Should we be surprised that chain letters were appearing in mailboxes ‘way back as 1906? Probably not, but it’s interesting that they were still so unusual that the local newspaper deemed them newsworthy and necessary to debunk. If our ancestors were really so gullible, we are fortunate that the heirs of recently deceased Nigerian millionaires hadn’t yet discovered the U.S. mails.
According to a often-cited web article on the history of chain letters (Ex cathedra snopes.com), variations of this sort of “Letter from Heaven” began circulating in the late 1800s, but didn’t really take off until postcards became so popular in the early 20th century. That web page describes this exact message as a luck chain letter that started in 1906 and continued to circulate for a few years.
LOOK OUT! IT MAY REACH HERE
An “Endless Chain of Prayer” Traveling Through the Country is Said to be a Hoax
The endless chain of prayer that originated, according to rumor, with Bishop William Lawrence of the Episcopal Church of Massachusetts, and indignantly repudiated by him with emphatic denial of its authorship, recently struck Sacramento, and is having its run, the Union says.
The prayer is one for mercy to all mankind, followed by a statement that those who rewrite the prayer and sent it on enchain shall experience some great joy. It is added that it has been said at the Holy Feast of Jerusalem that whoever rewrites the prayer shall be delivered from some great calamity. Each recipient of a copy of the written prayer is requested to rewrite and send it to nine or ten friends. It has been traveling about Sacramento the last three weeks very diligently, somewhat enlarging Uncle Sam’s postal receipts. It may reach Santa Rosa.
It is regarded as a hoax, pure and simple. The religious press has denounced it as such and the clergy everywhere has blacked its eye mercilessly. Perhaps no one has spoken more bodly [sic] and incisively upon the subject that the Right Rev. Bishop W. H. Moreland, who says it is merely an appeal to the superstitious; that Bishop Lawrence, who was alleged to have been the author, is a level-headed prelate and a clear thinker, and did not, could not have concocted such a scheme, Bishop Moreland says Bishop Lawrence did everything in his power to deny the statement that he was the author of the letter. The letter, Bishop Moreland says, is not worthy of being called a prayer, as it appeals only to fears and superstitions. He considers it an affront to the hearty instincts of any man.– Press Democrat, October 26, 1906
The “Prayer Chain” Arrives
Mention was made the other day of the “endless prayer chain,” that would probably reach Santa Rosa before long. It has arrived and quite a number of Santa Rosans have received copies from friends, known and unknown, asking them to rewrite and forward the prayer to their friends. One young lady received the prayer from a friend in Petaluma so it is evident it has reached there also.– Press Democrat, October 27, 1906