Description1939 Lou Gehrig Handwritten Signed Letter Discussing His Illness.
"Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth..."
--Lou Gehrig at Yankee Stadium, July 4, 1939.
It was just two weeks after the Bronx captain's heartbreaking farewell to the fans he had entertained and thrilled with 2,130 games of uninterrupted service that a letter arrived in the mailbox of Bess Bell Neely. She had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis nine years earlier, and had sought help from many doctors near her home in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with very little success. In the late spring and early summer of 1939, sclerosis was suddenly very much in the news, though in this case it was amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the illness that would come to be known as "Lou Gehrig's Disease."
She had written to Gehrig with little expectation of a reply, but with the hope that if he did write back that he might have some advice that could help stem the progression of her illness. After all, if there was anybody in the world who would have the means to research treatments for sclerosis, it would be a famous man like Lou Gehrig. Surely the medical profession was rushing to his aid.
Perhaps had Mrs. Neely followed the noble career of this Yankee icon, she would have known that a response would come. Understanding the sort of man that the Iron Horse was, the tremendous character that inspired him to play through broken bones and all manner of injury and illness, one cannot be too very surprised that he would have taken the time to pen this kind letter of support to a complete stranger as he fought for his own life:
Dear Mrs. Neely-
It is with deep regret that I read of your condition, sclerosis. However, the condition in which I am afflicted may differ from the way you are infected, so if I told you of my treatments I might be hurting you instead of helping.
I cannot too strongly urge you to visit Mayo Clinic as soon as you see your way clear. You may feel that you cannot afford it but I can assure you they are the most reasonable institution imaginable-and I'm sure they will find out in short order what will prevent growing worse each year. I too was doctoring with no success, and in less than a month I definitely feel they have checked it for me. I have gained about 8 pounds in the last 3 weeks since my return.
A visit now may seem very expensive, but in the long run I believe you will agree it was the cheapest.
May I wish you every success and a quick recovery.
The importance of this incredibly poignant handwritten letter will be evident to even the most casual of baseball fans. And those within the hobby certainly understand how terrifically rare even a simple Lou Gehrig signature is dating to 1939 or beyond. This remarkable document stands as one of just a tiny handful of Gehrig artifacts dating from beyond his Independence Day farewell that year, and unquestionably rates among the most significant. Never before in the hobby have we encountered any document in which Gehrig addresses his fatal illness, and his mistaken belief that he was on the path to recovery is heartbreaking even sixty-eight years later.
The letter is penned in 10/10 black fountain pen ink on both sides of "Hotel Cleveland" letterhead, the Cleveland, OH hotel where Gehrig stayed with the Yankees as they visited the Indians at League Park. Interestingly, we find an image of another letter Gehrig wrote this day within Jonathan Eig's acclaimed Gehrig biography "Luckiest Man, The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig." The brief note to his doctor, again making reference to his recent weight gain and thanking him for his fine service, is penned on identical "Hotel Cleveland" letterhead, and dated "Sunday" in the same manner as the letter we present here.
Some light wear along the mailing folds causes no harm to the tremendous visual strength of this amazing correspondence, which has been treasured by the family of Mrs. Neely since its receipt many decades ago. A letter of provenance from Mrs. Neely's daughter is included with the lot. She notes that her father was a steel worker recovering from the Great Depression, and could not afford to take Gehrig's Mayo Clinic advice. Her mother soon became wheelchair bound, but lived beyond her sixty-first birthday before passing in October of 1961.
Also included in the lot is the original mailing envelope, penned in Gehrig's hand and postmarked from Cleveland, Ohio, July 17, 1939, the day after the letter was written. Some light water staining has caused some bleeding to the lettering on the envelope, but it still presents very nicely.
The term "hero" is used far too often to characterize those who perform at the elite level of American athletics, but in Gehrig we find one such athlete worthy of the word. The way he lived, the way he played, and the way he died was truly inspirational, and there are few in the sporting world whose legacy is quite so secure. No piece we have ever encountered so effectively expresses the reason why we still love Henry Louis Gehrig as does the letter we are honored to present here to the collecting community. LOA from PSA/DNA. LOA from James Spence Authentication.
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