Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Red Leather Diary

I was describing Permanent Record to my new friend Casey the other day, and she mentioned a story that had run in The New York Times several years ago, about an old diary that been found in the trash and then reunited with its original owner.

The diary is shown above, being held by Florence Wolfson Howitt. She kept the diary from 1929 through 1934, when she was a teen-ager. The photo was taken in 2006, when she was 90 years old and had been tracked down by Times reporter Lily Koppel, who had come into possession of the diary after it had been forgotten in a storage trunk and then discarded.

This would be a great story even if the diary had chronicled a fairly mundane life. But the life described in Howitt's diary was anything but mundane. During her teens she was an aspiring writer, musician, and artist and had romantic experiences with men and women, all of it described in the sort of florid, occasionally overwrought language that you'd expect from a privileged teen-ager traveling in sophisticated New York circles.

Koppel, the Times reporter, explained all of this, and a lot more, in a 2006 article, which is fantastic — highly recommended. She ended up writing a book about the diary, and about the unlikely friendship she developed with Howitt.

That book, called The Red Leather Diary, was published in 2008 and apparently got a fair amount of media coverage at the time (as did the original 2006 article, for that matter, which is why Koppel got a book deal in the first place), but I somehow missed the boat on all of it. The storyline was briefly revisited in 2012, when Howitt passed away at the age of 96, but I missed that as well. Seems like the kind of thing that would have come across my radar, but for whatever reason it didn't.

An interesting footnote to all of this is that the format of Wolfson's five-year diary inspired New York illustrator Tamara Shopsin (daughter of famously irascible New York restaurateur Kenny Shopsin, for you NYCers who are clued into such things) to produce and sell her own blank five-year diaries, which are essentially identical to the one Wolfson used during her teens.

Casey — the friend who told me about all this — uses one of those diaries herself, which is a nice way to bring this story full-circle.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Small Town Noir Update

Last September I posted an entry about the Scottish blogger Diarmid Mogg, who has an interesting specialty: He collects mid-century mug shots and their accompanying police reports from the town of New Castle, Pennsylvania, and then searches the online archives of New Castle's daily newspaper to learn more about the arrestees and their lives. He publishes the results of his research in his excellent blog, Small Town Noir.

I've stayed in touch with Mogg over the past year, and he got in touch the other day with some exciting news:

It might be possible that I’m about to get a Small Town Noir book published!

There’s a new-ish publisher called Unbound, which uses a sort of crowdfunding model to fund niche-interest books. (If you’re interested in learning more, there’s an article about them here.) Their head of publishing got very excited about Small Town Noir, and we’ve set up a crowdfunding campaign for the book. It will only work if around 900 people pledge to buy it, so please spread the word to anyone you think might be interested in a pretty depressing set of stories about unlucky everyday people. (A hard sell, I know! Perhaps it would be better if I presented it as “a fascinating collection of true-life stories behind 150 beautiful old mug shots from one small American town.”)

The short video on the book's campaign page does a great job of explaining the appeal of the project. Please check it out and consider pledging to purchase the book — it's a great project that deserves to be published.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

A Beautiful Photo I.D. Badge

Last year I wrote several times about old employee photo I.D. badges. That led to a very generous offer from PermaRec reader Karen Becker, who recently got in touch and offered to send me the I.D. badge shown above. It dates back to the late 1940s and belonged to a man named John Bobofchak, who was the husband of Karen's mother's aunt. I was extremely humbled by Karen's offer to share this family artifact with me — an offer that I happily accepted.

Karen provided some background on John Babofchak, as follows:

He lived at 3613 Cecelia Ave. in Cleveland, Ohio. He was married to Anna Tarnovsky. They had four children:

• George Bobofchak is about 92 and is living in Westlake, Ohio. His wife was Vicki (deceased March 20, 2008), and they had one son, John, who lives in Fairview Park, Ohio.

• Anne Agnes Gilak (nee Bobofchak) died on May 11, 2008, at the age of 81. She and her husband, Albert (deceased), had two children, Ron and Vickie.

• Edward Joseph Bobofchak died on Dec. 13, 2008, at the age of 76.

• Mildred M. Bobofchak, 77, is a retired schoolteacher living in Westlake, Ohio.

I was also curious about the White Sewing Machine Company, where John worked. It turns out to have been a fairly notable company (further info here) whose identity eventually became subsumed into the White-Westinghouse brand name.

