Grab the Tissue Box, Because these Historical Letters are Heartbreaking
Grab the Tissue Box, Because these Historical Letters are Heartbreaking

Grab the Tissue Box, Because these Historical Letters are Heartbreaking

Shannon Quinn - October 31, 2022

Grab the Tissue Box, Because these Historical Letters are Heartbreaking
For hundreds of years, this letter from a widow to her dead husband survived in a South Korean tomb. Credit: Letters of Note

“How Could You Go Ahead of Me?”

In 1998, there was an excavation of a tomb in South Korea, and they uncovered the mummified body of a 30-year old man named Eung-Tae Lee. On his chest, there was a letter from his pregnant wife, who was grieving his death.

“June 1, 1586

You always said, ‘Dear, let’s live together until our hair turns gray and die on the same day.’ How could you pass away without me? Who should I and our little boy listen to and how should we live? How could you go ahead of me?

Whenever we lay down together you always told me, ‘Dear, do other people cherish and love each other like we do? Are they really like us?’ How could you leave all that behind?

I just cannot live without you. Please take me to where you are. I cannot forget in this world and my sorrow knows no limit. Where would I put my heart in now and how can I live with the child missing you?

Please look at this letter and tell me in detail in my dreams. Look closely and talk to me.

When I give birth to the child in me, who should it call father? Can anyone fathom how I feel? There is no tragedy like this under the sky. You are just in another place, and not in such deep grief as I am. There is no limit and end to my sorrows that I write roughly. I believe I can see you in my dreams. Come to me secretly and show yourself. There is no limit to what I want to say.”

Grab the Tissue Box, Because these Historical Letters are Heartbreaking
This letter was from Alan Turning to his friend Norman Routledge. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

“Yours in Distress”

Alan Turing was a mathematician and one of the lead codebreakers during World War II. Many of you may have seen his life story in the movie The Imitation Game. In 1952, he was charged with “gross indecency” for having a homosexual relationship with another man. His punishment was either imprisonment or chemical castration. He chose castration. Just two years later, when he was 41 years old, he committed suicide. Here is a letter he wrote to his friend Norman Routledge just before he plead guilty to the charges.

“My dear Norman,

I don’t think I really do know much about jobs, except the one I had during the war. It certainly involved a good deal of hard thinking, but whether you’d be interested I don’t know. However I am not at present in a state in which I am able to concentrate well, for reasons explained in the next paragraph.

I’ve now got myself into the kind of trouble that I have always considered to be quite a possibility for me. Though I have usually rated it at about 10:1 against. I shall shortly be pleading guilty to a charge of sexual offences with a young man. The story of how it all came to be found out is a long and fascinating one, which I shall have to make into a short story one day.. No doubt I shall emerge from it all a different man, but quite who I’ve not found out.

I’m afraid that the following syllogism may be used by some in the future.

Turing believes machines think

Turing lies with men

Therefore machines do not think

Yours in distress,


Grab the Tissue Box, Because these Historical Letters are Heartbreaking

Grab the Tissue Box, Because these Historical Letters are Heartbreaking
The grave stone of a woman named Emmie who left a love letter behind. Credit: Letters of Note

“I Am Here in the Sunset”

At the Mount Auburn Cemetery in Massachusetts, this grave stone has an inscription of a love letter written by a woman named Emmie to the love she left behind.

“My Sweet Sumner,

I am very sorry that I had to go, it was simply my time. You were always the stronger of us. I could never have held the tiller for you as you did for me in such dark and ravaging seas. In my days of passage you were, as I knew you would be, perfect.

I have left the stage but I will never leave you. I am in a thousand places that will always be ours. Look for me in the sunsets, the ones that marry the light of a yawning day to the bright pink billowed clouds of a western sky. These are my sunsets not yours. Live my sweet Sumner, live with every ounce of love that you still have to give. Do not question this hunger that still rides within your warm and pounding heart. If you get lonely just look for me. I am there in the sunset, listen closely and I will whisper my blessing.

Forever Your Valentine,


Grab the Tissue Box, Because these Historical Letters are Heartbreaking
The tragic letter from a mother to the Navy. Credit: Letters of Note

“It Was Hard to Give Five Sons to the Navy”

“Waterloo, Iowa

January 1943

Bureau of Naval Personnel

Dear Sirs:

I am writing to you in regards to a rumor going around that my five sons were killed in action in November. A mother from here came and told me she got a letter from her son and he heard my five sons were killed.

It is all over town now, and I am so worried. My five sons joined the Navy together a year ago, Jan. 3, 1942. They are on the Cruiser, U.S.S. JUNEAU. The last I heard from them was Nov. 8th. That is, it was dated Nov 8th, U.S. Navy. Their names are, George T., Francis Henry, Joseph E., Madison A., and Albert L. If it is so, please let me know the truth.

I am to christen the U.S.S. TAWASA, Feb. 12th, at Portland, Oregon. If anything has happened to my five sons, I will still christen the ship as it was their wish that I do so. I hated to bother you, but it has worried me so that I wanted to know if it was true. So please tell me. It was hard to give five sons all at once to the Navy, but I am proud of my boys that they can serve and help protect their country. George and Francis served four years on the U.S.S. HOVEY, and I had the pleasure to go aboard their ship in 1937.

I am so happy the Navy has bestowed the honor on me to christen the U.S.S. TAWASA. My husband and daughter are going to Portland with me. I remain,


Mrs. Alleta Sullivan”


How did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

WWII love letters tell of romance and tragedy. The Washington Post. 2015

Titanic Letter Archives. Diary File. 2022

History’s most powerful and poignant break-up letters. Stylist. 2000.

Letters of Note. 2022