Century-Old Love Letters Hold a Love Story for the Ages
Updated: Friday, February 14 2014, 03:25 PM EST
In 1912 a girl named Pearle Schwartz attended Barton Academy in Mobile, Alabama. It was there she met a boy named Max Savelle, and it was there they fell in love more than 100 years ago.
Today one of Pearle's descendants, John Zelnicker still lives in Mobile, AL.
"Pearle Schwartz was my father's great aunt, my grandmother's aunt," John said. She died in 1980 and among her belongings were faded letters, more than 100 of them, maybe 200, yellowed by time and arranged in chronological order. The letters were found tied together with string and a note attached on top. It read, "These are my letters from Max Savelle. To be burned when I pass on." The first letter was written on May 20, 1913.
John's father decided not to abide by her wishes. He saved the letters, and 35 years later they were among his belongings when he died last year.
When John found them he found that letter after letter was filled with poetry and passion, young love and old love and forbidden love. A love affair for the ages.
"Pearle, what do I think of you?" one letter says. "Why, I love you more and more and more when I think that you love me, as you have told me. Goodnight my little girl. Much love, more than ever. Max."
Unfortunately Pearle's letters, if they still exist, have not been found. But on the back of each letter from Max she put check-marks to indicate that she had answered - and some had multiple check marks.
"My little girl, tonight I shall live over the many times we have been together, for as soon as I finish this I'm going out on the porch and dream of you," another letter from Max says.
At the Historical Society in Mobile, John and Max Savelle's daughter Michele stumbled across a Barton Academy annual from 1912 and - incredibly - a high school memory book, belonging to Pearle.
Next to Max's name she wrote in very clear handwriting, "Oh you, Max!"
In a section about boys she knew, she wrote:
"One look from him and you feel as though you were standing in the center of the earth with the world revolving around you. When your glance meets his, gee! Such a funny feeling!"
Their love was not without obstacles. Pearle was Jewish, and Max was a devout Southern Baptist. In their time, the love was seen as religious betrayal. On one envelope, Pearle wrote the words, "After I told him we could be nothing but friends because of our religions."
The letter inside the envelope, Max's response to Pearle's message said;
"I understand. I have understood from the beginning. I only lacked your confirmation of my belief. I cannot come to the club anymore. I am very weak, and cannot make myself undergo the torture it would mean for me. And why? Because I love you. I could not bear to be near you and see you, and feel that you could never be anything but a friend to me. Perhaps this is strange. Nevertheless it is so. Goodnight and may God keep you. Max."
Though Pearle's reply has not been found, Max's next letter was a joyous one.
"Dear Pearl, I received your letter yesterday with greater joy than I've ever received before in my life! Loving secretly suits me fine. Just as long as we can love each other at all. I am tickled to death."
But their love continued to be a secret - and long-distance one. From the letters it seems Max only made it back to Mobile one time after he left. He went to the Navy, to Columbia University, then traveled to Chile and Spain. Life took Max all over the world, and still the letters kept coming.
Pearle stayed in Mobile, never married, and never had children. She became a concert pianist.
Eventually, at the age of 40, Max married, then again, and again after that. He ended up teaching history at Stanford University, and at the University of Washington, becoming an expert and published author on American Colonial History. But even as a married man Max continued to write to Pearle, at one point writing;
"Dearest Pearl, Why don't you write? You and I are too old and have loved each other too long to be conventional."
Max's letters never stopped, continuing up until his death in the late 1970s.
When the end was near Max wrote;
"The prospect ahead for me is grim, to say the least. Your moral support and love means much to me. Pearle, your letters give me great happiness. Please keep writing, Love Max."
In the last letter Max wrote to Pearle he said;
"Pearl, I have wished to thank you for your get-well letters and cards. They do cheer me up and they encourage me, because I know you love me. I hate to admit that I'm a sick man. And I must get accustomed to remaining that way more or less for the rest of my life. So keep writing. My love to you, as always, Max."
Three months after Max died in 1979, Pearle followed.