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The Time Young Fidel Castro Asked FDR for $10

The year: 1940. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was residing in the White House; a 14-year-old Fidel Castro was studying at a boarding school, Colegio Dolores in Santiago, Cuba. Fidel read about Roosevelt’s re-election and, on a whim, decided to drop one of the most powerful men in the world a line. (In the letter, he says he's 12.) At the time, Fidel's allowance was only 80 cents a month and he apparently saw an opportunity to increase his income.

“My good friend Roosvelt [sic],” the note begins rather chummily, and then goes on to say, “If you like, give me a ten dollars bill green american, in the letter, because never, I have not seen a ten dollars bill green american and I would like to have one of them.”

Maybe hoping to entice FDR to include that coveted bill, Castro added a postscript: “If you want iron to make your ships I will show to you the bigest minas of iron of the land. They are in Mayari Oriente Cuba."

As most presidents do, Roosevelt had staff specifically assigned to answer low-priority correspondence such as this.

So Castro did receive a response. It briefly thanked the young Cuban for his “letter of support and congratulations.” Though Fidel was pleased that “FDR” (it was really the U.S. Embassy in Havana) responded accordingly - he even posted the letter on a bulletin board at his school - he was annoyed that no cash was included.

Something tells me he’s seen plenty of those green bills since then.

Obviously, the President of the United States receives thousands and thousands of letters from children every year. So how was this innocuous, nearly 40-year-old letter discovered in 1977? The official story is that a researcher was combing through a bound volume of State Department documents that were about to be declassified. The signature caught his eye, he realized the historical impact, and the letter was made public.

Check out the whole handwritten letter (Castro's cursive is pretty impressive) over at Letters of Note.

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By Ben Wittick (1845–1903) - Brian Lebel's Old West Show and Auction, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
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History
Photo of Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett, Purchased for $10, Could Be Worth Millions
By Ben Wittick (1845–1903) - Brian Lebel's Old West Show and Auction, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
By Ben Wittick (1845–1903) - Brian Lebel's Old West Show and Auction, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Several years ago, Randy Guijarro paid $2 for a few old photographs he found in an antiques shop in Fresno, California. In 2015, it was determined that one of those photos—said to be the second verified picture ever found of Billy the Kid—could fetch the lucky thrifter as much as $5 million. That story now sounds familiar to Frank Abrams, a lawyer from North Carolina who purchased his own photo of the legendary outlaw at a flea market in 2011. It turns out that the tintype, which he paid $10 for, is thought to be an image of Billy and Pat Garrett (the sheriff who would eventually kill him) taken in 1880. Like Guijarro’s find, experts say Abrams’s photo could be worth millions.

The discovery is as much a surprise to Abrams as anyone. As The New York Times reports, what drew Abrams to the photo was the fact that it was a tintype, a metal photographic image that was popular in the Wild West. Abrams didn’t recognize any of the men in the image, but he liked it and hung it on a wall in his home, which is where it was when an Airbnb guest joked that it might be a photo of Jesse James. He wasn’t too far off.

Using Google as his main research tool, Abrams attempted to find out if there was any famous face in that photo, and quickly realized that it was Pat Garrett. According to The New York Times:

Then, Mr. Abrams began to wonder about the man in the back with the prominent Adam’s apple. He eventually showed the tintype to Robert Stahl, a retired professor at Arizona State University and an expert on Billy the Kid.

Mr. Stahl encouraged Mr. Abrams to show the image to experts.

William Dunniway, a tintype expert, said the photograph was almost certainly taken between 1875 and 1880. “Everything matches: the plate, the clothing, the firearm,” he said in a phone interview. Mr. Dunniway worked with a forensics expert, Kent Gibson, to conclude that Billy the Kid and Mr. Garrett were indeed pictured.

Abrams, who is a criminal defense lawyer, described the process of investigating the history of the photo as akin to “taking on the biggest case you could ever imagine.” And while he’s thrilled that his epic flea market find could produce a major monetary windfall, don’t expect to see the image hitting the auction block any time soon. 

"Other people, they want to speculate from here to kingdom come,” Abrams told The New York Times of how much the photo, which he has not yet had valuated, might be worth. “I don’t know what it’s worth. I love history. It’s a privilege to have something like this.”

[h/t: The New York Times]

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