Mystery mail takes 36 years to reach Cerro Gordo from UI

By Melissa Mitchell

As principal of Cerro Gordo High School, Gilbert Jones receives
all kinds of information from college and university admissions
offices. But recently, an inconspicous-looking packet of
materials from the UI caught the principal's eye, prompting him
to call the Office of Admissions and Records for more

"I asked them if they had been sending out some older material,"
said Jones, who wondered how and why the material - which
included a letter dated April 10, 1959, from former admissions
dean C.W. Sanford - just now managed to cross his desk nearly 36
years after it had been mailed.

When he received the slightly crumpled manila envelope about a
week and a half ago, Jones said he "thought the envelope looked
kind of old," but initially he tossed it aside and didn't give it
a second thought. When he leafed through the material later, he
noticed that the mimeographed letter from Sanford, and copies of
a guide for new students "looked really old." That's when the
principal realized "something was in error here," and contacted
Tammi Bouseman in the UI's Office of Admissions and Records.

Bouseman was as confounded as Jones about the sudden appearance
of the mystery packet. And beyond that, "I was shocked that
wherever it's been all those years, it was just delivered without
a note or explanation," she said.

At this point, no one seems to have a clue where the envelope may
have been collecting dust the past three decades plus. Maynard
Duitsman, a procedures and systems analyst who supervises mail
operations and has been at Admissions and Records since 1961,
said all indications are that the envelope actually left the UI
back in 1959. The envelope bears a typewritten address and return
address, as well as an outdated, metered bulk-rate stamp of 9
cents. If the same packet were mailed today, it would require
more than a dollar of postage, Duitsman added.

Somewhere along the line, a hand-written ZIP code was added. The
codes - which Urbana postmaster Joseph Taylor said were
introduced in the 1960s - obviously didn't exist at the time the
mailing was prepared. Taylor was as surprised as everyone else
when he learned about the special delivery.

"It's incredible, considering the condition it's in," he said.
"Where on earth could it have possibly been stored?"

Because the envelope was in relatively good shape, Taylor said
it's highly unlikely that the package had been sitting around in
a corner at the Urbana Post Office all these years. "We don't
have a paper sanctuary" for such materials, he said, and even
undeliverable mail that winds up in the dead-letter department is
purged on a fairly regular basis.

Taylor said occurrences involving overly belated mail deliveries
are "extremely rare" in his shop, although not unheard of in the
annals of postal history. "I just read about a case recently
where a letter sent from someone in a foxhole during World War II
was just received," he said.

Back in Cerro Gordo, postmaster June Leach is scratching her head
along with everybody else who has learned about the admissions-
material mail mystery.

"One thing I can say for certain is that it has not sat in our
office all those years," she said. "When mail comes in here, it
goes out the next day," she said, adding that mail addressed to
the high school is placed in a P.O. box and picked up regularly
by school personnel.

Meanwhile, Bouseman is delighted that the material has
boomeranged its way back - and in short order, all things
considered - to Admissions and Records.

"I think it's neat because we don't have a lot of the old,
historical materials here," she said. Of particular interest to
Bouseman is the old "Guide for New Students," which - among its
many historically significant facts - lists annual tuition costs
of $200 and admissions instructions for students who rank in the
lowest quarter of their high school.

Both, Bouseman noted, have gone the way of ... well, the pony

UIUC -- Inside Illinois -- 1995/02-02-95