Monday, April 16, 2018

From the readers: "Mark Felt" weighs in on mystery postcard

A few weeks ago, Papergreat featured an old postcard of Madison Square Garden with an note on the back that many of us fretted over.

The note goes like this:
I am going over to Brooklyn. it is 2 o'clock a.m.
[???] in this Joint are no good.
What was the [???], we wondered. Possibilities we came up with were:

  • Jews
  • Jeus (a misspelling of the above?)
  • Tens (a shortening of tenants?)
  • Something else

A frequent and brilliant contributor, who goes by the code name "Mark Felt," has checked in to offer another possibility. And it has a lot of merit. Here is Felt's full comment and interpretation:
The abbreviation "Tens" refers to "Tenements", squalid living quarters common in lower Manhattan at the turn of the century.

Note the cursive uppercase "T" which contrasts markedly with the cursive uppercase "J" in "Joint".

Furthermore, leaving Manhattan for Brooklyn as a means of avoiding individuals of Jewish heritage would have been counterproductive, then as now.

The writer and sender of this postcard was one John ("Johnnie") H. Moulfair (1901-1964), son of John Sipert Moulfair (1880-1946) and the addressee Miriam M. (Selin) Moulfair (1882-1963). All names and dates are readily found on

The exact year of issue of the 1¢ stamp is no simple task from [this] website alone, but should be between 1908 and 1923.

Still, if Johnnie were out and about in Manhattan at 2 AM — and if his postcard were postmarked at 2:30 AM — and based on the level of his handwriting and his date of birth in 1901, this card was most likely written and mailed in the early 1920s.
That's some solid sleuthwork by Felt on the Moulfair family. And, I have to admit, a strong case has now been made for the mystery word being an abbreviation of tenements. What does everyone else think?


  1. It just sez "Pens". Compare the P to the one in "Penna" (nearly identical, except where the former faded), and note the lousiness of the pen the writer is using in several places --- most significantly, in the two letters right before the sentence in question, which had to be gone over more than once.

    1. My jaw just hit the floor. This might be my new favorite theory. It boggles the mind to think that someone might have used 50% of the postcard message to complain about the pen they are using.

  2. The writer may very well have intended to write "pen", but not in the sense of a writing utensil, rather "any small enclosure in which someone or something can be confined".

    See definition 1.2 under the second section here:

    That would make more sense in the context of the postcard.

    -- M.F.