Rae Record Interview

This seventh in our Interview Series contains a wonderful gift for the letterboxing world.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

  • " . . . Letterboxing is a spawning ground for respect, kindness, compassion, appreciation, creativity, adventure, and a genuine love of nature. . . "

    Rae Record

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    Rae Record's Biography

    First, thanks, Mark and Sue, for your enthusiasm and love of the hobby. Your blog is a prime example of how letterboxing encourages and inspires imagination and creation. I love your site.

    I’m from the South. I was born in Arkansas in 1947, moved to east Texas when I was 3, and lived there and in the Dallas area until 1992. At that time, I was a CPA working in a partnership with my brother developing accounting software in the securities industry. Then my husband’s career brought us unexpectedly to Massachusetts.

    I might as well have moved to a foreign country! I understood about one in every five words people said in New England. We landed in this state in Sturbridge on Thanksgiving. The next week started the streak of what I fondly refer to as the 100-Year Storms. Every week a blizzard hit, and every week the folks in the area said, “That’s the worst storm we’ve had in a hundred years!” I thought New Englanders had extremely short memories.

    After 136 inches of snow and 5 months of braving the weekly blizzards in search of our permanent home, I found myself crossing the Sagamore Bridge over Cape Cod Canal. It was April and Sandwich was abloom with one million daffodils. I had not heard of Cape Cod before, but I knew this would be my new home. We moved to Mashpee on Memorial Day of 1993.

    My first guest was a deer tick! I battled tick borne illness for the next 5 years. In 1998, when I was in the last year of treatment, letterboxing in the USA was born. My thinking about life in all respects was permanently altered. Every moment that I could, I wanted to be out – on the Cape - in New England - seeing it, feeling it, loving it, rejoicing in it.

    There’s a custom on the Cape that when you have lived here for 10 years, you move up in social status from a “Tourist” to a “Wash-A-Shore.” In 1993 when I passed that milestone, I was informed that I couldn’t be a Wash-A-Shore and still talk like I do! My Dad, on the other hand, says that I am no longer a Southerner because I talk too fast. So, right now, I guess I’m a “Tween!”

    Interviewer's Note

    While waiting in line for the event stamp at the Mansfield Monster Mash, I was talking to a few CT friends who had just arrived: Rubaduc, RTRW and Bookworm. I turned and started a conversation with an attractive, diminutive woman behind me. After about five minutes of conversation, I introduced myself to this charming stranger and she did the same. It was Rae Record. (Anyone who has done any kind of research or noticed that great photo of the very first letterboxing gathering held in 1999 at the Inn at the Beginning in Vermont will recognize her name. Rae took that photo that became a bit of letterboxing history.) I seized the moment, told her about our little interview series and asked if she would be interested. It was very flattering when she responded that she would and of course she knew of the series!

    But, it seems, the photo that Rae took in 1999 was only the beginning. This interview contains a most wonderful gift that I've touted all over the Yahoo talk lists. As you read this interview, I trust you will agree. Sue and I are most honored that Rae not only granted us this interview but took the time involved to make it such a special and memorable one.

    Rae: you got me and you got me good!

    1999 Vermont Letterboxing Convention
    Killington, VT at The Inn at the Beginning
    First Official Gathering Held in the US
    Photo courtesy of Letterboxing.org
    Photo taken by Rae Record

    Please tell us about your original involvement in letterboxing. What year was it and how did you come to discover this pastime?

    Like thousands since, it was the friend-of-a-friend thing. Our friend Sylvia Lynn Moore in Plano, TX, who is a fabulous artist, saw the Smithsonian article and found the web site. Lynn and her daughter placed one of the first Texas letterboxes that summer in East Plano Park. (I think Julie may have placed one in Garland first). Lynn introduced this newfound hobby to another friend of ours from Plano - Fred Lorch, who had moved to Massachusetts a year after we did. A few weeks after his return, he spent Thanksgiving with us and showed us Lynn’s letterbox on the L-USA site.