I acquired a few old photo badges last year and received a few more as a birthday gift, but this one is by far the nicest and in the best shape, and it's also the first one in my small collection with the raised metallic lettering. Badges of this style tend to fetch over $100 on eBay, which is too pricey for me, so I probably would never have held one in my hand if Karen hadn't sent me this one. It's an inch and three-quarters in diameter and weighs half an ounce -- a very satisfying little object.

The badge's manufacturer is stamped onto the back (click to enlarge):

As it happens, I'm familiar with the Robbins Co. of Attleboro, Mass., because they used to manufacture another item that I collect: a particular style of beer tap heads (click to enlarge):

These tap heads, which are called "ball knobs," became popular in taverns across America in the 1940s. Much like the photo badges, they're very collectible and fairly pricey. The Robbins name typically appears on the rear-neck area (click to enlarge):

Robbins still exists today as a component of TharpeRobbins, a company specializing in employee-recognition awards. The original Robbins Company, which merged with Tharpe in 2007, apparently had a very colorful history that went way beyond producing employee photo badges and beer tap knobs. According to the company's corporate history page, Robbins also manufactured the medals for the 1932 Lake Placid Winter Olympics, the official Lindbergh Medal commemorating Charles Lindbergh's trans-oceanic flight, medallions used on NASA space missions, and more.

All of which leads to a question: Did Robbins employees wear photo I.D. badges back in the 1940s? If so, Robbins presumably manufactured those, right? That's now my holy grail: a vintage employee badge with "Robbins" handsomely spelled out on the front and stamped into the back.

(Extra-special thanks to Karen Becker for entrusting me with John Bobofchak's badge.)

Friday, July 3, 2015

Another Lost Photo Album

Click to enlarge

I recently wrote about Robert Townley, the guy who found an old photo album floating in the Georgetown Canal. That entry struck a chord with PermaRec reader Josh Koonce, who just sent me the following note:

The Robert Townley piece inspired me to do something with two photo albums [shown above — PL] that I rescued from an evicted storage unit in Chicago about four years ago. At the time I was working for an online retailer who used a storage facility as warehouse space. Everyone knows how these storage auctions work these days, but often there is stuff left over after the auction that the buyer won't even take. It usually gets dumped. These albums were in that category.
Josh says the blue album contains about 75 photos, three funeral booklets, and a newspaper clipping; the one with the wood veneer cover contains about 130 photos. The photos appear to document the life of an African-American family, presumably from Chicago. Here's a small sampling:
#foundphoto #found #foundphotography #Chicago #selfstorage #nofilter #film #archive #vintagestyle #vintage #bluedress #suit #formalwear #found #foundphoto #Chicago #selfstorage #nofilter #film #archive #vintagestyle #vintage On reverse of print: "Dec 1976" #foundphotos #found #Chicago #photooftheday #film #archive #vintagestyle #vintage #bluedress #suit #formalwear Banner Attendance Class? #found #foundphoto #Chicago #selfstorage #nofilter #film #archive #vintagestyle #vintage #poloroid #instantcamera

Josh wants to find the family shown in the photos. "There is an address in one of the albums, and I drove by it, but the house appeared unoccupied," he says. "I searched the internet for the few names in the albums and didn't come up with much. There is also a church funeral bulletin in the blue album -- a lead I should probably follow up on."

For now, Josh is beginning to post the photos on Instagram, Flickr, and Twitter. If you recognize the family or have any leads, you can contact him via those accounts.

Monday, June 29, 2015

A Mystery Floating in the Water

Have you ever seen an intriguing object bobbing along in the water? Robert Townley, a web developer who lives in Washington, DC, was recently walking along the Georgetown waterfront when he saw a booklet of some kind floating in the water. He took the photo you see above and then borrowed a net from a nearby fisherman to retrieve the book.

It turned out to be a photo album, and it apparently documented the first week of a baby's life. Obviously, the photos are now water-damaged, but many of them are still heart-tuggers:

There's a much more detailed version of this story, along with more photos, on Townley's website.

Townley is now wondering, just as you probably are, "Who are these people, and how did their baby album end up in the Georgetown Canal?" He's set up a Facebook group to help investigate the album's backstory and, ideally, return it to its rightful owners. Feel free to join the group and contribute to the sleuthing!

(Big thanks to Mike Engle for letting me know about this one.)

Monday, June 22, 2015

Message in a Bottle, Scottish Edition

The bottle shown above were recently found on a beach in Aberdeenshire, Scotland by a couple vacationing from Australia. They noticed a note inside, which indicated that the bottle had been tossed into the sea in 1971 by a 14-year-old boy named Raymond Davidson, who lived in Carlisle — 44 miles from where the bottle turned up.

