Greenfield story of long-ago love has reverberated across the globe

  • A love letter written in 1944 found in the kitchen wall of a Chapman Street home. Contributed Photo—

  • A love letter written in 1944 found in the kitchen wall of a Chapman Street home. Contributed Photo—

  • A love letter written in 1944 found in the kitchen wall of a Chapman Street home. Contributed Photo—

Recorder Staff
Tuesday, December 26, 2017

GREENFIELD — The Christmas miracle that began in Greenfield over the long weekend has now been told around the world.

Greenfield Police Department helped to try to find the recipient of a 1940s love letter found recently in the kitchen wall of a Chapman Street home and became inundated with inquiries and tips as the story spread among national and international media looking for a feel-good story on a slow holiday weekend.

On Saturday night, right before leaving for a family dinner, Lt. William Gordon re-blogged a post about the long-lost letter originally put online by a friend, Francesca Passiglia, on the department’s Facebook page.

While recently firing electrical wiring in her home, Passiglia discovered the letter, dated April 19, 1944, and addressed to Betty Miller of 360 Chapman St. from “your loving pal, Walter.”

“I have always thought more of you than any other girl, and still do, and please try to believe me. I most sincerely hope that I can somehow make you understand what I mean,” Walter writes in the letter, declaring undying affection for “my dearest Betty.”

When Gordon returned home a few hours later, “I found out it was on national news — the New York Times, Washington Post, all of them.”

“It went viral. Literally across the globe. We got comments from people in Czechoslovakia, Romania,” Gordon said. “It was in Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, the UK.”

By Christmas Day, the Greenfield Police Department’s post had been shared more than 200 times and commented on by dozens of people. The department’s dispatch center became so flooded with curious callers that Gordon released a public statement asking people to stop calling the office number.

Eventually, those following the mystery figured out who the real Betty Miller was. Through the crowd-sourced sleuthing, Passiglia connected with one of Betty Miller’s sisters.

“Mystery solved! We just spent the afternoon with Mrs. Irene Fournier, Betty’s youngest sister who is currently in her 90s. In 1944 Betty was 14. She graduated from (Greenfield High School) four years later. Irene told us Betty dated two Walters in high school. They were both good dancers, so she can’t tell which one wrote the letter,” Passiglia said in a subsequent Facebook update.

“Betty went on to marry someone else and lived a long and happy life. She passed away several years ago from cancer. Spending the afternoon with (her sister) Mrs. Fournier is proof positive of a Christmas miracle. She grew up in our house decades ago with five siblings and lived there until she married,” Passiglia wrote.

Fournier’s husband died this year, Gordon said. Thus, the Christmas mystery was “a good distraction.”

According to an obituary published in the Journal Inquirer from Manchester, Conn., Betty (Miller) Elmer died on June 24, 2004. She was survived by four children and husband Marshall D. Elmer, who later died in 2011.

As for the real Walter, “We’re still looking. We don’t know who Walter is,” Gordon said. “We don’t have much to go on except for the very end, his signature.

“The big wonder is if Walter was in the military. Did he survive the war? Why did she marry someone else?”

You can reach Andy Castillo

at: acastillo@recorder.com

or 413-772-0261, ext. 263 On Twitter: @AndyCCastillo