Part 2: The Two Envelopes
George Drake, Jr.: Last time on Fifth and Ludlow...
Torey Hollingsworth: “Do you want me to read the envelopes too?”
George Drake, Jr. (on tape): “Start with the letter.”
Torey Hollingsworth: “Okay.”
George Drake, Jr.: My friend Torey’s family found this mysterious letter hidden underneath the bathtub of their 1927 house.
Torey Hollingsworth: “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 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’”
George Drake, Jr.: It was found alongside two envelopes. One that went with the letter to Rose and another one to a man named Jim O’Connor.
Torey Hollingsworth: “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.: I’m George Drake, Jr. and this is Fifth and Ludlow. Part 2: The Two Envelopes.
Before we get more into the people and the story at hand, we should take a step back and look at the city Rose, Will, and Jim called home.
George Drake, Jr.: At the beginning of the 20th Century, Dayton, Ohio was filled with ingenuity and inventions that were elemental in shaping how the world is today.
Alex Heckman: “From 1890 to 1930 Dayton is, in many respects, in a golden era of manufacturing and entrepreneurship…”
George Drake, Jr.: That’s Alex Heckman. He’s the Vice President of Museum Operations for Dayton History.
Alex Heckman: “...but it's also a period marked by great tragedies with both the Great Dayton Flood of 1913, and World War I, and the worldwide Influenza epidemic that followed World War I.”
George Drake, Jr.: In the 70 years from 1850 to when Will wrote his letter to Rose in 1920, Daytonians invented things like the electric wheelchair, the modern parachute, the motion picture camera — as well as the first movie theater, for that matter — and the cash register.
Alex Heckman: “John H. Patterson, in 1884, creates the National Cash Register Company. That company in its first 25 years appears in something like 50 different countries around the globe.”
George Drake, Jr.: They saw roads starting to take shape as the popularity of cars started to increase because people didn’t need to crank their cars anymore to get them started — Daytonian Charles Kettering invented the self-starter in 1911.
They lived at a time in Dayton where they saw one of their own — Paul Lawrence Dunbar — become the first African American Poet Laureate of the United States, and another — James Cox — become Ohio’s governor for three terms. They also could have gone out to Huffman Field to watch Orville and Wilbur Wright — the Wright Brothers — fly their plane, the Wright Flyer.
Alex Heckman: “Dayton, by 1890, had the highest number of patents per capita of any city in the United States and that's something that I think the community has been very proud of during that period and throughout its history, even up till today.”
George Drake, Jr.: Henry Ford actually purchased the Wright Brothers’ bike shop and moved it up to Michigan, along with one foot of the ground beneath it because he felt there was something in the soil that helped make Daytonians so great.
On March 25, 1913, Dayton experienced a massive flood after torrential rains caused the Miami River to break through its levees, only to be followed by a series of fires throughout the city. Almost 400 Daytonians died as a result of the flood, and it displaced over 60,000 others.
Alex Heckman: “I mean, all of these things just kind of paint a picture for the other end of the spectrum for what these people lived through.”
George Drake, Jr.: Rose, Will, and Jim, regardless of what was going on with them — potential affairs and secret meetings aside — bore witness to all of that. They experienced the ingenuity — maybe they saw man take flight — and they survived the flood.
(GARAGE DOOR OPENING)
Kathy Hollingsworth: Do you want to get up front so you can tape better?
George Drake, Jr. (on tape): I will record you better from the back.
Kathy Hollingsworth: Okay. Alright.
George Drake, Jr. (on tape): But thank you.
(CAR DOOR SHUTS)
George Drake, Jr.: I met Frank and Kathy Hollingsworth — the couple who found the letter under their bathtub — one Saturday in December 2017 to go back in time ourselves. We were headed to their old house — the one where they found the letter and envelopes while they were remodeling a bathroom. They arranged for the tour because they knew the owners at the time, the people they sold the house to.
We made our way up to the house — a large Georgian Colonial. Perfectly symmetrical, a big porch with six columns on the bottom floor, five evenly spaced windows on the second, and two chimneys — one on each side of the house.
The Hollingsworths had looped the family in on the story that we were working on, and their kids were really interested in what they simply called “the mystery,” so you’ll hear them from time to time.
We walked up the stairs, which were straight ahead as soon as we came inside, through the master bedroom and into the bathroom the Hollingsworths renovated nine years prior.
Child: “Is was this bathroom, right?”
Frank Hollingsworth: “Yep. It was this bathroom right here!”
Child: “Where did you find that letter?”