The Australian couple posted a notice on Facebook, asking for help in tracking down Davidson. The good news is that their efforts were successful and they've now been in touch with him; the bad news is that Davidson has zero memory of having written the note or having tossed the bottle into the sea, which is a little disappointing.

Further details here.

(My thanks to reader David Sonny for letting me know about this one.)

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Hidden Trolley Lurking Within Old Building

We've often talked about find artifacts inside of an old house. Today's story puts a new spin on that concept.

Bill and Sharon Krapil bought some property last year in Weyauwega, Wisconsin. The lot included an old building that they planned to knock down. But as they began that process, it turned out that the building, as you can see above, had been built around a 1905 trolley, which served as the core of the structure.

There are lots of additional photos here (with a mildly annoying click-thru interface, sorry) and additional info here, along with a good video report below:

(Big thanks to reader/pal Jeff Ash for letting me know about this one.)

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Classroom Discoveries

Permanent Record got its start with a set of old vocational school report cards. Now I've gotten involved with another set of school-related artifacts.

The photos you see above are from the Instagram feed of Miriam Sicherman, a fourth grade teacher at the Children’s Workshop School in New York City. The artifacts shown in the photos — old coins, 1940s candy wrappers, tickets stubs from a theater that used to be next door to the school, a 1920s baseball card, a 1940s student assignment, and a lot more — were all excavated by her students from a gap in the floorboards of her classroom's closet. One of the students, a 10-year-old named Bobby Scotto, noticed that gap a few months ago, reached in, and began pulling out interesting finds. Soon the whole class was joining in, and Sicherman turned it into a way for the kids to learn about archaeology.

It's a great story, and I had fun writing about it in a recent New York Times article. Check it out here.

Meanwhile, as long as we're talking about schools: There was a great find a few days ago in Oklahoma City, where contractors renovating a high school removed some chalkboards from a classroom wall and found an older blackboard with lessons that had been written in 1917 and were still perfectly legible and intact, including this Thanksgiving scene:

Here's a video with further details (if the video isn't embedding properly, and/or if you want additional info, look here):

(Big thanks to reader Paul Deaver for letting me know about the Oklahoma City story.)

Saturday, May 16, 2015

A Coffin That Didn’t Stay Buried

You can find all sorts of discarded items on a city street, but the one shown above is particularly unusual: It's an old, dilapidated coffin, which was recently found by a retired bus driver at the base of a dead-end street in Brooklyn. Inside were a glove and a sock, each containing some small bones.

The police turned the coffin over the medical examiner's office, which was able to identify the coffin's manufacturer -- the first piece of the puzzle. The rest of the pieces soon came together, as the authorities were able to figure out where the coffin had been buried, whose bones were left inside of it, and how it came to be discarded on a Brooklyn street.

The full story is spelled out in this article, which is both entertaining and mildly disturbing — recommended.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

A Treasure Trove of Old Recipes

What you see above is an old recipe for tapioca cream pudding. It's one of hundreds or possibly thousands of old recipes — five file cabinets' worth — that were recently found in a building in Tulsa. The building was purchased by a man named Rick Phillips, who plans to use it for an expansion of his nearby shooting range, but it previously housed a large commercial cafeteria called Bordens. The recipes were for the cafeteria's fare.

Bordens was actually a local chain of nine cafeterias in the Tulsa area. They're now defunct, although the sign for one of them is still attached to its building and is visible from a nearby highway. As far as I can tell, the Tulsa Bordens had no connection to the onetime consumer goliath Borden Foods (which is now also defunct).

Phillips isn't sure what he'll do with the recipes but says they definitely won't be thrown away. Neither will all the other things he found in the building, including several neon signs, posters, and so on. This poster from the mid-1960s gives you a sense of what kind of place Bordens was:

One of the recipes, for lemon chess pie, is included at the end of this article about Phillips's discovery, which also includes a good video report — recommended.

(Big thanks to Craig Ward for letting me know about this one.)

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Student of the Week: Augustina Garcia

1
For all documents, click to enlarge

Today we're going take a look at Augustina Garcia, a dressmaking student who attended the Manhattan Trade School for Girls — or, as it was known at the time, Manhattan Industrial High School — in the mid- to late 1930s.

Augustina's case is particularly interesting because she's one of the very few Hispanic students in my report card collection. On her primary card, shown above, her nationality is listed as "Porto Rican" — an embarrassing misspelling on the part of the school's staff, whose spelling and grammar were usually impeccable. (For more on this, scroll down to the update at the bottom of this entry.)

