The mailbag, ten years ago

Mark Grimsley posted an inquiry that really brought the memories back. He was asked if he could help identify an art object. If you follow the link, notice the improbable relationship between Mark's publicly shared interests and the inquirer's obscure object. This tenuous metaphysic tends to be a feature of such requests, along with urgency, obtuseness, and rudeness.

I can't remember when I last got a letter like that but I used to get a lot. Help me price this McClellan saddle. Help me identify this coin. What is this Bible worth? Ten years ago, all of us on the Web got an immense amount of continuous email from this kind of freeloader.

It was just astonishing what total strangers would ask you to do for them - and these were not, by and large, patient requests. The bait was that you allowed yourself to believe you were dealing with a reader whereas you were dealing with a searcher. If you were so foolish as to satisfy such inquiries, as Mark has done with his posting, you never heard back from the correspondent ("thanks" or "great"): you had served your purpose.

My response to these folks became, Send me the object for closer scrutiny. And that was that.

And oh, all those genealogists! They needed free research assistants. I am writing to you as a direct descendant of George B. McClellan (Do I tell this oaf his children died childless?).

Remember also the endless basic questions from students? What happened to those student emails? Why aren't the kids still harassing us for answers to their homework questions?

Way back then, Eric Wittenberg was a sort of guest answerman on a Civil War site where he entertained cavalry questions. I remember him blowing his stack a few times when students would try to finagle the better part of a paper out of him. My feelings exactly.

Nowadays, I'll pass the TV while my wife is watching Antiques Roadshow and think - they have their own TV program now. That's where all these bloodsuckers went.