    We spent all night looking up the maybe 30 or so letterboxes that had been placed in the US
    at that point. They were spread sparsely throughout the country. Massachusetts had two boxes placed by Bonnie Sennot. Tom Cooch and Eric and Susan Davis had 12 or so placed in Vermont and Danielle had one in New Hampshire. I thought we lived in the letterboxing capital of the US to have so many here! We got a huge kick out of where the letterboxes were hidden and the ingenuity of those who had placed them. We were very excited over this… well, Fred and I were. My hubby Jerry thought we were nuts! : )

    By the time Fred left, I had decided that I would place the first letterbox on Cape Cod
    . I carved the stamp for Secrets of the Knob on 12/10/1998, but I didn’t place the box until the following February when the Knob was buried under a half a foot of solid ice. My hubby Jerry was more convinced than ever that I had lost my mind.

    I was not to actually hunt my first letterbox for 7 months. Fred became the LoneWolf. (Later, he discovered that John DeWolf already claimed that name, so he changed his to LoneMassWolf.) He traveled in his career and went letterbox hunting often. He talked Jerry and I into joining him on a letterbox trip to Acadia
    . So my first find was Tom Cooch’s Cadillac Mountain and Thunder Hole, September 24, 1999. I can sum up that experience in one word - WOW!

    Up until your involvement, letterboxing was a series of clues to a final destination; pretty straightforward in approach. I’ve heard from others and yourself as well, that you changed that technique of clueing a letterbox. Can you tell us what gave you that inspiration and what developed afterwards?

    Also - Please tell us the story behind your first box

    Oh, I would hard pressed to categorize the Randy Hall and Tom Cooch clues as straight forward! Letterboxing in the US was a 6-month-old baby when I arrived on the scene, so I was not part of that birthing initially or intentionally. I was not aware at the time of what all it took to put that web site together, or what resources would be required to handle an explosion in the volume of traffic to the site. I had no idea, and still don’t, of how many man-hours went into the creation and maintenance of a FREE site for all who find their way there. I was definitely not one of the visionaries for the future of letterboxing in America. They were Erik, and Susan, and Daniel, and Tom, and Mitch, and Randy, and John, and about 50 others who dropped in on the website looking for clues. They are the ones who hashed out the details of how to make this idea take off. They did all the hard work to put it together. Most people today cannot possibly understand the massive amount of energy devoted to making the website and the hobby into what we now enjoy.

    Letterboxing appealed to me on several different levels. Foremost was that it would be joyful, gleeful and fun. It could take me places both virtually and in reality that I would never know to go to otherwise. The part of the Dartmoor
    story that really touched me was the human connection. I loved the idea of it. I wanted my letterbox to be such a special place that the finders would not soon forget - maybe even so special that the experience would tantalize the dreams of a few. I wanted it to be magical! The lovely Quissett Harbor had all the necessary elements. Like others, I wanted the finder to learn something about the area. But I wanted more. If they were going to drive all the way to Cape Cod to find my letterbox, I wanted them to come away feeling really great about their decision to find my box. I wanted them to experience an intimacy with the Knob that would reflect the actual way the locals here feel about it. Since it’s been the secret lover’s lane for Cape Cod teens for many years, I wrote a romantic story about two 13 year olds who were parting ways at the end of the summer. The clues are buried in the story, which just happens to be 7 pages long when it’s printed. It was a lot of work, but really, the place just dictated the story to me.

    I still remember very vividly the day I said “OK, it’s done!” and hit the SEND button to submit the story for posting on the Letterboxing USA web site. I eagerly searched the site every morning for any word of the Secrets of the Knob. But none was there. Weeks passed. Nada! Finally I emailed one of the members and asked why my clues were not posted. I did not, and still don’t, log onto the website’s talk list daily to read what everyone was saying - and I rarely post. So when I created the Secrets of the Knob, I was not aware of what was happening on the site or behind the scene.

