause.  

However, when Mandela was finally released, shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, he took up the cause anew.  Within four short years, Mandela won a sweeping victory to become South Africa's first black president.  While in prison, he had written an autobiography Long Walk to Freedom, which he had published soon after his election.  Mandela practised what he preached:  his positive thinking had transported him from a prison inmate to the president of his country.  

Nelson burned his racial pass in 1960, an action which led to his arrest for "high treason" courtesy

Monday 14 September 2015

Rosa Parks Writes About Her Arrest

"I had been pushed around all my life and felt at this moment I couldn't take it anymore." 
(Rosa Parks)

Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her seat on an Alabama bus to a white person in 1955, helped spark the Civil Rights Movement.  While her name was forever etched on the history books, Parks paid a high price for her stance.  

Writing on a piece of Montgomery Department Store stationery, Parks explained:  

"I had been pushed around all my life and felt at this moment I couldn't take it anymore." When I asked the policeman why we had to be pushed around, he said he didn't know.  'The law is the law.  You are under arrest.'  I didn't resist." (

The following year saw the Montgomery Bus Boycott, a successful tool to integrate public transportation in the city.  Parks lodged a protest against her arrest.  She was very much in the public eye.  Near the end of 1956, the seamstress was let go from her job at the Montgomery Department Store.  Her husband, who had been forbidden to discuss her case at work, was also let go from his position.  Old Jim Crow wasn't going to give up without a fight.

As Parks explained in her letter:

"little children are so conditioned early to learn their place in this segregated pattern as they take their first toddling steps and are weaned from their mother's breast."

In early 1957, Parks jumped through another hoop and secured her right to vote, at a time when few blacks had that right in the Deep South.  But the economic situation looked bleak in Alabama and Rosa and her husband Raymond moved to Detroit, Michigan by the early 1960's.  Rosa found work as a receptionist for a U. S. Congressman.  

Sunday 13 September 2015

The Camping Trip That Changed America

"I wish to write you personally to express the hope that you will be able to take me through the Yosemite." (President Theodore Roosevelt's letter to John Muir, 1903)

Theodore Roosevelt & John Muir at Glacier Point circa 1903 courtesy

In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt sat down in his overstuffed chair and read conservationist John Muir's book about his adventures in the Sierra Mountains.  Muir complained about how America's "wild forests were vanishing".  Roosevelt took out a pen and paper and wrote a letter to Muir, asking if he would accompany him on a tour of Yosemite in California to see the problem firsthand (

The rich New Yorker, Roosevelt, and the poor immigrant farmer, Muir, were opposites.  But Roosevelt took great delight in their adventure, exclaiming that he felt like "a runaway schoolboy". The president was treated to the sight of Mariposa Grove's towering sequoias and Glacier Point's Overhanging Rock.  Roosevelt was alarmed by the plethora of fallen sequoias and the pollution spewing into the air.

The Yosemite trip was burned into Roosevelt's memory.  Not long after, in 1906, he signed the Antiquities Act to protect the national natural treasures.  Today, almost 85 million acres of land are located within America's national parks.

For more information, read The Camping Trip That Changed America at

Roosevelt, Muir and company in front of a giant sequoia courtesy 

Saturday 12 September 2015

Ghandi Promotes Peace in Letter to Hitler

"It is quite clear that you are today the one person who can prevent a war which may reduce humanity to a savage state.  Must you pay that price for an object however worthy it may appear to you to be?  Will you listen to the appeal of one who has deliberately shunned the method of war not without considerable success?" (Ghandi's letter to Hitler, July 23, 1939)

Germany sent troops into the Rhineland in 1936.  Two years later, it invaded Austria.  In 1939, it invaded Czechoslovakia.  That summer, it was waiting at Poland's doorstep.  Ghandi, who had demonstrated peaceful protest under the domination of the British in India, suggested that Hitler pause the war machine and follow his example (

Unfortunately the letter never reached its destination as it was intercepted by the British government. Within two months, Hitler called for the invasion of Poland, sparking the outbreak of the Second World War.  Hitler, who took on a two front war despite the pleas of his generals, committed suicide in 1945 in the closing days of the war.  

Ghandi's dream of Indian independence came true in 1947.  However, the Indian leader was assassinated in 1948 by a militant Hindu nationalist.  He will forever be remembered for his goal of world peace.  

Friday 11 September 2015

Laura Secord: Housewife Turned Heroine

Painting of Laura Secord warning British commander James FitzGibbon of an impending American attack at Beaver Dams

She is the Canadian Paul Revere.  Just as Revere made the ride from Boston to Lexington to warn the Americans that the British were coming in 1775, Laura Secord made an historic trek from Queenston to Beaver Dams to warn the British that the Americans were coming in 1813.  Yet almost 50 years would pass before she was officially recognized for her heroism, thanks in part to a letter from Lieutenant James Fitzgibbon.

