By Jack O'Connell '81
When College archivist Mark Savolis '77 drove his father
down Route 9 to Natick one Saturday last spring, he was simply
being a dutiful son. Savolis senior is a devoted stamp collector,
but he's not fond of navigating the traffic these days, so
Mark chauffeured him to a stamp show and did a bit of browsing
to kill the time. Looking over the wares at one table, however,
he did a double-take. There, amid a display of stamps, covers,
envelopes, and assorted papers, Mark spotted a letter dated
1849 written on stationary bearing an unmistakable illustration
of Fenwick Hall. He struck up a conversation with the dealer,
who couldn't provide any information on the piece. When Mark
mentioned that he was the archivist for Holy Cross, the two
men exchanged e-mail addresses. After a bit of digital haggling
over the next few weeks, the College purchased the letter
for $250. It now resides at the top of Dinand Library, a
mystery waiting to be solved.
The letter appears to be a brief business correspondence
between one R.A. Kennedy and Joseph Wrightman. Kennedy appears
to be in need of supplies for a chemistry lab.
"At this point," says Savolis, "we can't even be sure there's
a College connection. That doesn't mean one doesn't exist.
I've done a cursory search and haven't turned up anything.
I've checked and I don't find Kennedy listed in any directories.
We need to do more research. From the context of the letter,
it appears he might be a chemistry instructor ordering supplies
for a lab. Flasks, sulfuric acid, that type of thing. But
my feeling is that it could be simply paper that was printed
up for the College. There may not be a connection. We know
Kennedy is sending the letter from Worcester to Boston. There's
no stamp because this is before the invention of postage
stamps. But there is a cancellation mark. It went through
the mail. You can see how the letter folded into its own
envelope and was sealed with wax. It could have been an overrun
at the stationer's shop. It could have been something the
College purchased and sold."
"The image at the top, the illustration of Fenwick and the
surrounding grounds, isn't really what the College looked
like at the time," says Savolis. "It's more an imagined artist's
rendering of what the College might look like one day. It's
a nice piece. The paper itself is in great shape. It's 100%
rag paper. This would be the kind of paper we would use today
as preservation paper. This was before the wood chip process
of paper making so there's very little decay or yellowing."
"The interesting thing," Savolis says, "is that after I
saw it at the stamp show, I corresponded with the dealer
over the Internet. And he sent a scan of the letter over
the 'Net. So you've got this whole different use of technology.
Two different eras and means of communication mirroring each
If anyone can shed some light on the identity of R.A. Kennedy,
please contact Mark or write to Holy Cross Magazine.