Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Support NHPR's local journalism that brings clarity, context, and community!

10.8.14: Soldier's Farewell Letters, Grief Can Kill, & Good Gig

Pimthida via flickr Creative Commons

From the Trojan war to the current war in Afghanistan, soldiers have been penning farewell letters for centuries. On today’s show, a look into the deeply private “death letter” tradition throughout history.

Then, we’ll kick off our new series, “Good Gig”, with a rare bookseller who found his dream job among the binders on a dusty shelf.

Listen to the full show and click Read more for individual segments.

Death Letters

  • As a cultural advisor in Afghanistan, Carol Burke experienced first hand, the tradition of soldiers sending home 'death letters', a message to be read should they not make it back. She wrote about the death letter tradition throughout history for Narratively, "To Be Read in the Event of My Death."
  • You can watch clips from Ken Burns' documentary The Civil War, which includes the letter featured in this story, at the PBS website. The Civil War.
Death Letters From Soldiers

Broken Hearts Can Kill

  • Researchers at the University of Birmingham in England have found that a broken heart can kill the elderly by severely taxing the immune system. Dr. Anna Phillips is lead author of the study and shared her findings with us.

Broken Hearts Can Kill

Library of Dust

  • Between 1913 and 1971, the remains of over 5,000 patients were cremated on the grounds of the Oregon state psychiatric hospital. Their ashes were sealed, individually, in copper canisters. In 1976, the hospital moved these to a memorial vault underground and pretty much forgot about them. Artist David Maisel first saw them in 2005 and has since created a photographic series of them entitled "Library of Dust". Producer Sarah Lilley brings us the story.
  • You can listen to this story at

Good Gig

  • Ken Gloss is proprietor of the Brattle Book Shop in Boston, one of the largest – and oldest- antiquarian bookshops in the country. He is also been an appraiser of rare books and manuscripts for The Antiques Roadshow since 1998.
  • You can find photographs of the books Ken brought into the studio and listen to the full interview with Virginia at this link.

Related Content

You make NHPR possible.

NHPR is nonprofit and independent. We rely on readers like you to support the local, national, and international coverage on this website. Your support makes this news available to everyone.

Give today. A monthly donation of $5 makes a real difference.