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From the Archive

By Jack O'Connell '81

Letter dated 1849When 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 other." 

If anyone can shed some light on the identity of R.A. Kennedy, please contact Mark or write to Holy Cross Magazine


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