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Mail Finally Delivered: A Remarkable 9/11 Journey

Mail recovered on the streets of lower Manhattan during the 9/11 attacks that is to be displayed in the 9/11 Memorial Museum. (Staff photo) Mail recovered on the streets of lower Manhattan during the 9/11 attacks that is to be displayed in the 9/11 Memorial Museum. (Staff photo)

A week after the 9/11 attacks, Charles and Lawry Meister received an unexpected overnight package at their California home in the Pacific Palisades. The Meisters were skeptical at first. The delivery happened to coincide with the recent news of anthrax-infected mailings. But the package posed no danger, however.  The Meisters opened it and found a torn and slightly damp powder-covered red envelope. Postmarked “Sept. 10, 2001” from Portsmouth, N.H., the enclosed envelope yielded the tattered remains of a wedding rehearsal dinner invitation. There was also a handwritten note on Waldorf Astoria Hotel stationery that read:

“Dear Sir/Madam:

Found this on the street on the 11th September 2001 downtown Manhattan.

Thought you’d appreciate having it. Yours, Raviv Shtaingos”

On the morning of 9/11, while attending a business conference in lower Manhattan, the London-based Shtaingos had evacuated from an office building near the World Trade Center when he saw a red envelope amid the dust and debris.  Instinctively, he scooped it up and put it in his pocket.  A few days later after returning to England, Shtaingos remembered the envelope he had placed in his pocket for safekeeping and decided to send it to the intended recipients, urged on by his girlfriend.

“Sending the envelope that fell to the ground was my unremarkable act of defiance to the chaos,” Shtaingos said, “Remarkably it survived when so much else did not.”

It was surmised that the letter had been aboard one of the hijacked flights that crashed into the twin towers. It seemed the only explanation for the letter’s misdirected journey from Portsmouth to the chaotic streets of downtown New York on the morning of September 11. Both flights were bound from Boston’s Logan Airport, carrying passengers, crew members and cargo, including U.S. mail, to Los Angeles.

It is remarkable a paper envelope drifted to the street relatively intact given the jetliners’ speed, the force of impact and the fiery explosions that ensued. What is equally extraordinary is that a young man, anxious and fearful for his life, would stop to pick up the envelope during an escalating disaster. His subsequent mission to unite the envelope, with its unknown contents, to the Pacific Palisades address for which it was intended reveals a human side to the story, a sense of responsibility and thoughtfulness demonstrated by a stranger to strangers during a time of international sorrow. The Meisters recently decided to make the 9/11 Memorial Museum the new last stop in the odyssey of this piece of personal mail.

By Jan Seidler Ramirez, Chief Curator and Director of Collections