Next to "Porto Rican" is a partial black dot. As I've explained in previous entries, the black dot was routinely included for black students. It's not clear whether Augustina's partial dot was intentional (a full dot for blacks, a partial dot for Hispanics?) or if the dot sticker simply tore.

What else can we learn from this card? There was some dispute over Augustina's date of birth; neither of her parents worked (keep in mind that this was during the depths of the Great Depression); she was deemed to be 18 pounds underweight; and she took cod liver oil three times a day to combat colds and sore throats.

Now let's take a look at Augustina's grades and teacher comments (as always, E = Excellent; G = Good; F = Fair; P = Poor):

2

Several themes emerge here. First, Augustina's grades were a bit below average. Second, several teachers noted that she was a slow worker. And third, it was repeatedly noted that she was left-handed, which was presumably an impediment (or at least something that had to be accounted for) when working on a sewing machine or following a pattern. This was during the period when lefties were often forced by schools to retrain themselves to be righties, but there's no indication that this was done to Augustina. (As an aside, I'm left-handed myself, so I'm particularly interested in this storyline.)

Augustina's handedness and her slightly below-average ranking are both referenced again on this next card, which was prepared by the school's job placement office in anticipation of finding work for her after she finished her vocational classes:

3

Here's a transcription of the handwritten notes:

Careless at times. Slow to grasp and slow worker, which might be due to frailness.

Attitude greatly improved in last fall contracts.

Writes well.

Father is not living at home. Family receives relief [of] $36.50 every two weeks. Augustina is NYA girl. There are seven children. One older sister [is] married. Five attend school and one infant. Mother stays at home. Augustina is waiting at home for placement.

Augustina was eventually sent out to three jobs:

4

The first job, a five-day stint working for an employer named Regina Rudolph, entailed "errands, to clean, etc." On Feb. 21, 1938 — the fourth of the five days — everything seemed to be going well, as spelled out in this note that Augustina sent to the school:

8 9

The letter reads like so:

My Dear Miss Marks,

I heartily thank [you] for the position which you have obtained for me.

The hours of employment are from 9am to 6pm; the salary is $10 per week.

My employer, Miss Regina Rudolph, is very kind and assists me in anything that is not quite clear to me.

Again I wish to express my sincerest thanks and you can rest assured that I will strive to better myself in this, my first position.

Yours truly,
Augustina Garcia

But something must have gone wrong along the way. The day after this letter was written, Augustina left the position. If you scroll back up to the yellow card, you can see that she left because "Work too hard! See note." The note being referred to there can be found on this next card, outlined in red:

5

The note, which is unsigned but is rendered in the telltale handwriting of the school's very demanding job placement secretary, Althea Kotter, reads as follows:

Feb. 22, 1938: Very lazy and impudent girl Gave up job because she was tired at night. "The hours were satisfactory, but I had to use the vacuum cleaner once a day and this made my back ache; also I to to run errands. Don't see why I should do this for anyone"! (Augustina was given full details about the work before being sent to the job.)

March 9, 1938: Told we would give another chance, and that any further trouble would be reported to the Home Relief people.

Yowza. Whatever the specifics of the dispute, it does seem odd that Augustina was sent to vacuum and run errands after having been trained in dressmaking, and one wonders if her ethnicity had anything to do with it. If you scroll back up to the yellow card, you can see that her next two jobs involved hand sewing — in one case at a home for the aged and then for a lampshade manufacturer — but at no point did the school send her out for dressmaking work. Hmmmm.

If anyone knows more about Augustina, please get in touch. Thanks.

• • • • •

Update: Reader Miriam Sicherman informs me that "Porto Rico" was actually an accepted spelling in the early 1900s. That's confirmed by this Wikipedia entry, which includes the following:

In 1932, the U.S. Congress officially corrected what it had been misspelling as Porto Rico back into Puerto Rico. It had been using the former spelling in its legislative and judicial records since it acquired the territory. Patricia Gherovici states that both "Porto Rico" and "Puerto Rico" were used interchangeably in the news media and documentation before, during, and after the U.S. invasion of the island in 1898. The "Porto" spelling, for instance, was used in the Treaty of Paris, but "Puerto" was used by The New York Times that same year. Nancy Morris clarifies that "a curious oversight in the drafting of the Foraker Act caused the name of the island to be officially misspelled."

