Part 1: The Letter Under the Bathtub
George Drake, Jr.: I’m George Drake, Jr. and this is Fifth & Ludlow. Part 1: The Letter Under the Bathtub.
Torey Hollingsworth: “So, I was in college and my parents were redoing their bathroom in the house I grew up in which is a 1920s house. And the bathroom had never been redone at least as far as I know.”
George Drake, Jr.: That’s my friend Torey Hollingsworth.
Torey Hollingsworth: “And I think my dad called me to just check in while I was in school...”
Frank Hollingsworth: “I’m Frank Hollingsworth. This would have been March of 2008. So, she would have just been a freshman at Chicago at the time.”
Torey Hollingsworth: “...and said that they had had something strange happened while they were redoing the bathroom.”
Kathy Hollingsworth: “So I don't really remember where we were but we were away on vacation and they had been remodeling the bathroom actually for some period of time. I’m Kathy Hollingsworth. And we knew that both our contractor Dave Requarth and our painter Steve Young were going to be in the house while we were gone as well as some tile folks because we were also tiling another bathroom floor.”
Frank Hollingsworth: “And Dave's a… Dave loves Dayton history as well. And he says, ‘you're not gonna believe what we found.’”
Torey Hollingsworth: “There was a tub in the bathroom -- a, you know, ceramic tub -- that was connected to the floor…”
Frank Hollingsworth: “The tub was a cast-iron tub and went all the way to the floor. So, you know, it was hollow in the walls...”
Torey Hollingsworth: “...and they were ripping that out to put in a walk-in shower, and the contractor had found a letter that was poured into the cement underneath the bathtub.”
Frank Hollingsworth: “...and my impression is it was just -- it wasn’t encased in concrete -- it was just sitting there and in a void, you know. Between the walls... the interior and exterior walls of the tub.”
Kathy Hollingsworth: “And when we got home Dave and Steve were all atwitter about this letter that they had found and just thought that it was just really cool that they had found this letter when they had been breaking up the bathtub.”
Torey Hollingsworth: “And they were able to actually open the letter and found that it was this note that seemed to be someone trying to meet another person. Under sort of strange circumstances.”
Kathy Hollingsworth: “And obviously when they read it, it just became even more intriguing because there's so much that is not known and can be imagined just from the words that are on the page.”
Frank Hollingsworth: “You know, did it fall there by accident? You know, who knows, but it was certainly a great hiding place for probably close to 80-something years. It was, nobody saw it.”
George Drake, Jr.: This letter is kind of a part of the Hollingworth family’s folklore -- a story they like to tell -- it’s something they’ve held onto for over a decade. It’s raised dozens of questions, they’ve spent hours speculating, but they haven’t found any answers.
I first saw the letter in 2014 or so when Torey herself pulled it out when my wife Ruth and I went to Dayton, Ohio for a visit. It’s written very firmly in pencil in an almost cliche old-timey script from a man named Will to a woman named Rose.
I had Torey read what it says:
George Drake, Jr. (on tape): “Whenever you're ready.”
Torey Hollingsworth: “All right, do you want me to read the envelopes too?”
George Drake, Jr. (on tape): “Start with the letter.”
Torey Hollingsworth: “Okay, ‘Dayton, Ohio, July... 11th? 20-20. Friend Rose, I got your letter and I am well and I hope…’ What do you think that says? ‘I am well and I hope...’ Something will…”
George Drake, Jr. (on tape): “What does that say?”
Torey Hollingsworth: “Yeah.”
Together: “‘This will please you.’”
Torey Hollingsworth: “Okay. I think I can do it now. ‘Dayton, Ohio, July 11th, 20-20. Friend Rose. I got your letter and I am well and I hope this will please you, Rose. I will meet you at the corner of Fifth and Ludlow at Jenkins Drugstore at 7:30 and you and I will go to the home and go… and you and I will go to the home and go some place to ourselves and talk the matter over. Hoping you will be okay… Hoping you will be all okay when we meet if you are willing to do this and keep it to yourself. Will’ And then it either says…”
George Drake, Jr. (on tape): “Boy boy...”
Torey Hollingsworth: “...‘bye-bye’ or ‘boy boy.’ Yeah.”
George Drake, Jr.: Ever since they found the letter Kathy and Frank Hollingsworth have kept it in a frame in their bathroom. They moved from the house it was found in so it’s hanging up in their new house -- you guessed it -- in their bathroom.