Frank Hollingsworth: “Well, there used to be a big tub, a big cast iron tub right here that went all the way to the floor. So, it was porcelain…”
George Drake, Jr.: Frank recounted the story to their kids as the rest of us filed into the bathroom. He’s a pretty methodical guy, so he tells the story the same way every time. It’s not a big bathroom. The Hollingsworths didn’t do anything to its size, which made it easier to visualize how it looked like when it was built. The shower they put in has the same footprint as the tub that was there, so you could see it filling that same space, with the wrap around shower curtain hanging to the floor.
While we were in there, Frank and Kathy — along with their daughter Meredith — brought up something I’d always thought, but I’d never put into words. To put it simply, the letter and envelopes couldn’t have been put underneath the tub after it had been installed.
Frank Hollingsworth: “The way the tub was made there would have been no way for somebody to — it had to go in there when the tub went in.”
Kathy Hollingsworth: “They couldn’t slip it under, there was no space.”
Frank Hollingsworth: “Yeah, there was no space for it to go in. So, it was a mystery. It was a mystery. Still is.”
Meredith Hollingsworth: “It seemed intentional that it was under there.”
Frank Hollingsworth: “If it... because of the context of the letter it felt intentional... felt like somebody was trying to hide something.”
George Drake, Jr.: I hadn’t even seen the Hollingsworth’s old house until that day, and standing there in the bathroom, feet away from where the letter stayed untouched for almost a century, made it feel more real — like I was getting closer to finding pieces to put together, figuring out what Will and Rose’s relationship was, but that just wasn’t the case.
I hadn’t learned anything new outside of “where the mystery began,” in a sense. So, I got the name of someone who was there when the letter was found.
Dave Requarth: ”Well, one observation that I had after reading it several times when we first found it was that I thought — in 1921, I believe, the letter was — you know, a lot of people were not well educated. It's a choppy letter that's hard to read, but you, if you look at it enough, you can kind of figure out that, yes, this was a meeting of some people with — that was maybe a little clandestine at the drugstore.”
George Drake, Jr.: This is Dave, he was the contractor for the remodel.
Dave Requarth: ”Yeah, I'm David Requarth and I'm one of the owners and vice president of Requarth Lumber Company.”
George Drake, Jr.: His company started in 1860 and it’s still in the hands of the direct family. Back in Dayton’s heyday they sold wood to many of the inventors of the time — even to the Wright Brothers. On January 19, 1904, Orville Wright wrote in his diary, “Bought lumber for making ribs and uprights from Requarth Co.”
His company now does remodeling, which is where our story comes in.
Dave Requarth: “It was winter, cold, snowing. I remember because we had to jackhammer the floor out because it was an old, what they call a “panned floor,” and it had a 4-inch-thick concrete floor with mosaic tile on it. It was a very original bathroom to the house.”
George Drake, Jr.: He says they spent two or three days just getting the floor out. After that it was the wall tiles. Finally, it came time to get rid of the tub, so they called in a local plumber to come help.
Dave Requarth: “We went to take the bathtub out one day and they wanted to take the bathtub out in one piece, because it's a real mess to break those bathtubs up with a sledgehammer. And so, they had this really cool walking machine that literally walked down the stairwell with this big old cast-iron — and, I mean, this thing probably weighed 700 or 800 pounds, because it took three, you know, of these big plumbers to pick this thing up. And when they lifted the tub up, lo and behold, this envelope was under the tub, and it was just laying there, plain as day. So, we were figuring that somebody needed to get rid of it and they had it in their pocket and was like, ‘well, this would be a good place. Who's ever going to remove this bathtub?’”
George Drake, Jr.: He said the one thing that was off about the bathtub is how it was installed — it wasn’t right. At the time the house was built, they were normally set in plaster so they’d have a sturdier bottom. This one didn’t have that. It wasn’t even on concrete like the rest of the floor.
Dave Requarth: “It was intended to be a, what they call a “panned joist floor,” so that it had this concrete. But the bathtub had its own frame that the bathtub sat on, and so that's why it had a wood bottom there.”
George Drake, Jr.: In other words, it was the perfect environment for the letter. Dry, hidden, away from sunlight, and, most importantly, not encased in plaster or concrete.
Dave Requarth: “And it was relatively clean. A lot of times when you lift old bathtubs up in these old houses, they got a layer of crust under them, but it was real clean. And so, it just sat there since 1927.”
George Drake, Jr.: As he was looking at a photocopy of the letter and envelopes he remembered how they found them underneath the tub. The envelope to Rose was off to one side on its own, while the envelope to Jim was folded in half with the letter sticking out of it.
George Drake, Jr. (on tape): “This may be a hard question to answer, but did it look dropped, or did it look placed?”