Augustina enrolled at Manhattan Trade in 1935, so the official spelling had been established as "Puerto" for three years by then. Still, in light of this new information (or at least it's new to me), the "Porto" designation on Augustina's card no longer looks quite so egregious.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Another Writer Who Enjoys Found Objects

I recently heard from a writer named Ben Feldman, who likes found objects and the stories behind them as much as I do. He chronicles some of these stories on his blog, New York Wanderer.

Typical of Ben's work is his investigation into the tale behind the promotional change purse shown above, which he found at a flea market. He's a better and much more dogged historical researcher than I am, so he was able to extrapolate a several decades' worth of family history, including tales of illicit liquor sales during Prohibition, from this one item. The resulting blog is lengthy but fascinating — check it out here (and you may also want to see the New York Times piece that emerged from Ben's work).

Ben has done similar investigations into a memorial plaque for the former head of a hatters' union (there's a follow-up to that entry here), a small daily memorandum book, and a tinted glass slide. Good stuff from a kindred spirit.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

A Pair of Old Towels from Lancaster, Pennsylvania

For all of today's photos, click to enlarge

I'm a sucker for retro stripe patterns. So when I recently saw this vintage linen tea towel at a flea market, I was enticed, even though I don't really have any need or use for a tea towel. What sealed the deal was the original price tag still pinned to a corner of the towel — I'm a sucker for that kind of thing as well. I bought the towel, along with another one (which we'll get to in a minute), for $7.

I was curious about the shop listed on the price tag — Hager & Bro. Inc., of Lancaster, Pennsylvania — so I Googled it. Turns out there's a lot to learn.

Hager & Bro. (sometimes listed as Hager Brothers) was a department store run by the Hager family, which has deep roots in the Lancaster area. The family's retail history in Lancaster dates back to the early 1820s (different sources give conflicting accounts of the exact year), when Christopher Hager purchased a plot of land on the corner West King and Market Streets and established a mercantile business there. Here's an eBay listing for a pamphlet showing the business's clothing prices in 1889. (Some really nice typography and wording in there, incidentally — definitely worth a closer look.)

That same property at the corner of West King and Market later became the site of the Hager Building, which was built in 1910 and housed the family's department store:

According to this item in the Nov. 19, 1921 issue of the trade journal Dry Goods Economist (now there's a publication name!), Hager & Bro. was at that time "the oldest department store in the United States continuously operated by the same family." The item also mentions Christopher Hager's savvy business maneuvers, such as the time "he purchased an entire cargo of coffee that had become drenched by not damaged."

Hager's was acquired by another department store, Watt & Shand, in 1968 and closed in 1977, but the building remains. It's now occupied by an assortment of shops and condominiums and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There's also a box of Hager's-related artifacts at the Lancaster Historical Society.

It's not clear exactly when my tea towel was available for sale at Hager's, although the design of the towel and the tag both seem 1960s-ish to me. I love that the tag is pinned on (as opposed to being stapled or some other format), which absolutely screams "old-school dry goods shop."

But wait — there's more. When I told the flea market vendor that I was interested in the towel, she said, "Here, do you want this one, too?" She then produced this towel, which I hadn't initially seen because it was hidden underneath some other items:

photo 1-2

Frankly, I didn't like this towel as much as the first one — the stripe pattern seemed a little too busy, too showy. But then I thought to myself, "Does this one have a Lancaster price tag too?" Yes — but not from Hager's:

photo 2-2

How did one flea market vendor end up with two such similar towels that were originally sold at two different shops in the same city? Bizarre.

Unfortunately, there isn't as much readily available information about M.T. Garvin & Co. as there is about Hager & Bro., but I did find a few pieces of the puzzle. Milton T. Garvin was a prominent Lancastarian who helped establish the city's Unitarian Universalist church. He had a department store (here's an obituary for someone who once worked there as a buyer), which presumably competed with Hager's. According to this 1918 listing of oleomargarine licenses (!), Garvin's was located at 29-37 East King St., just a few blocks from Hager's.

It's not clear to me when Garvin's closed, but it was still going strong in 1970, as seen in this 1970 postcard that I found on eBay. You can see "Garvin & Co." on the side of the building and a big "G" logo over what is presumably the main entrance:

Another thing I found on eBay was this Garvin's promotional ruler, which lists three different slogans: "Where the Thrifty of Lancaster Shop and Save"; "Lancaster's Big Cash Department Store"; and "Where Boys and Girls, Mother and Dad Are Always Welcome":

There's something about that broad range of sloganeering that I find very amusing.

