When Gina Teliho was renovating the ceiling of her guest room last year, she had no idea that amidst all the trash she’d find a true treasure.
In the rafters of her historic Atlanta home she found a bundle of handwritten letters, some of which dated all the way back to 1915.
“We cut the ceiling out because it was cracked and we finally decided to fix it,” Teliho, 40, told ABC News of her fascinating discovery. “We live in a historic neighborhood in the Buckhead community of Atlanta, where most homes were constructed in the 1920's and 1930's, so this was just another necessary renovation that needed to be done.”
When she found them she was so bogged down with the construction in her house that she simply set them aside and completely forgot about them until recently.
“I came across them again recently and really started reading through them, and I became determined to find the family and pass them on,” she explained. “They felt like real treasures to me, but they didn't belong to me nor to my family. They were clearly very meaningful to the family who carried them to Georgia from Pennsylvania, so I went on a mission to find the descendants.”
And that she did. Teliho posted a photo of the bundle of letters, inscribed with Ridgway, Pennsylvania, and Fairbury, Illinois, addresses to Facebook, in hopes her friends could help with suggestions to track down any relatives.
“I initially posted on my personal page, stating that the main letter was postmarked 1915 in Fairbury, Illinois,” she said. “Many friends, including one who had lived in Illinois, shared on their pages, and I was contacted by a historian from Fairbury who ‘loves a good mystery’ and helped me with the family genealogy.”
Armed with a few names from the genealogy research and the letters themselves, Teliho dove head first into the Arnold family tree, the surname used on the envelopes, at the Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Museum where she searched through directories beginning with the year her home was built, 1935.
Then she hit jackpot.
“I found a Paul T. Arnold who owned my house in 1947,” she said. “I then posted on a local Buckhead Facebook page, seeking help and any information. The response I got just blew me away! So many people offered ideas, suggestions, tagged others, or simply loved what I was doing and expressed their support. I never could have imagined the fascination the community would have for this story.”
Everyone’s support and encouragement eventually led Teliho to Kelly Arnold, the grandson of Paul T. Arnold, who owned her home 68 years ago, and the great grandson of Norman T. Arnold, who wrote the love letter to his wife, Hannah, who is the subject of the love letter that Teliho found in her ceiling.
“When I called him I think I caught him off guard,” Teliho said of her first conversation with Arnold, who lives in Decatur, Georgia, only about 20 miles away from her. “He was so tickled when I told him that all of Buckhead was looking for him!”
The two met this week for the first time, allowing the precious letters to be returned to their rightful owner all these years later.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Arnold, 65, said of this entire experience. “This whole thing started less than a week ago and it’s been a whirlwind. I was really impressed with her persistence and the amount of time she put into it.”
Neither of them are sure how the letters ended up in the attic, but both have their theories.
"The house used to be just a two bedroom bungalow back in the day when it was built, and I imagine it was an attic there when he was here," Teliho said.
"I think they were re-doing the attic and putting flooring in and it maybe fell out of a box or something," Arnold agreed.
Teliho was sad to see the letters go, but is thrilled to have gotten them back in the hands of the writer’s descendants.
“I feel like it’s a part of history. The neighborhood that we live in is part of the National Historic Registry, so it makes me wonder what else the house is hiding,” she said. “What else are its secrets? I feel like I found a true treasure, it just wasn’t mine.”
And for Arnold, he’s not only grateful for the insight into his family, but also for one simple reminder.
“When I looked at the letter, it was addressed to Hannah Arnold, Ridgway, Pennsylvania, with no street address. Times were simpler back then,” he explained. “It reminds me that there was a simpler time and place, and it’s nice to remember that given the way things are now.”