    I certainly did not by design change anything. I had no idea what I had done. As it happened I submitted my story just when the very issue of the organizers was how to manage clues in massive quantities and how to make an easy form for folks to submit their clues with a few easy blanks to fill in - like “compass bearings.” My story did not include degrees. At that time, everything was in its infancy including the internet, computer hardware and programming for it all. I was luckier than most because I had a hard drive that had a whopping 12 gigabytes that was considered the biggest thing to hit the industry…and I had upgraded my dial-up modem from 14K to 56K. Most folks were not as state-of-the-art as I was, so just downloading my story took a while. Clearly no one could have predicted what would happen to our computers in just a few short years. So managing the magnitude and volume of clues if the hobby attracted a lot of people was definitely a major consideration. Back then, no one could imagine the capacity and speed of servers and internet connections today.

    In addition, the folks who were putting this whole idea of a website for letterboxing together were operating with a budget of zero. They were all volunteering their time, their resources and their expertise and they forked over the bucks for it as well. There were numerous expenses paid out of their own pockets to help get this hobby started.

    Now here I come along with a 7 page story for clues! What if everybody submitted 7 pages for every letterbox? Worse, what if they submitted more? Books, for example! And there were other angles of clue writing to debate. The ease of a standardized fill-in-the-blank form was appealing on many levels. But then, who should have access to the clues if they were all stored in one location? They wouldn’t want someone unwittingly or otherwise crashing the server and losing all the clues! And another thing, shouldn’t compass bearings to each letterbox be mandatory? There were those blessed with left-brains who read my story and said very seriously, “I don’t get it. Where are the clues in this story?”

    Obviously, my clues did not fit any mold of any kind. But I was not the only one submitting clues that were not straightforward. Tom and Randy were already weighing in quite strongly with their novel ideas for clues. For example, Tom placed a letterbox inside a book in a library. And Randy had already built quite a reputation that his clues were so hard that his boxes were impossible to find! I recall that he put them on a rating system so as not to discourage folks from at least trying. In comparison, I thought mine were quite easy if the hunter could only read.

    As Jan
    uary slowly crept by without my clues being posted, I became frustrated. I decided to take matters into my own hands and post the link to my web site on the talk list. Here’s the post…

    From: "Rae Record" <http://groups.yahoo.com/group/letterbox-usa/post?postID=WpfcjUhjWDP_XVXUlEGDmEiIfiW39nTe2XPfyupl4C6pwmUrUG0_oMPr6jcT5gXMlz0diaARTX-7>
    Date: Thu
    Jan 21, 1999 1:51 am
    Subject: [L-USA] Is it true love on
    Cape Cod?

    And how does one find out?
    Texas boxes missing
    And Ice hissing all over
    New England,
    it's hard to know what to do!
    How to go about
    getting on the map
    and becoming properly registered
    for the grand
    Cape debut!

    Ce la vie! Details take time!
    While they are ironed out
    Some will just search out
    their own source for a clue!

    In the end, the idea of trying to control and contain clue writing lost out to the concept that writers must have complete creative control of how and what their clues and letterboxes will be. Suggestions and guidelines are there to help people get started, but there are no restraints on what the clues are. In addition, they decided to come up with a way to post clues into a central location and also to post links to clues if submitters wanted to store them on their own sites. This win/win solution opened letterboxing to grow in ways no one could have predicted at the time. Just think of all the different types of clues and letterboxes out there today. The only restriction is your imagination! GO FOR IT!

    Another three weeks later, and after much debate behind the scenes and several requests to add explicit maps to my site to make sure everyone can find Quissett Harbor on Cape Cod, (?????) the link to my site was finally posted in mid February. It was right after another ice storm and I hurried down to the Knob to place the box in its new home.

    I asked a group of friends to find it so I could check the clues. So they were the first to log in. After that came Tom, the Orient Express, in April - followed a week later by Randy, the Mapsurfer. Those two had a friendly competition going about being the first to stamp in. Others have come from all over. I loved that two groups of letterboxers chose to celebrate Y2K finding it.

