The Bobby Oppenheimer Letters

Where did the letters come from?

Several years ago, I was browsing an antique shop in Burlington, VT, when I came across a lovely desk. I opened one of the drawers and found a bundle of old letters. Curious, I opened one, read it, and immediately grabbed the others. After a ridiculous amount of haggling with the shop's proprietor, I paid $10 for the entire bundle.

I immediately went home and read all of the letters. Then I read them again. Then I read them to my family, all of whom were riveted.  The collection comprised seven letters written by one Bobby E. Oppenheimer to his parents in 1969. (There was also one other letter, apparently unconnected to the rest, neither written by nor directed to Bobby or his parents.)

What do the letters say?

The letters recount Bobby's adventures over the course of several months during the fall of 1969. Based on context clues, Bobby has just finished a semester at college and is headed to California, where he's enthusiastically joined the hippie movement. The letters are extraordinary--not just a hilarious glimpse of a young man diving into the counterculture, but also a time capsule and a poignant record of an innocent trying to find himself within the context of his family and the era.

Who was Bobby E. Oppenheimer?

Well, that's the mystery. He wasn't that Robert Oppenheimer, nor was his father. In fact, Robert Oppenheimer was already dead when these letters written. There are two  mysterious references/jokes about the famous Robert Oppenheimer that could be interpreted as either supporting or excluding a familial relationship with Bobby. We simply don't know.

We don't know much about Bobby. He was the son of Mrs. and Mrs. Robert Oppenheimer, who lived at 16 Mortimer Drive, Old Greenwich CT. We know that Bobby was in Boulder, CO in July 1969, in Boston shortly after, and in Laguna Beach by October. We know he had a criminal record related to his marijuana use, that he was an avid reader, and that his parents might have wanted him to attend Howard. (But if he'd just finished a term at Howard College in Texas, how did he end up living in a national park in Boulder?)

My hope is that, by making these letters public, we will be able to identify Bobby E. Oppenheimer and learn how the rest of his life played out. Is he still alive? Where is he? Did he find direction in his life? Did he and his father reconcile? Was he convicted of the charges against him? So much remains to be known. If you recognize anything in these letters, please email me at kitalloway@gmail.com.

The Letters

Included here are all seven of the letters, their envelopes (those that have envelopes), and a transcript of the contents of each letter. Although my scanner read them as black and white, several of the letters were written on yellow legal pads. For the sake of completeness and context clues, I've also included the one seemingly unrelated letter. It's worth reading if only to laugh at the incredibly cheap wedding gift included.

Three of the letters are undated, so I've inserted them based on my best guesses. (Only the November 24th letter is actually dated; the other dates I've included refer to the post marks on the envelopes.) I've also included imagines of the envelopes (not all the letters came in envelopes) in case those provide additional clues. When transcribing, I've attempted to preserve all Bobby's unnecessary capitalization and (very few) typos. However, I've had to substitute an ampersand for the unusual symbol he uses to mean "and."

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