The Mysterious Letters Aftermath
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And then there’s Mysterious Letters, a Kickstarter project from two artists — Michael and Lenka — to mail everyone in the world a personal letter. It began in April with a small village named Cushendall in Northern Ireland, where the letters caused quite a stir (their project video is the BBC news broadcast about it). Then came their successfully funded Kickstarter project and — last week — the article snipped above.
For this second round, Michael (who lives in London) and Lenka (who lives in Pittsburgh) choose Postal Hill, a neighborhood of about 600 in Pittsburgh. They first unveiled the location in a Q&A with us here on the blog:
“The second batch (the ones we’re writing in November) will be written from an old Barber’s shop in Pittsburgh. I am in the middle of sweeping it out and fixing it up at the moment.”
They announced that the mailing had gone out in a project update, and within a week of that, one of the recipients of a letter commented on the Kickstarter blog post. It was the first connection anyone had made between Kickstarter and the letters.
Here’s what he described in his comment:
“Yesterday, Tuesday, November 24, 2009, I got 2 packages in the mail
with no return address. I’m always happy to get something that isn’t
junk mail or bills so I eagerly opened one of these: a 9X12” envelope.
There was 6¢ postage due on this. Inside was a collage made from
6 pieces of paper of various sizes glued overtop each other
(in gradually decreasing dimensions) onto a 7th piece of paper.
On top of all that was a sortof address label with a
seemingly personal handwritten note:
love from michael +
I opened the 2nd package, a smaller padded envelope, & found a small saucer
(of the type a teacup might be placed on) which had handwritten on the top:
[my given name]
& on the back:
“WELL DONE !
The commenter, named tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE, then goes onto beautifully detail the story of how he came to find the blog and the origin of the letters themselves. He also explains, as you might expect, that some people — particularly the elderly — were frightened by the letters.
That fear was the focus of the AP wire story that went out about the project, and even got picked up by the New York Times. “Pittsburgh mystery letters revealed as art project,” reads the headline (I like how “revealed” implies people had been waiting blue-faced for this revelation).
The piece includes this amazing anecdote:
Anna Misiaszek, who runs Alfred’s Deli Plus with her husband, said the letter that arrived at their shop seemed silly. It read: “Next time someone tries to bamboozle you with the cup and ball trick (on holiday in Turkey, at a city bus station …) choose the cup on the right.”
“This is something crazy. I treat this like a joke,” she said Tuesday.
She initially tore up the letter and tossed it in the trash, but later retrieved it when she was told it was an art project.
They also got sneered at for their silliness by a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review columnist:
Clayton, who recently moved to Pittsburgh, and Crowe apparently don’t have day jobs.
If they did, they probably wouldn’t have found the time to painstakingly craft the 467 unsolicited letters they sent in April to residents of Cushendail, a small village in Ireland, to kick off the project.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s story by Diana Nelson Jones is actually pretty fantastic. One part:
At Tai + Lee Architects on Brereton Street, architect William Hopkins received an envelope at his home up the street. The address is written in rounded, no-frills British handwriting; Polish Hill is not capitalized. Inside was a strip of a letter. The paper and the envelope look grayish and well-handled, like artifacts from an attic trunk. On the back of the strip instructions are written around and inside round stickers like the kind used to price yard sale items. “You have part 2,” it reads. Two nearby neighbors have parts one and three. Who has part four?
“I don’t know, there are things about it that seem a little …” Ms. Clague waved her hand back and forth to indicate mixed feelings. “If you are fearful, it doesn’t take much” to inspire fear.
“It’s a psychological test. To me, it’s interesting on that level,” she said.
On their blog, Michael and Lenka have been posting all 620 letters that they’ve sent, including this gem:
We’ve written a lot about this project — something definitely struck us about it from the get-go. And as a backer, I read the articles above with proud delight. Though I didn’t write a letter or contribute in that way, I felt like this project was mine. Every backer is a part of this story. That’s the beauty of it.
It’s a remarkable privilege to watch an idea’s conception, execution, and conclusion in a single, unbroken context. I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced it before. Michael and Lenka presented their idea. They were funded in two weeks. They announced that letters are being sent. Two days later, a recipient traces the completely unmarked letter to the page where it originated.
Such an amazing conclusion to a story that’s far from over.