Harry and Zilphia Lund’s courtship began with love letters that they later donated to UMaine’s Fogler Library and just recently became public. Courtesy of the Fogler Library at the University of Maine Orono

In 1973, Frances Hartgen put out a plea. She wanted people to send her their love letters.

Hartgen was the first head of special collections at the Fogler Library at the University of Maine Orono, and she wanted to build a trove of romantic notes from the 20th century.

“Their value to future generations is in expressing to them how we lived and felt about love experiences,” she told media outlets at the time.

Harry and Zilphia Lund answered her call.

The couple, then in their 60s and living in Yarmouth, shared with the library their 485 letters exchanged in the early 1940s, when she was working in an office in Chicago, and he was stationed at Fort Williams in Cape Elizabeth. Their donation came with one caveat: The letters could not be released until Sept. 18, 2023 – what would have been their 80th wedding anniversary. The Fogler Library honored that request. Now, 50 years later, the letters are finally available to the public.

They give a glimpse of life and romance during World War II, as well as the early days of a relationship that would last for decades.


“You have a date this afternoon whether you know it or not,” Zilphia Lund wrote in neat and slanting cursive in one letter. “Late last Sunday night I almost gathered up my writing materials to write to you and then decided that your mail deserved more attention than I had time to give it then, so I firmly resolved that this afternoon belonged to you.”

“While I was home last week, I got all my letters sorted and glanced through some of them,” Harry Lund wrote to her in his own looping hand. “I was trying to destroy them – but I failed utterly, one hundred percent! Most of them are so interesting that I can’t part with them, for a while at least! I’ve been pleased with yours, right from my very first one.”


Hartgen, the librarian, herself was very much in love.

She was married to artist Vincent Hartgen, the founding director of the art department at the University of Maine and what would later become the Zilman Art Museum. During her life, she published a two-part memoir called “A Maine Passage.” The second part was dedicated to her late husband and titled “For Vincent: A Love Story.” Her writing, like the letters exchanged between the future Lunds, tells stories of both everyday life and lifelong romance.

Perhaps it was her own relationship that made her interested in that of others.


In a 1973 newspaper article about her call for love letters, Hartgen encouraged people not to be embarrassed about grammatical errors or misspellings.

“Most of us write with our minds leaping ahead of our pens,” she said. “We omit words, misspell and split infinitives, but that is part of the emotion of the moment.”

And what if, the reporter asked, people laugh at these intimate notes?

“Only the fool will laugh,” Hartgen said. “But we’re not concerned with fools, only with preserving some picture of what we were like as human beings in the 20th century.”

A few months later, in February 1974, the Bangor Daily News reported an update. The Lunds had seen Hartgen on TV and heard her request. They contacted her but wanted to make clear that they were not “name people,” as Zilphia Lund said to Hartgen.

“I am a housewife, and my husband a bank clerk,” Zilphia Lund said. “We have lived a quiet married life in Maine, where our children were born.”


“History needs to be aware of the average person like you and me, what we did, felt and dreamed of doing,” Hartgen responded. “Those papers are just as important, in many ways more so, for study and research.”

And so the letters went under seal for five decades.


The Lunds were, as they asserted, normal people.

Harry Lund was born in Nashua, New Hampshire, in 1911. He enlisted in the Army and was the camp organist when he was stationed at Fort Williams. When he died in 1995, his obituary noted that he loved to write letters. “He wrote to anybody and everybody, and in great detail,” his son said at the time.

That passion brought the Lunds together. In 1940, Harry Lund advertised in the book “Ranch Romances” for a pen pal while he was serving in the military.


Zilphia Wilson answered. She was born in Russell Springs, Kentucky, in 1912. As an adult, she moved to Chicago. Soon, the two were exchanging regular letters with stories of their lives in Illinois and Maine. She often began hers with “Dear Soldier” and he with “Dear Ziz” or “Dear Zizzie.” They are both handwritten and typed.

Their missives continued for pages, sometimes written in a stream of consciousness. She interrupted her story in one letter to note that she took a break for “a juicy piece of strawberry shortcake.” In another, she reported she got an overnight job in an office that paid $18.50 per week with the promise of a raise to $20 in a month and a half.