Laura Secord, nee Ingersoll, was born in the Massachusetts Bay Colony the year that Paul Revere made his famous ride.  Her parents were United Empire Loyalists who moved to Upper Canada after the Revolutionary War.  Laura married and had six daughters and one son.  Her husband, James, was wounded in the Battle of Queenston Heights during the War of 1812, the same battle in which General Isaac Brock was killed.

In June of 1813, James was still recuperating from his war wound when a group of American soldiers was billeted at the Secord house.  Laura overheard the soldiers discussing their plans to surprise the British at Beaver Dams.  Knowing her husband was still incapacitated, Laura planned her next move.

At the age of 38, considered old at the time, she set on on foot to St. David's.  There, she met up with her cousin, Elizabeth, who joined her on the trek.  The two women battled fatigue, heat, snakes and swamp-like conditions as they made their way along Twelve Mile Creek.  At Shipman's Creek, present day St. Catharines, Elizabeth could go no further.  Laura continued on her own, crossing over the river on a fallen log and climbing the rocks of the Niagara Escarpment.

Finally, she came to a Native encampment.  Not knowing whether they were friendly or not, she approached them hesitantly.  The Natives, who happened to be Mohawks from the nearby Grand River settlement, led her to the British encampment.  It had been 18 hours since Laura left Queenston.  She had travelled twenty miles (normally a twelve-mile journey) preferring to take a more circuitous route to avoid American entanglements.

At Decew House, she met Lieutenant Fitzgibbon and alerted him to the American plan to attack the British at nearby Beaver Dams.  Fitzgibbon compiled 50 men, 15 militia and 85 Mohawk warriors.  The Americans gathered 542 soldiers.  It should have been a slaughter.  However, Fitzgibbon ordered his men to march back and forth to give the enemy the illusion that they had more men.  The Mohawks let out bloodcurdling war whoops.  The Americans bought it, surrendered, and were captured by the British, all within three hours.  Beaver Dams was a key battle enabling the British to regain a foothold in the much needed Niagara Peninsula.

Laura Secord, a housewife turned heroine, almost became a footnote in history.  For decades, no one knew who she was.  After her husband passed away, she became a poor war widow.  She came close to getting a job as a tour guide at the Brock Monument which was erected in 1824.  However, at the last minute the job was given to someone else in a political move.

In 1820, Lieutenant Fitzgibbon wrote a letter vouching for the heroism of Laura Secord. He explained that Laura had alerted him to an "intended attack to be made by the enemy" and that she had "arrived at [his] station at sunset, on an exceptionally warm day after having walked twelve miles".  Fitzgibbon's letter planted the seed in the minds of Canadians.

But it was not until 1860, nearly five decades after her historic trek, that the seed germinated and Laura Secord was officially recognized for her heroism.  The Prince of Wales, visiting from Britain, thanked the war widow for her role in the War of 1812 and awarded her 100 pounds.

In 1913, the Laura Secord Chocolate Company opened, commemorating Secord on the centennial of her famous walk.

Today, you can visit Laura Secord's house at Queenston Heights, not far from Niagara Falls.  While it once housed American soldiers, it now hosts visitors from both sides of the border, a border that might not be there if not for this housewife turned heroine.

For more information, visit

Project:1812 - Queenston (The Heights)

Laura Secord house at Queenston courtesy

Thursday 10 September 2015

Lindbergh Delivers First Air Mail Across Atlantic

He was a barnstormer, delivering mail from town to town, across the state.  No one, other than those in aviation circles, had ever heard of him.  That was all about to change.

In May of 1927, Charles Lindbergh had a special destination for his plane, the Spirit of St. Louis:  Paris, France.  But on this trip he would not carry a mail sac the size of Santa's; he had to keep his weight limit down.  He was about to make the first flight across the Atlantic Ocean.

Lindbergh drafted a letter to the Wright Aeronautical Corporation in Paterson, New Jersey.

"This letter, written in New York before my takeoff for Paris, war carried in my plane, the Spirit of St. Louis, on the first nonstop flight from New York to Paris.  My mailing this letter from Paris indicates the successful attainment of that goal toward which we have all spent our thought and energy."

While it may have been sprayed with salt water, while it might have had crumbs on it from the sandwiches Lindbergh ate en route, the letter made it to its destination.  And Lindbergh made history.