Dave Requarth: “You know, as I remember, they were laying on the floor. Like, one was here and one was there. So, if somebody... when they were setting that tub and there was somebody there that was like, 'I need to get rid of this letter' and his buddy said, 'well set it under this bathtub.' You know, they were... they were putting that 800-pound bathtub in. So they were wrestling that tub just like we wrestled it to get it out. So, to answer your question: it could be one or the other. Really. But it is an interesting question.”
George Drake, Jr.: One thing Ruth, our friend Torey, and I kept mulling over while talking about the envelopes is: how did the mail work in the 1920s? There were a few things that we weren’t sure about, so, I contacted the United States Postal Service.
David Van Allen: “This is David Van Allen, may I help you?”
George Drake, Jr (on tape): “Hey David, it's George. How are you?”
David Van Allen: “Good.”
George Drake, Jr.: This is David Van Allen.
David Van Allen: “Regional spokesman for the Postal Service.”
George Drake, Jr (on tape): “And what is the region that you work with?”
David Van Allen: “State of Ohio.”
George Drake, Jr (on tape): “Okay. I put a letter in a mailbox — how quickly would it get to somebody... somebody that, to the location, in the 1920s? Say, I do it from Dayton to Dayton. How long would it take?”
David Van Allen: “Well, from Dayton to Dayton it’d probably turn around pretty quickly. It's part of the reason they had delivery so many times a day, because everything was manual back then. They didn't have the machinery that we do today and the computers and all that kind of thing. So, there was a whole bunch of clerks just stamping mail, and putting them in pigeon holes, and then getting them out to carriers. And this happened throughout the day, maybe two, three, four times a day. My grandfather, which is a little bit later in the 1920s, delivered mail for a while. And the way he did it: he'd go to the post office, he'd get a big load of mail, walk several miles to the street he was going to be delivering, deliver that street, walk back to the post office, load up again, walk out another direction, go deliver — and he'd do that several times a day.”
George Drake, Jr (on tape): “Wow.”
David Van Allen: “So, it's quite a different, quite a different world than we have now. “
George Drake, Jr (on tape): “So, during that time, was mail delivered to people's homes at all?”
David Van Allen: “Yeah, mail was delivered to people's homes. In fact, in Dayton, free home-delivery mail began in 1869.”
George Drake, Jr (on tape): “Okay. So when, in consideration with these letters, they were both delivered to specific people via different, like, third parties. So, was that common? Was that more common if not…”
David Van Allen: “Delivered by third parties… what do you mean?”
George Drake, Jr (on tape): “I mean, like, sent to, in this case, a bakery or the Union Depot.”
David Van Allen: “Oh sure. It was not uncommon for mail to be addressed to one person in care of another. But if you look at these, both of these letters are pretty poorly addressed. They lack street names and/or numbers.”
George Drake, Jr (on tape): “I can kind of infer that if you mail a letter from inside of Dayton, you don't have to — at least in the 1920s — you didn't have to write ‘Dayton.' Am I correct? I'm looking at…”
David Van Allen: “Yeah, it wasn't uncommon for people to use 'city' as the last line of address for local letters. Postal officials discouraged the practice, even then, because if a letter was accidentally transported to another city…”
George Drake, Jr (on tape): “Ahhhh.”
David Van Allen: “...the address, quote 'City,' was basically as good as having no address at all. So, you know, the letter could be misdirected if it slipped into an open circular, got stuck in another envelope, or was just put in the wrong mail sack.”
George Drake, Jr.: I was hoping he’d be able to shed some light on the note in pen at the top of the inner envelope — the one addressed to Rose from Will. The note reading “Opened by mistake but not read.”
George Drake, Jr (on tape): “And just to confirm, the script pen writing at the top, there would be no one in the post office that would be opening other people's mail. Right?”
David Van Allen: “No, no. It looks like it probably got in somebody else's hands for some reason and then they redirected it.”
George Drake, Jr.: I had learned how mail delivery functioned in the 1920’s — that’s what I was looking for with this conversation, after all — but I still felt trapped. I admittedly still knew nothing about the people at hand, so I bounced our speculation of the inner and outer envelopes off of him to see what he thought.
George Drake, Jr (on tape): “Would it make sense for what we think is the 'inner envelope' to Rose to be forwarded to Jim in the 'outer envelope?' Like, I mean, just based upon, you know, your knowledge of that time, and also looking at the size of the envelopes?”
David Van Allen: “Yeah. Well it seems like that's what happened, but determining who, how or when, or why, you know, it's just a mystery.”