“Not bad for a little girl, huh?” she said “But where does it all go? Oh, I know, there is my room and board and car fare and such. And then there is the matter of stockings. It just breaks my heart. I had my first experience with nylon recently. Paid $1.70 for the things not a month ago and last night when I got dressed to go out there was a big run.”

And he wrote about his responsibilities at Fort Williams, sometimes on “Harbor Defense of Portland” stationery. He described cooking duty (“Now I’ve got to make some blueberry pies”) and guard duty. He wrote about visiting Boston, where he planned to see an ice show with a friend, and Brunswick, where he did some shopping. He told of attending a dance and poked fun at his own lack of skill.

“It seems funny to me that liking music as much as I do, I should be so lacking in rhythm-in-my-bones!” he wrote.

Some letters reference photographs they exchanged or took when they finally did meet. The library collection includes a snapshot of Harry Lund in his uniform with his curly handwriting: “Love, Harry.”


“And while we’re thinking of gifts, let me answer your question about Christmas,” he wrote in 1941. “I don’t know of anything you could send me I’d like any better than a good 35-cent enlargement of a snapshot of you!”

At times, Zilphia Lund reflected on the challenges of a long-distance relationship.

“For several minutes, I have been sitting here looking at the picture of you on the organ and day dreaming,” she said. “Spinning impossible dreams of a possible way to be near enough to you to give this thing its chance.”

The couple married in 1943. One letter detailed Zilphia Lund’s purchase of a special set of silverware in advance of their wedding; she refused to disclose the price to anyone. Another outlined the ceremony details.

“I believe I remembered after I sent your letter out yesterday that I hadn’t told you the exact date, time etc. of our wedding,” she wrote. “Well, the way I have planned it now, it is to be September 18, 1943 at 2:30 p.m. (The Chaplain tried to talk me into having it at 2 or 3 but I wouldn’t budge on that score), and it is to take place in the Chapel of the Lawson YMCA located at Chicago Ave. and Dearborn St. in Chicago with Chaplain Milliken officiating. OK?”

Then she signed off: “Want to know something? I love you! Isn’t that strange?”


That date must have been OK, because it was indeed when the couple married. The letters continued for a couple years after their wedding. The new husband signed one with an apologetic postscript: “P.S. Got Zilphia written before I realized my error! Forgive me, Mrs. Harry Lund?”


Rebecca McLean, 74, knew her parents had donated their letters to a library but she’s never read them. Every once in a while, she would think about their correspondence and wonder if the date had come when the letters would be unsealed.

“I am a little bit curious,” said McLean, who now lives in Saco. “I’m glad they did that. It’s almost like a time capsule.”

Zilphia and Harry Lund settled in South Portland. Their obituaries indicate that she was a secretary at Rines Brothers in Portland for some years, and he retired in 1976 after 30 years as the superintendent of the vault in Maine National Bank’s office. He regularly played the organ at two local churches on the weekends.

The couple had two children: Harvey and Rebecca. McLean said she was five years younger than her brother and was adopted because her mother could not have more children. She described her father as “friendly with everybody” and very busy between his work and his musical commitments. Her mother was “very strict,” she said.


“She had my father’s Army whistle,” McLean said. “When my brother and I were playing hide-and-go-seek at dusk or whatever before dinner, when she wanted us to come up, she would blow the whistle.”

Her father would bring the kids and their friends to Watchic Lake to swim in the summer, and the whole family would take an annual camping trip in Rangeley for a couple weeks. Their conversation always seemed as easy as in the letters they exchanged for years.

“They talked a lot together,” McLean said.

Zilphia Lund died in 1980; Harry Lund, in 1995. Gregory Curtis is now the head of special collections and projects at Fogler Library, a successor to Hartgen. The staff there started preparing these letters to be accessible to the public in 2022, and people can request to see them by calling, emailing or visiting the library in person.

Curtis said this collection will be a resource to people looking for more information about life in Maine during World War II, especially as many people who lived during that time have since died. He appreciated “the wide-eyed-ness” as the writers made their way into the wider world and into marriage.

“It’s a great snapshot of average people that are going through the emotions that we all go through,” he said. “It’s a glimpse into the day-to-day life and thoughts of people at that time.”

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