    As the years have passed the Knob has changed. Publicity of the Knob in a foreign travel brochure opened it up to tourists from all over the world. The TREE was cut down which was a huge loss. And this past year storms eroded so much of it that several thousand tons of rock were brought in to shore it up. So it really looks different now. But the charm, the magic and the energy of the area has survived...and…so has letterboxing and the Secrets of the Knob!

    You have 5 letterboxes currently listed on the LBNA site. How many of your boxes are still active? Why did you stop planting those wonderful story letterboxes?

    Placing a letterbox is not a casual decision or quick affair for me. For one thing, I seem to only know how to write LONG romance stories for clues! : ) Actually, I try to do what inspires me. And I’ve noticed that I end up in strange places doing strange things that somehow become part of a larger story…not of my making. Each one of my boxes has spawned its own special history.

    I’ve actually placed 4 boxes. USA/Canada Encounters is one set of clues where the story contains clues to two boxes. Labor Day week in 2000, Fred and Jerry and I went on a letterboxing trip to Lake Champlain. On the trip we decided it would be fun to place boxes on both sides of the border while we were there. We were on a dirt road near the lake on the Canada side looking for someplace we might hide the Canada box when we inadvertently crossed back over the border into the US. The border patrol was watching us on cameras, which were hidden on just about every tree and pole in the area. He read us the riot act! We were so unnerved that when did get back across the border, we hid the box in the first park we found. We quickly found a broken tree with a hole in it, poked the box in, and covered it with nothing more than a few pieces of bark. Then the rest of the day we wondered if anyone was watching us, and several times I looked behind me suspecting the authorities were going to jump out grab us! I have heard from time to time from finders of the USA box at Point Au Roche, NY. But I have never heard of anyone who found its counterpart in Otterburn Park, Quebec. I suspect it is missing. If anyone in the letterboxing world knows about either of these boxes, please let me know. I have no idea what their status is. But this experience did teach me that if I’m going to place a box, I prefer to be able to maintain it personally.

    Many people have asked when the sequel for the Secrets of the Knob will come. I clearly left it open for one. That may still happen…who knows! But the story didn’t wait for me - it created it’s own sequel. When Fred came down to find that box in 1999, I videotaped him on the tree swing. I sent a still from it for Christmas and the following year, he put it on Matchmaker.com. Joyce saw it, recognized the tree, and contacted him. Their first date was letterboxing in Newport, just 2 weeks before Fred, Jerry and I took off to Lake Champlain, where we placed USA Canada Encounter. LoneMassWolf and You Inspire My Spirit were married in 2003. I don’t know that any sequel I could write would get any better than that!

    The ghost story Phantom of the Boardwalk is also making its own stories. (God only knows what goes on out there after dark!) One afternoon, my friend June Robie took her two grandsons Eric and Daniel Thompson to find it without having done their homework on the clues. It was their first hunt and it was hot and they were hungry and thirsty and tired. She called me from the beach on her cell phone and told me that anyone who would do letterboxing should GET A LIFE! I went over and took the kids back out there after they had eaten and reread the clues and figured out the code. The boys were thrilled to find it and couldn’t stop talking about it. Their whole family pursued the hobby enthusiastically, becoming the Water Wizards. They attracted the attention of Cape Cod Times. I can’t tell you how much fun the local reporters had with it. They decided to cover both letterboxing and geocaching and ran several pages on it. Not only did the editor send reporters out to find letterboxes, but they picked up on my “story style” and embedded clues to their own Cape Cod Times Letterbox in the news story. Since the issue appeared last year, the number of boxes on the Cape has more than doubled! : ) Is this letterboxing bliss, or what?

    Has your interest waned to letterboxing?


    How else do you recreate?

