Verdugo City to New Guinea and Back Again – An Envelope’s Odyssey
I often get inquiries about local history and offers of historical item donations. I welcome them, enjoy answering questions if I can, and accept appropriate donations for the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley. If I don’t answer your email, try again as sometimes they get lost among the hundreds of junk emails I get. Thanks to the “World Wide Web,” sometimes those contacts come from other countries.
Such was the case when I received an interesting email from Peter Terrill in Toowoomba, on the edge of the outback of Australia. His email opens a bit of a mystery.
Pete had an old envelope postmarked Verdugo City and wondered if the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley would like to have it.
“Of course!” I replied, and gave him a brief history of tiny Verdugo City. Pete sent along the envelope, along with what he could tell me about it. The envelope, yellowed and water damaged (probably from the high humidity of New Guinea), is a commemorative envelope. “Commemorating the return of the Wright Brothers’ airplane from England to the United States – Kitty Hawk” is emblazoned in a silver and blue graphic, and two airmail stamps totaling 21 cents are stuck on. It’s postmarked “Verdugo City Calif., Apr 20, 10 AM, 1950.” The address is beautifully lettered in an architectural lettering style: “Mr. I. L. Griffith, c/o Department of Lands, Port Moresby, Papua.”
So what was the envelope’s story? Was Mr. Griffith from Verdugo City, or was someone from Verdugo City making an inquiry? According to Pete, New Guinea in 1950 was reorganizing under Australian rule after the chaos of WWII. Much of the land in New Guinea, valuable for timber and mining, had belonged to German nationals pre-war. It was now being redistributed to Australian citizens under the authority of the Dept. of Lands. Perhaps Griffith was acting as an agent for an American looking for opportunities, or perhaps he was an American himself and simply receiving a letter from home via the Lands Office?
When Pete acquired the envelope it had no letter inside, only a batch of photos. Some of the photos were of old planes belonging to Trans Australian Airlines taken at Port Moresby. Others were of a volcanic eruption. Pete tracked down the eruption to a 1937 event near Rabaul, then in New Britain Provence, which had caused the evacuation of the city, some evacuating via the Trans Australian Airlines’ De Havilland Dragonflies shown in some photos. Was someone from Verdugo City sending those photos to Mr. Griffith as some sort of reference, or were the photos simply stored by someone in the envelope?
And what of Peter Terrill? Pete is someone like myself, with a deep and passionate interest in the past, and a strong desire to preserve the physical remnants of the lives of those who have lived before us. Pete’s a truck driver, piloting those famous multi-trailered “truck trains” of the Australian roads. Several decades ago, Pete’s wife worked at an antique shop in Toowoomba, and was the happy recipient of anything the store’s owner considered “junk.” The envelope was bundled with some old WWII Australian Army cap badges and army-issue razors. Pete picked up on the envelope because of the aviation theme of the photos inside, which he donated to the Trans Australian Airline Museum in Melbourne. Pete tossed the envelope into his old army trunk not knowing what to do with it. Recently he came across it again and, with the modern ability to look up Verdugo City on the Internet, he came across my email address. He felt the envelope deserved to “go home” after roaming the globe for 66 years.
Peter did some research on Griffith, and found no Australian “I. L. Griffith” that would fit that time and place, so perhaps he was American. Do any of my readers have some insight into this small mystery? Or perhaps we’ll never know the story behind this globe-trotting envelope.