The Bedbug Letter

Letter Recipient: Miles Poindexter? Frank Crane? John Phillips? Hugh Ironpants Johnson?

Dear Quote Investigator: Would you please explore the provenance of a story called “The Bedbug Letter” about a revelatory customer relations blunder?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence known to QI appeared on June 12, 1913 in multiple newspapers such as “The Duluth Herald” of Duluth Minnesota 1 and “The Daily Northwestern” of Oshkosh, Wisconsin. 2 The columnist Fred C. Kelly recounted the anecdote. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI:

Senator Miles Poindexter had occasion to stop at a leading hotel in a big Western city a time ago, and while there was unable to sleep because of certain vexatious conditions that existed with reference to his bed. He was obliged to toss about all night and act like a man with hives.

When he got back to his office he wrote a scathing letter to the proprietor of the hotel. The proprietor wrote back a three-page letter done in the politest of phraseology. In which he thanked Poindexter for telling him.

“Such a thing has never occurred before in this hotel,” said the proprietor, “and we trust it never will occur again. We are deeply obligated to you for telling us, because if we did not know of such things the trouble might become greatly augmented. While we are astonished that the condition you mention could exist, we are thankful that you told us before any other guest is exposed to similar annoyance.”

Thus the letter went on. But the writer had unintentionally inclosed in the envelope a small scrap of yellow memorandum paper. On it was a line written evidently for the stenographer’s eye and for no other. It said: “Write this man the bedbug letter.”

Variants of this tale have evolved over the years. A 1915 version shifted the locale to a railway sleeping car. A 1927 anecdote published in “The New Yorker” mentioned water bugs instead of bedbugs.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading The Bedbug Letter

Notes:

  1. 1913 June 12, The Duluth Herald, Statesmen, Real and Near by Fred C. Kelly, Quote Page 10, Column 6, Duluth Minnesota. (Old Fulton)
  2. 1913 June 12, The Daily Northwestern (The Oshkosh Northwestern), Statesmen, Real and Near by Fred C. Kelly, Quote Page 6, Column 4, Oshkosh, Wisconsin. (Newspapers_com)