Charles E. Richardson

Has technology helped or hurt personal communication?

There is a disappearing art that has vanished write before our eyes. Before you accuse me of using the wrong form of the word “right,” let me explain. One of the drawbacks to technology, particularly social media, is the shorthand we’ve all become accustomed. We don’t write complete sentences anymore. We write in code — acronyms, emoticon and all.

While there are ample examples of good writing, that talent is mostly owned by older folks and professional authors. It can’t be found in personal letters — now derisively called snail mail.

I was reminded of this when a friend handed me a medium-sized envelop containing letters found in the attic of 217 Clisby Place in Macon. One is typed on Macon Telegraph stationary, postmarked, July 17, 1912. More on that one later.

Most of the letters were written between late March and early April, 1910. All the letters are addressed to either Miss Margaret Orlana Long or Mrs. George H. Long. I won’t reveal their contents, because they’re still private communication between the writer and receiver. I can tell you that it didn’t take Columbo to figure out that George and “Maudie” are husband and wife. What is harder to figure out is why George was on the road so much during this period. The letters come from fancy hotels such as the Beckel in Dayton, Ohio; Hotel Jefferson in Birmingham, Alabama; the St. George Hotel in Evansville, Indiana; The Tulane Hotel in Nashville, even the Lanier Hotel in Macon.

One letter seems to indicate that George was part of a band or vaudeville performance. All of the hotels had great ballrooms and George and his group were traveling by train from location to location.

George shares his life on the road, sometimes in pen, sometimes in pencil. He brings Maudie up-to-date on the news of family and friends. They obviously correspond often. One letter says it’s his sixth since she’d left town. The letters are all addressed “In Care Of Mrs. Egan Burns” at a Petrolea, Ontario, Canada address. Petrolea is a small town in southwestern Canada that in 2011 had a population of less than 6,000. No telling how many people lived there in 1910. I can divine from the content of the letters that Maudie was taking care of her ill mother and that was the reason for their separation

I don’t think either of them would be upset if I shared with you how one letter ended. “I must close with bushels of love and kisses to both of you and always the beloved ‘little daughter.’”

It was a wonderful time when people took a moment to sit down, pick up a pen or pencil and compose their thoughts and send them on for someone to read and respond. There was no rapid response to a tweet or instant message. Nor was there communication through a series of shortcuts. No one would have known what “lol” meant — and even if they had a typewriter, such that George used to type a 1912 letter, you couldn’t type an emoticon.

Are we the better for it? Has technology helped our communication or hurt. You be the judge. Times, they are a changing. The hotels George wrote from are no longer. According to the Nashville Public Library, the Tulane Hotel must have been something to see in 1910. Built in 1894, it was the center of Nashville society. However, it closed its doors in 1956 and was later demolished to make way for progress — in this case — a parking lot. The Hotel Lanier dated back to the Civil War and sat on the east side of the 500 block of Mulberry Street, roughly where the Fickling & Company Building sits today. The 19-story Jefferson Hotel in Birmingham has been renovated into downtown lofts. The St. George disappeared in 1915 and the Beckel hung on until 1964.

Though I’m not exactly sure what George’s occupation was in early 1910. I do know W.T. Anderson was the general manager and C.R. Pendelton was president and editor of The Macon Telegraph. In a letter dated March 29, 1910, to Maudie, George shared that he might get the job of managing editor at the newspaper, and he was happy with the $1,500 annual salary. Yep, times have changed.