There’s a lot to notice and think about here.
It’s 1908 and someone in Oxford, England thinks it worth the high cost to send a cryptic message to Connecticut using the fastest and most expensive mode of communication available. This suggests both the sender and the recipient were fairly wealthy.
A lengthy letter, full of newsy prose, probably would have reached the recipient within a week or two. Yet a terse, expensive, quick sentence was judged superior.
Under what conceivable circumstances might it be appropriate, or humorous, or instructive, or supportive, or helpful, or courteous, or kind, or sweet, or gracious, to text-message the line “Congratulations life owes you nothing.”? On the occasion of a divorce? Bankruptcy? An engagement? Maybe the sender was gloating over some calamity suffered by his enemy, the recipient?
This telegram was well-preserved for over 100 years, so it must have been greatly valued by its recipient.
The sender was charged for ten words. I can only see ten words if I count the comma and the two periods as separate words and ignore the address. If a punctuation mark counts as a word, maybe this explains why there is no punctuation mark after the word “Congratulations.”
The address is “New Haven House.” No street number. The recipient’s full name is not given. Yet it was evidently assumed the telegram would be delivered quickly, as telegrams generally were. According to one web site, “New Haven House” was a hotel that was demolished just two years after the telegram was received:
Built in 1911, the Taft Hotel, on College Street in New Haven, opened its doors to the public on New Year’s Day, 1912. The elegant hotel was right near the Shubert Theater and many Broadway celebrities stayed there over the years, including Rogers and Hammerstein, who wrote the tune Oklahoma in their rooms at the Taft. Former President William Howard Taft, for whom the Hotel was named, lived there for eight years while he was teaching at Yale Law School. Before the Taft Hotel was built, other hotels and taverns had stood on the site, including one in which George Washington stayed in 1775. The Taft’s immediate predecessor was the New Haven House, designed by Henry Austin, which was built in 1858 and was razed in 1910.
I wonder, why do people personify the concept “life”? An abstract concept cannot owe anybody anything. Concepts do not act. Here is another concept: “We the People of the United States of America.” For the same reason that “life” does not owe me anything, neither do “We the People.” Among the things that the abstract concepts “life” and “We the People” do not owe me are: Social Security, Roads, an Education, and Health Care.
And I’m not kidding.
The telegram is typed on lined paper. The form must have been designed with the thought that telegrams would often be hand-written. I wonder if managers of local telegraph offices screened job applicants by examining the legibility of their handwriting.
Unlike the U.S. Postal Service, Western Union was a privately-owned company. Even in 1908, if you wanted a message delivered quickly and reliably, you did not rely on a government bureaucracy like the Post Office. Private enterprise provided a superior service, at least in the judgment of the person who sent this telegram.
The heading on the telegram boasts of all the undersea cables the company had laid on the ocean floor between continents. What an impressive amount of copper! What a hugely expensive undertaking! Yet the investors fully expected to recover the high cost of this investment by selling text-messaging services.
Carmalt and Osler were probably surnames, not given names. It’s possible that the recipient, Mr. Carmalt, might have been the Dr. William Carmalt who was involved in mosquito control activities in New Haven in 1912, according to this website.
This committee met November 12th and again November 19th, and thoroughly discussed the matter in all its phases. Two bills were drafted, (1) declaring mosquito breeding places a public nuisance and giving the health officers more authority to abate them, and (2) providing for the drainage of marsh lands under state control. These bills were submitted to a general meeting held November 22nd, and after slight changes were approved. A portion of the first bill was changed into the form of an amendment to Sec. 2526 of the Statutes; consequently three bills instead of two were prepared.
It was voted that the Chairman appoint a committee of five to see that these bills were printed and distributed, introduced into the legislature and to assist in their passage. The following were appointed members of this committee: Dr. William H. Carmalt, New Haven, Chairman; Dr. Charles J. Bartlett, New Haven; Mr. A. S. Barnes, Bristol; Mr. R. A. Rutherford, Old Lyme and New York; Dr. Valery Havard, Fairfield.
The bills were introduced at Dr. Carmalt’s request by Representative William S. Pardee of New Haven and referred to the Committee on Public Health and Safety; a hearing was held February 19th, about twenty-five appearing in favor and -no one against the measures. It also appeared that the medical, public health and civic associations of the state all supported the bills.
Whether or not these bills are passed by the legislature, their introduction and consideration has had some effect in bringing the matter to the attention of the members.
The whole problem is largely one of education, and if the measures are rejected by this General Assembly, the next or some other General Assembly in the near future will pass similar measures. Every thinking, person knows that the Panama Canal could never have been finished but for the mosquito suppression work done there. Thus we have neglected our own territory and have gone to the tropics and made a record in sanitation. The whole world has noted our success there. With Panama as an object lesson, we should now clean up our own territory and make it as safe, as sanitary and as comfortable as Panama.
We must still raise money and drain marshes, even though only a few acres, are improved each year. The Anti-Mosquito Committee, Inc., will urge corporations to drain their own land; the city to take better care of the marshes in its parks; and it will ask the board of health to inspect private grounds and public dumps to prevent mosquito breeding in the receptacles there.
Evidently, the good doctor was not a fan of wetlands. Nor were his friends in the legislature. If it was “good” for government officials to destroy wetlands in 1912, how can it be “bad” for people to destroy them today? Does the passage of one century turn morality on its head? Are today’s political busybodies doing “evil” when they make it a criminal offense to drain wetlands? Or was it the 1912 busybodies who were doing “evil” when they did the draining?
How can you tell? Prove it.
In closing, let me say: Congratulations, Carmalt, death owes you nothing.