Time Trave; The Post Office; Mailing That Letter

I really thought this would have been answered already. I found nothing in the archives and searching the boards froze my IE twice.

So anyway, in Back to the Future III, Marty gets a letter from 1885. The guy delivering it was like “We all had a bet whether you’d be here. Guess I lost!” In Quantum Leap, Sam mails a letter from the 60s to the future so they could open the imaging chamber for him.

Would that really be possible. If I wrote a letter with such instructions as “Do not deliver until 1999” in 1960, would they just throw it away? Would it sit on a shelf somewhere forever with all the Santa letters and unreadable letters or something?

If I mailed a letter right now to some address that does not exist, and say “Do not deliver until 2025”. And then I buy some property in 2020, make a street to my house and number the house the same as the address on that letter - could I expect to receive that old letter?

Any USPS or UPS etc. people here who could tell me what you’d do with such a letter. And/or what people 100 years would have done with such a letter.

My memory is notoriously fluid – but didn’t Marty receive his letter via Western Union at the end of Back To The Future, part 2?

Nitpick. I know. Just curious if it helps answer the query.

Errrr Yeah, but it was also at the Begining or Part III.

We’ll add Western Union to the list as well. How would they have handled that 100 years ago? What about now?

What Sam Beckett actually did was he mailed a letter to an attorney, with money and instructions to mail a second enclosed letter at the appointed time.

Australian postal employee here (but I’ll wager what I have to say goes equally for the USPS):

Delivery would be attempted to the address shown on the article within the promised delivery window ( a day or two, whatever). I don’t think any postal administration in the world would hold on to it.

In specific cases, the Australian postal administration will hold delivery until a certain date, but this is for certain very specific bulk mailings, most notably the HSC (senior high school exam results), which would need to be delivered on the same day all over the country (so some for remote areas would be processed early, and others would be held on to). A private individual posting one letter would not be able to ask for such a delivery delay.

Thanks, TheLoadedDog! What would you do, though, if the address on the letter did not exist and there was no return address. Would it be sent somewhere - like some room with letters that could not be delivered. Would it just be destroyed? Would it be re-attempted regularly (yearly or something?) until it could be delivered?

Doesn’t the USPS at least have a place where all the Dear Santa letters go? Or was that just in a movie. If that place does exist, would it go there and collect dust for years until maybe one day someone saw it again?

Undeliverable letters with no return address in the U.S. are given over to the USPS Mail Recovery Center (Formerly the Dead Letter Office).

The USPS now puts this mail up for public auction through e-bay. So there is no chance that it will stick around for 25 years.

Wow, they auction it off? Guess that makes sense!

From that link is this FAQ:
"3. I wish to purchase an item on eBay from the USPS Mail Recovery Center. What methods of shipment are available?

All items sold on eBay will only be shipped via the United States Postal Service. The estimated shipping and handling costs are listed in the item description of each item."

This one just made me laugh! Wouldn’t it be funny if the Post Office shipped it’s auctioned items via Fedex?

They had a much better solution for this on Babylon 5. Commander Sinclair goes back in time 1000 years, founds a religion, and tells the priests to hold on to this box for 1000 years and not open it.

1000 years later they open it, and inside is a letter – to Commander Sinclair.

Re: Letters to Santa, theer is a city they go to, I believe in Indiana, with the town name of Santa Claus. They have people there who actually answer some of the letters which request answers. (i.e.: What do your reindeer eat, etc.)

Re: Letters to Santa, theer is a city they go to, I believe in Indiana, with the town name of Santa Claus. They have people there who actually answer some of the letters which request answers. (i.e.: What do your reindeer eat, etc.)

Brit postman here.
First of all Santa letters do not sit on a shelf, they are delivered to the man himself in Lapland and little Johnnie/Jeannie gets a reply (usually in February) :wink:
Second. If you mailed a letter with instructions for it to be delivered in 2025 it would be endorsed RTS and marked ‘inaccesible’ because quite simply the postal authorities have no way of knowing if the address will exist in that year.
Third.Mail that is undelivered for any reason does not sit on a shelf, it is sent to our DLB (dead letter branch) they open it and if a return address is found it goes back, if no return address it is destroyed.
On a more positive side we have delivered letters that were written in the trenches of WW1 and have for some reason been mislaid, some of these letters have actually been delivered to the very person that wrote them all those years ago.

Ah, so you DO hold onto letters for 80 years or so and then deliver them … :smiley:

Don’t remember BTTF 2 or 3, not sure if I’ve even seen it …but is it not possible that a lawyer’s firm or something similar was given the letter in 1885 , with instructions to deliver it at the appropriate time ? That fits with the dialog cited.

So you couldn’t send a letter like that directly, but it could be arranged .

Bear_Nenno, the others have answered for me. Australia Post has a Dead Letter Office where an attempt will first be made to decipher any clues on the article for a delivery or return address, and failing that, the article will be opened for clues. If an address is found inside, the letter will be forwarded inside an official post office envelope, along with a note explaining why it was opened. If no address information can be found inside, then the article will be retained for a specific time period (in case it is claimed), and then destroyed. Valuables go to auction. The “sanctity of the mails” is taken very seriously though, and 99.99% of postal employees would never open a letter. You have to work in the Dead Letter Office, and have a special clearance.

Now when an Australian kid posts a letter to “SANTA NORTH POLE” (preferably with the N’s backwards and in crayon if the little bugger has any sense of style and tradition), we literally do have a pigeon hole / OCR sorting machine output for “Santa Mail”. It doesn’t go to the Dead Letter Office. It’s bundled up and taken to a bunch of clerks somewhere who send the kid (if he or she has given a return address) a reasonably convincing form letter from “Santa”. It’s about the only thing that makes me feel proud to work for that institution. If you can do passable childlike handwriting, and you are careful how you word your name and address, this service is also good to misuse. Heheheh. You can get letters from Santa sent to your boss, the president of the local chapter of the Gypsy Jokers motorcycle club, Secretary-Manager of the Skeptics’ Association, that kinda thing…

Nope, it was Western Union.