Before computers and e-mail and using the phone was costly for long distance, people would use the mail (snail mail) almost exclusively to communicate.

One of the entertaining activities of those earlier days was to play chess through the mail.

Each contestant would set up his own board. One would send a letter to the other, describing what move he had made. His opponent would make that move on his board. Then he would mail out what he had made for a counter-move.

Clayton Eldredge and Reuben Hopkins, both avid and excellent players, were two who enjoyed such a competition. Reuben lived in Orleans, and Clayton lived in Melrose. Further, Dick Nickerson, of Nickerson Funeral Home fame, had taken a room with the Eldredge family, as he was stationed nearby in the Navy in WWII.

One day Dick arrived home while Clayton’s wife was opening up the mail. Because they saw Reuben’s return address on one of the letters, they knew that it contained Reuben’s latest move. Deviltry consumed them. They steamed open the envelope and read what move Reuben had made. With an evil laugh, Dick erased the move that Reuben had made and substituted another, a disastrously poor one. Clayton came home and asked for the mail.

“My God!! Reuben has lost his mind and has thrown the game. This is the dumbest move I’ve ever seen!!”

The secret lasted for years.

Sam Sherman

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