George Drake, Jr.: At this point, I’d been researching this letter for a few months and the word “mystery” was starting to feel like a cop out whenever something couldn’t be answered. I came to the conclusion that we needed to answer something, and thought a good place to start was with the letter and envelopes themselves.
Ever since they found everything under their tub, the Hollingsworths have thought that someone may have mailed Will’s letter — envelope and all — to Jim, a year after it had been sent to Rose, but they didn’t have any evidence to back up that claim.
So, I wanted to see if we could confirm the “inner” and “outer” envelopes theory but, at the same time, answer another question I hadn’t really taken into account: is there anything written on the backs of either the envelopes or the letter? Maybe Will or the unknown sender from Zanesville had written their return address on the back flap of the envelope. If Will did that, maybe he included his last name, too.
There was only one way to answer that question — we needed to take everything out of the frame.
(FRAME BEING TAKEN APART)
George Drake, Jr.: Nothing. No return address, no notes, nothing.
Frank Hollingsworth: “Nothing on the back.”
Judi Rosenbeck: “Nothing on the back.”
George Drake, Jr.: “Well, it’s something, though. Now we know.”
Frank Hollingsworth: “Yep.”
George Drake, Jr.: A potential answer remains unanswered.
Frank took the envelopes to see if one fit inside the other, so we could figure out if the letter to Rose could have actually been forwarded to Jim.
And it did. Perfectly.
Judi Rosenbeck: “I’ll be darned.”
George Drake, Jr (on tape): “Well, it fits.”
Judi Rosenbeck: “It sure does. Like a glove.”
Frank Hollingsworth: “It fits and the folds…”
George Drake, Jr (on tape): “Match up.”
Frank Hollingsworth: “Match up.”
George Drake, Jr.: Throughout this time, Ruth had been scouring census records to find out anything about Rose, Will, or Jim. And she did find some things out, mainly about Rose. Simple stuff, like where she was living in one census, and where she was living when the next census was taken ten years later was easy to find, but that didn’t really fill in any holes. So, she kept digging.
Woodland Cemetery is a really old cemetery right by the University of Dayton. It’s been there since the mid-1800s and houses the burial plots for many famous Daytonians including the Wright Brothers and their family.
Ruth took a longshot and tried using the “Locate a Loved One” search feature on the cemetery’s website to search for ‘Rose O’Connor’ and compared what she’d found to the census records.
Ruth Reveal: “So, I found Rose O'Connor at Woodland Cemetery. And then I, like, reverse-searched the plot she was buried in, and found that she was buried next to Harley and Bertha Wysong — but I was like, ‘well, I don't know who those people are,’ so, I just kind of forgot about it. And then I went, I found some census records. So, I went to search for ‘Rose O'Connor,’ and found a woman who was living in Dayton for the 1930 census. And she was living with Harley and Bertha Wysong, and they were listed as her daughter and her son-in-law. So, I was like, ‘well that must be the same Rose that's buried in Woodland Cemetery.’ So, she has a son named ‘James,’ but he was only 16 in the 1930 census, but it says that she's widowed, so it doesn't say her husband's name, so he could have been named James. I have no idea. Right? But, the exciting thing is that she had two boarders living in her house in 1930: Andrew and William.”
George Drake, Jr. (on tape): “Ohhhhhh!!”
Ruth Reveal: “Right?!”
George Drake, Jr.: To see pictures of things from around Dayton History’s Carillon Park, the unframing of the letter, and how the envelopes match up, as well as Rose’s grave, visit the website www.fifthandludlowpodcast.com.
There you can also find the show on Spotify and other outlets to subscribe to the podcast.
If you could, take a moment to rate and review the show. Those stars and short reviews may not take a lot of time to write, but they do help in getting Fifth & Ludlow heard by more people.
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 is from 91.3 WYSO.
Episode editor is Katie Davis. Additional content assistance from Ruth Reveal and Craig Shank.
Special thanks to the Hollingsworth Family, Dayton History, Dave Requarth, The United States Postal Service, and Dayton Art Solutions 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…
Ruth Reveal: “So, was the address there?”
George Drake, Jr. (on tape): “18 S. Tecumseh?”
Ruth Reveal: “Yeah.”
George Drake, Jr. (on tape): “Yep.”
Ruth Reveal: “Ohh!”
George Drake, Jr. (on tape): “It’s there, and we’re going!”
Ruth Reveal: “Exciting!”
Curt Dalton: “The strange thing is is that, in 1926, Rose is still living out at S. Tecumseh Street, but James isn't there, but he's also not dead.”
Ruth Reveal: “That's when the letter would have been written. And then and William is not listed as one of the boarders in 1920 the 1920 census! Oh my gosh. So, like, that's too many coincidences.”