Snail Mail Summer Sessions Teach Campers Art Of Letter Writing

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By: Jan Engoren Contributing Writer

“Dear Tom Hanks,” reads a letter written by campers from the Delray Beach Historical Society’s Snail Mail Summer Camp to the Hollywood actor.

Last summer, knowing of actor Tom Hanks’s fascination with manual typewriters, archivist Kate Teves wrote Hanks a personal, typed letter and received a personal, hand-typed one in response.

This year, more than 45 campers ages 7-14 will again share the love of letter writing, explore the history of communication with interactive games and activities, connect with letter writers around the globe, learn to use typewriters, feather quills and fountain pens and meet other writers, artists and papermakers.

“We were surprised by the enthusiastic response,” said Teves, herself a fan of the manual correspondence. “Especially, from the teen boys – who are usually engrossed in video games.  They got really into letter writing.”

Teves says both she and historical society executive director Winnie Edwards love to compose and share letters with others.

As an introverted child, she wrote letters to her grandfather as a way to get to know him. He was also introverted she says and welcomed the chance to engage and get to know her over hand-written correspondence.

Kate was 30 and he was 90.

“I learned things I never knew,” Teves said.“I discovered  he enjoyed sharing stories about his foray into the stock market.”

“I enjoy the freedom and creativity of letter writing,” said Teves, who says anything can be considered “a letter” and mailed, as long as it has postage.

She has written letters on the back of cereal boxes and even once on a barf bag.

Popular in Florida, Teves says, is using coconut shells as letters. She plans to do this with the kids in the camp.

As part of the program, Teves reached out to many letter writing clubs around the country, receiving more than 200 pieces of mail last year from these clubs.

This year she is expecting to receive double that amount from all over the world. The kids will also collect and trade the stamps from the many letters they receive.

John Cutrone, Director, Jaffe Center for Book Arts at FAU, hosted Real Mail Campfire Socials, where participants wrote letters to the kids welcoming them to camp.

“We love partnering with the Delray Beach Historical Society’s Snail Mail Camp,” Cutrone said. “They have a lovely setting and so many fun letter writing things to work with – especially the typewriter station.”

He said last year, he wrote a letter telling the kids about a letter that my dad saved from his brother in the army.

“I guess it resonated with the kids, as I got a few responses,” he said. “It’s always a thrill to get a real letter in your mailbox. These kids are learning what that’s like, and that’s a very good thing,”

One of the camp projects will be for the kids to write time capsule letters to the future archivist fifty years in the future.

The letters will be sealed and opened in 2069.

Teves says she was surprised to see what many of the kids wrote last year; many echoed concerns they absorbed from their parents – such as politics and climate change.

One camper wrote: “To the archivist in 2069 – if you are still there and Delray Beach is not under water.”

Shayna Katz, 11, daughter of Heather and Mitch Katz, and a 6th grader at Omni Middle School, is looking forward to returning to the camp this summer.

Last year she was one of the campers who wrote to Tom Hanks and was thrilled when he wrote back, expressing interest in the camp and offering to donate a manual typewriter for the kids.

The Historical Society currently owns four manual, Royal typewriters and Hanks’s donation would make a nice addition to the ones they have, a number of which are broken, according to Teves.

Although it is easy to find ribbons for the old typewriters, many of them from the 1920s, some of the other parts are harder to obtain, she says.

This summer, Katz plans to write letters to people ‘who don’t live in Florida,’ including cousins who live in New Zealand.  “I want to tell them how hot it is here,” she says.

She thinks the manual typewriters are “very cool,” and is the designated card writer at home, where she pens handwritten birthday and anniversary cards to family and friends.

Likewise, 10-year-old Juliana “Juju” Carriegos, a 5th grader at St. Vincent Ferrer, is looking forward to returning to camp this summer.

“The counselors are very nice and made me feel welcome,” she said. “I learned about letter writing, music and sports history (from the correspondence), played volleyball and badminton and made new friends.”

An avid reader as well, Carriegos loves to read Judy Blume, Nancy Drew and the Little House on the Prairie series. She loves basketball, Irish dancing and played a lemur in her school’s production of Madagascar 2.

An aspiring author, Carriegos has written a ‘realistic fiction’ novel, titled, “No Ordinary Girl,” about a young girl who has an accident in a fire and tries to save her dad.

She found an illustrator on-line and is currently working to finalize the book, which she hopes to publish and dedicate to the Delray Beach Historical Society.

August sessions: Aug. 5-6 9:00 a.m. 2:00 p.m. ages 7-14 / $75/child. For more information call:  561-274-9578 or email:  archive@delraybeachhistory.org