One final thought: If you look again at the two price tags, you'll see that one of them is marked "11-A-3" and the other "A 4":

That seems like too big much of a coincidence to be random. Anyone know what those "A"-based designations were for? (Update: Reader John Vahey has found some information explaining that the alpha-numeric designations on the price tags may have been part of a system for dry goods stock numbers.)

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Artifacts in Briefcase Reveal Long-Ago Affair

In May of 1969, a 39-year-old German businessman named Günter K. began an affair with his 24-year-old secretary, Margret S. Both were married. Over the next 19 months, they engaged in an extended series of sexual romps while traveling hither and thither. Günter's wife eventually learned of the affair and confronted Margret, who threatened to withhold sex from Günter unless his wife apologized to her — which, incredibly, she did.

We know all this because of a large cache of unusually detailed documentation — photographs, receipts, a journal, snippets of hair, empty birth control packaging (examples of which are shown throughout this blog post) — that was found in a briefcase purchased at a German estate sale 30 years after Günter and Margret's affair. Those items were the subject of a book and gallery exhibition in Germany in 2012, and now the exhibition is making its American debut under the title "Margret: Chronicle of an Affair — May 1969 to December 1970" at the White Columns gallery in New York.

The White Columns web page for the show provides good background info. Here's an excerpt:

The archive [of materials found in the briefcase] consists of hundreds of color and black-and-white photographs showing the same woman (Margret S.) in various places and poses: sitting at a typewriter at the office, traveling, or in hotel rooms, undressing, changing, or getting dressed. In the archive, inscribed with dates, are samples of Margret's hair (from both her head and pubic region), her fingernails, and empty contraception packages, as well as a blood-stained napkin. Receipts from hotels and restaurants, as well as travel documents and tickets from theaters, reveal insights into the places the couple visited as well as acknowledging their preferences and interests. Personal notes and diary entries, mostly written with a typewriter, resemble official records. The focus of virtually all these writings is the sexual act, its frequency, its endurance, etc. — all factually underlined yet at the same time described in a coarse and often obscene language. In its conceptual denseness — resulting partly from the obsessiveness of the documentation — the collection seems to reverberate with the practices of artists such as Sophie Calle, where the viewer often finds themselves in a conflicted space, exposed to their own voyeurism.

Faaaaascinating. I haven't gotten over to White Columns yet to see the exhibit, but I definitely plan to. You can see more photos from the show here.

Based on what I've read so far, it's not clear to me if any attempt has been made to find Günter and Margret (who, if they're still alive, would now be 85 and 70, respectively). I hope to learn more about that when I check out the exhibit.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Long-Lost John Lennon Letter Inspires Hollywood Movie

In 1971, a small music magazine called ZigZag published an interview with a 21-year-old British singer-songwriter named Steve Tilston. At one point Tilston was asked if fame and fortune — should he be lucky enough to achieve them — would change his art. He said they would probably have a negative effect on his songwriting.

Tilston needn't have worried — he never became famous (although he's sustained a career as a professional musician, and good for him). But his comments in ZigZag caught the eye of John Lennon, who at the time was 30 years old and in the early stages of his post-Beatles solo career. Lennon jotted out a note (see above) telling Tilston and the writer who'd interviewed him, Richard Howell, that money didn't actually change anything. Here's what he wrote:

Dear Steve Tilston + Richard Howell

Being rich doesn't change your experiences in the way you think. The only difference basically is that you don't have you worry about money - food - roof - etc. But all other experiences - emotions - relationships - are the same as anybodies. I know, I've been rich and poor and so has Yoko (rich-poor-rich). So whadya think of that.

Love,
John + Yoko

Lennon mailed the letter to Tilston in care of the ZigZag offices, but Tilston never received it. It's not clear what initially happened to it (maybe it was waylaid by a ZigZag staffer who opened the envelope and decided that a handwritten letter from John Lennon was too special not to keep), but Tilston didn't learn of its existence until around 2005, 34 years after it had been written, when a collector contacted him and asked him if he could vouch for its authenticity. Tilston was confused because he'd never known about the letter in the first place. It had apparently been bought and sold several times by that point. (Yoko Ono later confirmed that she remembered Lennon writing the letter.)

This story is now the rough basis of a new movie called Danny Collins, which features Al Pacino playing a popular singer in the latter stages of his life and career who receives a long-lost letter from John Lennon, triggering a major personal reassessment. Here's the trailer, which, frankly, looks awful:

I don't think I'll be seeing Danny Collins, but I do like that a lost letter has inspired a movie. And it's also nice that Steve Tilston is getting a bit of fame out of this after all.