After I’d seen everything in the frame and read the letter I could feel there was a story that went beyond the vague and mysterious words on the page -- and for the past 10 years the Hollingsworths have been speculating and making up their own versions of what it could be about.
I do that too. I hang onto things because of the stories attached to them -- even if I make them up. I once had this quarter from 1969 that was completely brown. It could have been that color for any number of reasons, but I didn’t spend it for weeks because I was convinced it was the mud from Woodstock, which just happened to take place in 1969. Things -- like the letter and that quarter hold memories. We may not be able to know what they are from the surface, but they’re there.
Everything in the frame was found in the Hollingsworth’s former home in Oakwood, which is just south of Dayton, during a renovation in 2008 -- almost 100 years after the house was finished being built in 1927.
Dayton around that time was a fascinating place. Leading up to the Great Depression, it was a city known for its engineering and innovation. Come 2008 when the letter was found -- Dayton had been impacted by the recession -- manufacturing had moved out and some parts of the city had seen better days, but the spirit of the people put Dayton on the map in the 1920s could still be felt.
On the right side of the frame are a couple of newspaper clippings that were also found in the bathroom, and the left side has the letter as well as two envelopes that were found next to it. The Hollingsworths say the newspaper clippings were part of a full newspaper page found wrapped around a copper pipe.
Both of them are dated December 22nd, 1925. One of them is a long column about notorious con man Nicky Arnstein getting out of prison that refers to him as a “distinguished looking man with aristocratic hair.”
The articles establish more of a timeline than anything. They show that the house -- specifically the bathroom -- wasn’t completed until December of 1925 at the very earliest. This will come into play in a little bit.
The letter and envelopes weren’t found around pipes, but flat underneath the cast iron bathtub. For being locked under something that had been holding water for almost a century, both envelopes -- and the letter, too, for that matter -- are in extremely good condition. They’ve browned, but they’re not water damaged or anything. Nothing is smudged or falling apart.
They tell a personal story, but the envelopes specifically lead to way more questions.
The first one -- first simply because of the date it was mailed -- was written by Will -- the guy who wrote the letter -- with the firm pencil and curly script.
The cancel stamp on it reads “Dayton, Ohio -- July 20th, 10AM, 1920.” Cancel stamps are still used today -- it’s that marking that defaces the stamp so it can’t be reused.
This envelope is sent to “Mrs. Rose O. Connors -- Krougs Bakery Corner of Joe and Warren St. In Care of Oscar Gilbert, City.”
In the top left corner of the envelope is a different handwriting -- a more standard script in deep, brown ink. It reads, “Opened by mistake but not read” and is signed “JT Shafer.”
The second envelope is canceled with a circular stamp reading “Zanesville, Ohio -- September 7th, 6PM, 1921.” Over one year after the other envelope.
The handwriting on this one is different than the other two on the first envelope. It’s also in pencil, but it’s written with a very light touch and the script itself is much larger.
It reads, “Mr. Jim Oconor -- Mail Room, Union Depo, Dayton Ohio.”
The entire left edge of the envelope is missing -- like someone ripped it open from the side.
George Drake, Jr. (on tape): “This is George Drake, Jr’s cell phone. Please leave a message.”
Victor Paruta: “Hi, George. Victor Paruta. I’m getting back to you about those letters. I will be back in town tomorrow through Friday the 13th and would be happy to meet with you during that time when our schedules converge.”
George Drake, Jr.: Before we get into speculating what the letter’s about I wanted to see if we could cheat a little bit and cut to the chase. Since I first started this project Ruth has really became my partner in this podcast, so she went along with me.
George Drake, Jr. (on tape): “Hey!”
Victor Paruta: “I’m Victor.”
George Drake, Jr. (on tape): “I'm George.”
Victor Paruta: “Hi.”
George Drake, Jr. (on tape): “This is my wife Ruth.”
Ruth Reveal: “Hi I’m Ruth. It’s nice to meet you.”
Victor Paruta: “Nice to meet you. Come on in!”
Ruth Reveal: “Thanks!”
George Drake, Jr. (on tape): “Thank you.”
George Drake, Jr.: We got this guy, Victor, to help us try to figure out who these people were, without doing any research.
Victor Paruta: “Victor Paruta and I’m a psychic-medium.”
George Drake, Jr.: We met him at his home in Cincinnati with a copy of the letter to see what he could find out. He used a method he learned in a forensic psychic investigation workshop, which involves tracing a person’s signature. As Victor puts it, a signature carries the vibration of the person who wrote it, so things “start coming” to him when he traces it.
