ATHENS, Ga. - Talk about a dead letter.
In 1948, an envelope mailed from Athens, with four 3-cent stamps and no return address, was lost during its journey to 155 Harvester Ave. in Batavia, N.Y., the home of one F. Fromm.
It finally reached its destination, to the bewilderment of James and Gina Elmore, who now live at the address, on March 28.
When she saw the envelope, Mrs. Elmore was concerned about the anthrax mailings that followed the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"I was afraid to open it," said Mrs. Elmore, a cook at a neighborhood restaurant in Batavia. "But I did anyway ... out of curiosity more than anything else."
When she opened the yellowed envelope, which had three corrected zip codes scrawled on the front, she was puzzled by what she found.
"A piece of cardboard ... that's all," she said.
After showing the envelope to her husband, a history buff, the couple began researching the mysterious F. Fromm.
What the Elmores found, after visiting their local library, the land office and the Genesee County History Department, was that F. Fromm was Frank Fromm, a carpenter who had lived in their home, died in 1961 and was buried in a cemetery down the street.
The Elmores eventually tracked down 60-year-old Batavia resident Tom Casey, Mr. Fromm's great-nephew and closest living relative, who soon provided another piece of the puzzle.
Mr. Fromm was an avid stamp collector.
Mr. Casey, who learned what he knew about stamp collecting from his uncle, told the couple that the stamps on the envelope - bearing the likeness of Georgia native and schoolteacher Moina Michael, who developed the annual World War I memorial poppy distribution program - were collector's items, issued four years after Ms. Michael's death in 1948.
Typically, said Mr. Casey, a fellow collector would visit a stamp show and mail collector stamps affixed to an envelope from the area where the event on the stamp occurred, hence the Athens postmark for the Michael stamp. The cardboard was inserted to keep the envelope from being damaged in transit.
Now, 54 years later, the four stamps have completed the long journey from Athens through time to Mr. Casey's hands.
As for where the envelope was for 54 years, Michael Miles, communications program specialist at the Atlanta District of the U.S. Postal Service, said that's a mystery likely never to be solved.
"It could have gotten stuck behind a piece of machinery or was probably not in the post office's possession for all those years," he said. "But that's definitely the longest I've heard of something being lost in the mail."