Today, the Spirit of St Louis sits in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC.  The letter was put up for auction in 2002.  For more information about Charles Lindbergh's famous flight, visit

Wednesday 9 September 2015

King George VI & Churchill Plan to Land at Normandy Beach on D-Day

"The war had immeasurably strengthened the link between the King and his people." (

King George VI wrote a letter to Sir Winston Churchill on May 31, 1944.  Its contents were shocking:  the prime minister, pushing 70 years old, and the king, pushing 50, both intended on landing on the Normandy beach on D-Day.  How was their plan foiled?

Sir Winston Churchill, a veteran of the Boer War in Africa, was no stranger to combat.  King George VI, a veteran of the First World War, was also familiar with battle.  The king had remained at Buckingham Palace, which was bombed nine times during the first few years of World War II.  He had toured London's East End, sifting through the rubble after the Blitz.

Even so, when Churchill proposed that he would land on the beaches at Normandy with the British troops on D-Day, King George was shocked.  "I don't think I need to emphasize what it would mean if...a chance bomb, torpedo or mine should remove you from the scene," he explained in his letter to Churchill.

King George thought that he would deter Churchill by suggesting that he join him in the D-Day landing.  Churchill, "the Lion", was all for it, however.  Admiral Ramsay intervened and explained to both leaders that they were needed at home to make crucial decisions if D-Day did not go as planned. "I would ask you to reconsider your plan," wrote King George to Churchill.

In the end, neither the king nor the prime minister participated in the D-Day landings.  Sir Winston Churchill made his famous V for Victory sign from 10 Downing Street.  King George delivered a D-Day speech from Buckingham Palace to build moral among the British population.  "The war had immeasurably strengthened the link between the King and his people."

Tuesday 8 September 2015

"Fledgling Invention" Hit by Lightning at Tutelo Heights

"The date of this letter, just two years after the patent was obtained, demonstrates the exceptional progress and evolution of this fledgling invention." (Bobby Livingston)

It was on the shores of the Grand River at Tutelo Heights, Ontario, named after a Native tribe who migrated there after the Revolutionary War, that Alexander Graham Bell first conceived the idea for the telephone in 1874.  It was in a Boston laboratory that Bell, speaking to his assistant Thomas Watson, first transmitted speech through a telephone in March of 1876.  That July, back in Tutelo Heights, near Brantford, Bell first successfully transmitted speech over a telegraph line.  Four months later, the inventor, now a professor of speech at Boston University, received the telephone patent (

Two years later, in 1878, Alexander Graham Bell wrote a letter to his parents in their Tutelo Heights home to demonstrate the ins and outs of telephone wiring.  He explained:  "I was quite troubled by the accident at Tutelo Heights," referring to a recent lightning strike on his parents' 10.5 acre property.  "The accident shows that the earth terminals of your telephone line are defective for the current found a shorter path to the ground through two of your poles than by the proper path." (

Bobby Livingston, a representative for the auction company which sold Bell's letter in 2012, stated: "The early mechanics of the device [telephone] were complicated and required extreme attention to detail, without which results could be disastrous -- even fatal."  Bell wanted to make sure that his parents did not have such results.  He even included a detailed diagram of two telephones in his letter.  
Even so, Livingston points out the success of Bell's contraption:  "The date of this letter, just two years after the patent was obtained, demonstrates the exceptional progress and evolution of this fledgling invention."

Bell Homestead at Tutelo Heights, now part of Brantford, circa 1870's, courtesy

Monday 7 September 2015

John Ruskin Protests Sale of Jumbo the Elephant

" not in the habit of selling my pets or parting with my old servants because I find them subject occasionally, perhaps even periodically, to fits of ill temper..." (John Rankin)

Many Londoners remember riding in a howdah on the back of Jumbo, the largest elephant in captivity, when they were young.  Many would also remember writing protest letters to Queen Victoria, whose own children probably rode on Jumbo, upon finding out that P. T. Barnum intended on buying the elephant.  The American had plans for Jumbo to tour with The Barnum & Bailey Circus.  But Londoners would not give up without a fight; they thought of the elephant as a pet, not a zoo inmate (

In 1882, London Zoological Society member John Ruskin joined in the protest by writing a letter to the Morning Post.  "I am not in the habit of selling my pets or parting with my old servants because I find them subject occasionally, perhaps even periodically, to fits of ill temper..." explained Ruskin, referring to Jumbo's temper tantrums.  

Legal proceedings were launched to halt the sale of Jumbo.  In the meantime, Ruskin thought:  "there is time for the children to say their say and pay their peace and make Jumbo their own forever."  However, in the end the London court ruled that P. T. Barnum had every right to purchase Jumbo, for which the zoo would receive $10,000.  

One would assume that Queen Victoria sent the schoolchildren's letters to the shredder (if there was such a thing in 1882).  Jumbo's fate was no better:  he was killed by a train in St. Thomas, Ontario three years later.  

Note:  For more information, read "Jumbo the Elephant" at