Victor Paruta: “There usually comes a moment when you catch that person's energy and then you could move into their energy and get information about them.”
George Drake, Jr.: So, that’s what he did, with Will’s signature at the bottom of the letter.
Victor Paruta: “Okay, I see... I see I'm getting impressions! Okay. So, here's what I see: I see a young man. He's wearing knickers and a cap. He standing by a fence. He's looking at someone who's looking at him the way he looks at this person. You could tell that he really likes her.”
George Drake, Jr.: Victor revealed this information while looking through the gap between Ruth and me, gazing at the wall across the table in almost a blank stare. His hands waving and rubbing together. He established from Will’s vibrations that he was young, poor, and, to put it bluntly, Rose was way out of his league.
Victor Paruta: “In other words, the woman that this is addressed to is in a higher socio-economic level than this guy is.”
George Drake, Jr.: Here’s the thing -- there’s no shortcut with this. Ruth and I weren’t convinced that his vision was actually the case -- it seemed too obvious and was right in line with the speculation most come to on their own anyway. Also, not to give too much away for the rest of this series, but he was way, way off.
George Drake, Jr.: For Kathy and Frank Hollingsworth, it’s the vagueness of the letter they found that’s opened the door for so many questions and so much speculation.
Here’s what it says again: “Friend Rose. I got your letter and I am well and I hope this will please you, Rose. I will meet you at the corner of Fifth and Ludlow at Jenkin’s Drugstore at 7:30 and you and I will go out to the home and go some place to ourselves and talk the matter over. Hoping you will be all okay when we meet if you are willing to do this and keep it to yourself. Will”
First of all, and maybe we’re reading too much into this, but he doesn’t use his last name. So it could be that they know each other well enough that he doesn’t need to use it. Or, and this is purely speculation, in case this letter did end up in the wrong hands, no fingers could be pointed directly at him. Also, the way he words it almost seems intentionally vague, like he’s trying to keep the specifics away from prying eyes. The few phrases at the end of the letter, especially the “talk the matter over” and, of course, the “keep it to yourself” part.
For Kathy and Frank, the big questions about the letter have been: what is the “matter” he references and why does Rose have to keep it to herself?
Kathy Hollingsworth: “I think, I think that, you know, there's something perhaps romantic relationship. Perhaps, you know, maybe there was a child involved who knows that went on between will and Rosie.”
Frank Hollingsworth: “I suspect that there was… that Will and Rose had something going on that they didn’t want anybody else to know about. Could be an affair, could have been anything, but it was certainly something they weren't… didn't want them to cover at the Dayton Daily News or the Dayton Journal Herald at the time, or whatever, whatever it was. It wasn't something they were looking to have publicized.”
Kathy Hollingsworth: “...but it's addressed to a Mr. Jim O'Connor. And of course, it's Rosie O'Connor who is the original addressee. So, I think it probably, you know, is Jim [her] brother? Father? Husband? You know, you just don't know what the connection is.”
George Drake, Jr.: That story of an affair or a secret relationship between Will and Rose is the one most people make up on their own. It’s juicy, it fits with the letter, and, besides, who doesn’t like a good love story? It’s the one I came to in 2014 when I first saw the letter. Part of me wanted that to be the story -- maybe to just be right -- but I don’t think it is. His letter seems too formal. If it were a love letter for a secret meeting, I think it would be more eloquent and less demanding. Also, who hangs onto a love letter for a few years before ditching it under a tub?
Because the letter was found underneath a tub and not hidden in a secret drawer or something, they also speculate that it doesn’t necessarily relate to the people who lived in the house, but more likely the people who built the house. And it’s with that that we arrive at the next round of speculations. If Rose and Jim didn’t live in the house they were found in, how did the letter and these envelopes—dated 1920 and 1921, respectively—end up underneath the bathtub of a house that was finished being built in 1927? That’s a pretty big gap. Remember, the newspaper clippings date the bathroom to 1925. So, the other question is: where were the letter and envelopes for those four or five years?
Frank Hollingsworth: “Well that’s what I’ve wondered about. Whether or not it’s, you know, was it a worker that put it there? You know, it fell out of their pocket? Just the little bit of research that I did, I don’t think any of those names show up as the original owners, so it could have very well just been somebody, you know, a worker, and then it just fell out of their pocket, and ended up underneath the tub.”
