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After 90 Years Hidden In The Floor, Couple's Love Letters Resurface In West Lebanon

They dusty and yellowed, but the ink and pencil lettering was still legible: 90-year-old letters written by Laura Johnson to the love of her life, Harold White.
Jennifer Carter, courtesy
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Nearly nine years of love letters from Laura Johnson to Harold White fell out of Jennifer Carter of West Lebanon, N.H.,'s ceiling and sent her searching for relatives of the couple still alive in the area.

Whenever you start a construction project, you never know what you’ll find: Pull off a floor and there’s rot underneath; Go try to string some wire and there’s a joist in the way.

And so when Jennifer Carter decided to work on her house in West Lebanon, New Hampshire, she was prepared for a surprise or two.

But when the contractor started pulling the ceiling down she never imagined that a nine-year courtship, that’s almost a century old, would be among the things revealed during construction.

“So they were pulling all the plaster and lathe off the ceiling, and on that north wall, these letters just came flying out of the ceiling on his head,” she says, laughing. “They were in these two big bundles.”

They dusty and yellowed, but the ink and pencil lettering was still legible: 90-year-old letters written by Laura Johnson to the love of her life, Harold White.

White was working for the railroad, and traveling back and forth to Brattleboro, Vermont. Johnson was left behind in the Upper Valley.

The letters span nearly nine-year, before they were married, during their courtship.

In one of the letters, Johnson writes:

My dearest baby, here I am, still up here, and expect to be until Tuesday. You may think it’s funny because I didn’t write you yesterday, but I didn’t get any letter from you, and that makes twice in one week. I like to get mail just as well as you.

"She wrote him apparently every day," Carter says. "And when she did not get a letter from him she was not pleased, and she voiced her displeasure. I think she was very progressive for the time!"

Carter was intrigued by Johnson and White, and she did some sleuthing.

Jennifer Carter stands inside her kitchen, which is being renovated. Carter was able to track down the grandchildren of Laura Johnson, who wrote the love letters that were stored up in the ceiling of Carter's home in West Lebanon, N.H.
Credit Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR
Jennifer Carter stands inside her kitchen, during renovation. Carter was able to track down Laura Johnson's grandchildren, after finding Johnson's love letters in the ceiling of her West Lebanon, New Hampshire home during renovation.

She checked old census reports and looked through local records. She found Johnson — buried in West Lebanon, Vermont.

Carter also learned that she had eleven siblings, and wondered if any relatives would be interested in the letters.

She put the word out on some local Facebook pages and within a few days she had connected with two of Johnson's grandkids who were living nearby. 

One of them, Shannon Kivler, now lives in Charlestown, New Hampshire. Kivler says she the story of her grandmother, Harold White and the nine years she worked to win his affection is well-known in her family. 

“I don’t know exactly when, but he had gotten injured, and he felt that he was not a complete man [as a result]," Kivler said. "And didn’t want to give himself to any woman that he felt deserved more, so my grandmother stayed after him. And eventually, she won out. And I’m here as proof.”

The couple was married for 40 years, and they had four children.

Kivler says Carter — the woman who found the letters — is now living in the house that was previously owned by her grandfather’s family. And knowing him, he probably stashed the letters under the floor and forgot about them.

Shannon Kivler says she used to stop by her grandmother's house in White River Junction almost every day after school. The letters reveal a nine-year courtship between her grandparents.
Credit Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR
Shannon Kivler says she used to stop by her grandmother's house in White River Junction almost every day after school. The letters document her grandparents' nine-year-long courtship

Kivler was really close to her grandmother.

They both lived in White River Junction when Kivler was growing up, and she would stop by in the afternoon, sharing many, many hours together.

And so it’s been intense, to find out, out of the blue, that there’s a personal record from 90 years ago, of someone who is so important to you.

“[It's] just an amazing feeling, knowing that you’re coming so close to someone,” said Kivler. “Even if it’s just their handwriting and their paper, coming so close to someone’s thoughts and feeling of someone that you cared so deeply for. So yeah, I struggled, I really struggled I didn’t sleep only but two hours the night that before I was to receive the letters.”

After connecting through Facebook with Carter, Kivler contacted her aunt, her grandmother’s last surviving daughter, who lives in Florida.

"The letters bring up both sides of those emotions, the happiness and the sadness of them being gone. But you can't take the good without the bad." — Shannon Kivler

She’s coming back to New England later this spring and she requested that the letters be put away so that she can be the first to read through them.

“It’s amazing, when I go back and think about them and how much I miss them,” Kivler says of her grandparents. “And of course the letters bring up both sides of those emotions, the happiness and the sadness of them being gone. But you can’t take the good without the bad, I guess.”

Kivler says her grandmother’s letters have been hidden away for 90 years, and so, she’ll just have to wait a few more months before she gets to read them all when her aunt arrives later this spring.

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