    We have a lot of choices for recreation here on the

    Cape and we enjoy ALL of it. We added geocaching (is that a cuss word in letterboxing circles?) a couple of years ago when Jerry got a GPS. I feel the same way about it that I do about letterboxing – very blessed to have so much available to me. Actually, we checked out geocaching that fateful Thanksgiving in 1998 when we first looked for letterboxing on the web. There were NO geocaches in the US. Now it has grown exponentially more than letterboxing here. I think that’s due to a couple of factors. Low cost gps devices are now mass marketed everywhere and the law changed so that gps locations are more accurate. The web site is much more controlled requiring approval before a cache is posted. Clearly in both hobbies, none of this amazing growth could have happened in such a short time were it not for the coming of internet-connected PCs in almost every home. I feel so lucky to be around to enjoy it all.

    Do you see yourself planting any more letterboxes in the future?

    I never know when inspiration will hit me or what form it will take. But I usually follow it when it does!

    Have you visited some of those great Cape boxes?

    YES! Most of them - and they are indeed GREAT!

    Did you ever subscribe to the theory that letterboxing should remain the game of a small group of people in the know and might not be for general consumption?


    How were your early clues passed around? Was it more like our word of mouth (WOM) clues of today where clues were handed or mailed to a select group of players? Do you find anything elitist in that method of clue-sharing?

    When I first placed the Knob, I asked friends who were very close to me to find it so I could check the clues and they obliged! Then a Cape Cod friend Wendy Williams who was interested in writing an article about letterboxing went with us when Fred came down to find it. Anyone else who knew me gave me strange looks and wondered if I might be developing schizophrenia when I talked about clues to hidden Tupperware boxes all around us! I love for folks to find one of my boxes and I don’t really care how they find out what the clues are.

    Now in its 7th year, the hobby has blossomed and it has all the markings of just about every other social setting. I love that there’s room in it for everyone. And I love that there’s plenty of boxes to be found just about anywhere you go these days. Elitist would not be a term that would ever enter my mind…clever maybe…like acronyms – WOM…yeah.

    In a game that “has no rules” there are some tenets that are understood – rehide boxes well; do not give away mystery box locations, etc. Do you feel that letterboxing should have rules and if so, what might they be?

    Rules? Gee, now that really sounds serious! Guidance and reminders are probably more helpful and more heeded. This is such a wonderful opportunity for people to do something fun and wholesome. Letterboxing is a spawning ground for respect, kindness, compassion, appreciation, creativity, adventure, and a genuine love of nature. I find people are generally good-natured and want to be respectful stewards whenever they can. There may be some who will not be for whatever reasons, but I try not to let the actions of a few dictate the whole for me.

    What do you see as your role in that first community?


    Can you tell us a little about the early players in that first letterboxing community and their individual roles?

    Well, probably not, as I don’t know all the “early players” personally. But I do know who they are to me. I can tell you they are amazing visionaries that were brought together through mutual intrigue just when the internet was becoming a household word. And at that exact time in their lives, miraculously, they had the exact skill set, the necessary resources to put it all in place, the time to do it, and generosity of spirit to undergo all the headaches and heartaches so Letterboxing.org could be born, matured and ready for the masses to come. They wanted this hobby to be easy, fun, and free for all to enjoy. And that’s exactly what it is! When you think about it, it’s hard to deny the timing here. You just have to know that there was a connection bigger than we are at play in this game! Kudos and many thanks to each and every one that contributed in those first difficult years and who continue behind the scenes to keep it that way.

    Did any of you ever foresee that this small group of devotees would explode to number in the thousands?

    Obviously, they were preparing for just exactly that!

    Did you ever think, as you stood behind that camera, that your picture of those in attendance at that event would become part of letterboxing history?

    I definitely knew the meeting was historical. I was in awe of these folks. I have no idea how my life’s path got me there though. It’s like meeting you at the Mansfield Monster Mash. How in the world did that happen?

    Can you tell us a little about that first gathering that took place in Vermont

    ? What was planned for the future?

    It was not a business meeting. In thinking about the contrast between that meeting and the MMM, it was actually like a forerunner to the many gatherings we have today…Well, gosh, Mark, how would you like to just SEE for yourself? : )

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    Merry Christmas & Happy New Year

    To all Letterboxers Everywhere!

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    "Secrets of the Knob" Story & Clues

    "Phantom of the Boardwalk" Story & Clues