George Drake, Jr.: The next thing they speculate about is the note written in pen on the front of the first envelope -- that note by JT Shafer saying, “opened by mistake but not read.” This could be a number of different things, according to the Hollingsworths, but they haven’t come to any concrete — as far as speculations are concerned — conclusions.
Is JT a man or a woman? Do they work for the Postal Service? Do they work at the bakery the envelope was sent to? Why did they even open it in the first place? Frank doesn’t have any answers, but he’s also the first one to cast some doubt on Shafer’s note.
Frank Hollingsworth: “We know opened by mistake, but not read. And in the guy signed his name and you're going, ‘come on. You really you didn't read this thing!?’ So, it may, you know, perhaps people weren't as, you know, we're more judicious in there. You know, ‘this is not my mail. I'm not going to read it.’ So, yeah, chances are you know, they're fair that it's somebody didn't read it but, when you when you do read it you go, ‘well, it'd beemn hard to go see Rosie and have a straight face if you have you'd read that.’”
George Drake, Jr.: The final jigsaw piece is the cancel stamp on the second envelope. It’s sent from Zanesville to Dayton, which Torey agrees isn’t that close -- even today it’s still 2 hours away by car.
Torey Hollingsworth: “It was one of the earlier cities in Ohio would have probably been a pretty thriving place in the 1920s.”
George Drake, Jr.: But the distance isn’t what’s odd. They have no evidence for this, but ever since they found everything under the tub, the Hollingsworth’s have been under the impression that the two envelopes are connected.
Torey Hollingsworth: “I believe that the letter was in the envelope addressed to Rose O'Connor. And then the that envelope was inside of this other envelope addressed to Jim O'Connor.”
George Drake, Jr. (on tape): “Oh shit!”
Torey Hollingsworth: “And Jim O'Connor is not the same person who wrote the letter because the letter appears to be written by someone named Will.”
George Drake, Jr.: This has been their version of the story since 2008. Torey’s mom Kathy went more in depth as to how, in their minds, this could have played out.
Kathy Hollingsworth: “And you know, I'll even go to say that well, maybe Jim O'Connor's her husband and, you know, somebody wanted him to know about this. So, the letter mysteriously got sent to him because it was important. They thought that they know about whatever Rosie and Will were up to and that hopefully the matter. Taking care of and life went on well for everyone. Yeah. I just think there's all kinds of possibilities.”
George Drake, Jr.: I went over the possibilities a lot, I made a list of who I needed to talk to to tell this story fully, and what directions it could take me. What I really wanted were answers. I knew ahead of time figuring some things out would be more difficult than others, so I was going to start with the basics.
The Hollingsworth’s contractor found three things under the tub: a letter written from Will to Rose, an envelope addressed to Rose from Will, and a second envelope addressed to Jim from someone else entirely. So, the question was: Did someone really forward Will’s letter to Jim a year later?
Frank Hollingsworth: “So lots of mysteries, you know, and part of it you wanted you want to understand the mystery, which you also don't want to dig too far into somebody's sordid past if it is that and may or may not be who knows.”
George Drake, Jr.: To see pictures of the letter, envelopes, newspaper clippings, and what the bathtub looked like, visit the website, www.fifthandludlowpodcast.com.
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Theme and other music used in Fifth & Ludlow is by Mustafa Shaheen.
Logo and branding is by Peter Diaczenko.
This series is made possible by a generous grant from the Montgomery County Arts & Cultural District with assistance from Culture Works.
Additional funding from 91.3 WYSO.
Episode editor is Katie Davis. Additional content assistance from Craig Shank and Ruth Reveal.
Special thanks to the Hollingsworth Family for their help with this episode.
I’m George Drake, Jr. Thanks for listening to Fifth & Ludlow.
George Drake, Jr.: Next time on Fifth & Ludlow…
Kathy Hollingsworth: We are off to 420 Ridgewood, Oakwood, Ohio, which was our home from October of 1990 to September of…
Frank Hollingsworth: 2012.
Kathy Hollingsworth: 2012. 22 years of great memories in that house!
Dave Requarth: “We went to take the bathtub out one day and when they lifted the tub up lo and behold this envelope was in the under the tub and was just laying there plain as day.”
George Drake, Jr (on tape): “Well, it fits.”
Frank Hollingsworth: “It fits and the folds…”
George Drake, Jr (on tape): “Match up.”
Frank Hollingsworth: “Match up.”