Heart of Louisiana: Letters

When was the last time you sat down and wrote a letter with pen and ink?
Published: Apr. 2, 2023 at 5:39 PM CDT|Updated: Apr. 2, 2023 at 10:49 PM CDT

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - When was the last time you sat down and wrote a letter with pen and ink? For many, it may be a lost art, but there is an effort to revive letter writing at a state historic site where John James Audubon once lived.

Writing a letter the old-fashioned way is a process. There’s the quill or maybe something more modern, a bottle of ink, the skill of writing cursive, a thoughtful note, the melting of wax, and a final seal before mailing.

“So I’m really fortunate that I learned cursive writing when I was in elementary school,” Michaela Brown said.

Michaela Brown is a historian and ranger at the Oakley house, part of the Audubon state historic site in St. Francisville. This is where naturalist John James Audubon lived for a few months in 1821, while he tutored the owner’s daughter. It’s also where he painted 32 of his remarkable drawings of the birds of America. Brown has studied old, handwritten letters at Oakley house. As a person who enjoys history, is that where a lot of the history comes from letters?

“It provides us this intimate glimpse into the past that you really can’t get another way, and in the process of transcribing these old letters from the 1840s, and 1850s from our archives, you truly feel like you get to know that person,” Brown said.

Brown leads a class that she hopes will rekindle a little interest in handwritten letters.

“Their handwriting had to be written at a 52-degree angle. The process of putting your thoughts to paper is also just really beautiful. It makes your mind kind of work in a different way than I think if you type,” Brown said.

Visitors get an introduction to using pen and ink.

“This is a dip pen and this is something that they would’ve used in the 19th century,” said Brown.

Then it’s time to practice the old cursive style of forming letters.

“Principle one is one line, principle two is a curved line like that,” Brown said.

After a little practice, the guests take a few minutes to carefully craft their letters. So what are a couple of tips for writing a really good letter?

“I think a good letter is a mix of telling the person about yourself and about what’s new with you, and then you ask about them, ask a few questions, ask them. So I think that’s key is to ask a question so that’ll encourage them to then write back and you’re gonna at the bottom and fold it up,” Brown said.

After the letters are finished, there is a proper way to fold the paper so it can be mailed without an envelope.

“I went ahead and added some wax.

The final step is melting wax over a candle and then carefully pouring it to seal the folded letter.

“We had the most fun ever and I wrote a letter to my daughter and I wrote some famous old sayings that I love,” Toni Nershi said.

“Whoever receives it, I guarantee will be so touched that you took the time to think about them and that you wanted to reach out,” Brown said.

It’s a fun way to perhaps rekindle a little interest in what may become the lost art of handwriting.

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