I have always been intrigued by the idea of the dead letter office. All those stories that went missing. Before you remind me that some large proportion of those letters are bills and advertisements, let me say: I don’t care.
You can see by this photo that the post office has been dealing with undeliverable mail for a long time. There’s no date on the photo, but based on the rest of the series taken in the same setting and the clothing, it looks to be turn of the 20th century. If you really study the photo all kinds of interesting details pop out. For example: a fence separating the female office workers from… what? The supervisor (male, of course) looks very young, compared to some of the women. And the woman in the foreground who is looking at the camera. She’s slightly out of focus.
My urge is to find out all I can about the way the dead letter office functioned. How were these women trained? How much money did they earn, and what were their hours? Were some of them bilingual? Because it’s likely that a large proportion of the mail was not in English.
Imagine reading letter after letter that never found the person it was written for. Someone in Poland writing to a new immigrant in Manhattan, asking when the promised boat ticket is coming. A woman in New Mexico writing to a brother in Brooklyn to say that their mother is dying, and she’s asking for him. The possibilities are endless, and so are the way these stories are perceived by the women who open and read them.
This would be a fantastic setting for a mystery.