This 54-year-old postcard from Paris reached a Portland mailbox on Monday, addressed to a former owner of the house who died in 1988. Credit: Courtesy of Jessica Means

PORTLAND, Maine — City resident Jessica Means got a shock when she opened her mailbox on Monday.

Inside, Means found a half-century-old postcard addressed to a man who died in 1988. The wayward piece of mail had apparently been in transit from Paris, France, since 1969.

“At first I thought it must have been meant for one of my neighbors,” said Means, who has lived in her house on Allen Avenue for 17 years. “But then I realized it was addressed to the original owners of my house.”

A half-century-old postcard addressed to the a long-deceased couple reached their former home in Portland this week. Credit: Courtesy of Jessica Means

The well-worn color postcard, showing the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, was addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Rene A. Gagnon.

“Dear folks,” the card reads, “By the time you get this I will have long since been home, but it just seems proper to send this from the Tour Eiffel, where I am now. Don’t have a chance to see much but having fun.”

The card was signed with the name “Roy.”

A possible French postmark gives a date of March 15, 1969. However, plastered over that mark is a new United States forever stamp and a postmark dated July 12, 2023, originating in Tallahassee, Florida. It’s not clear what happened to the postcard during the 54 years between when it was mailed and when it arrived.

Additionally, below the Gagnons’ name, someone recently wrote in, “or current resident.”

“It’s a mystery,” Means said.

A search of Portland newspaper archives reveals an obituary for Rene Alberia Gagnon, born in Quebec on July 27, 1905.

According to the 1988 obituary, Gagnon immigrated to the United States as a young man, first settling in Berlin, New Hampshire, where owned his own auto dealership between 1935 and 1940. By 1942, Gagnon had come to Portland to work in the South Portland shipyards during World War II.

After the war, he ran his own auto body repair shop on Fox Street from 1949 until 1969, when he retired. Gagnon died in a local nursing home after a long illness in 1988 at the age of 82.

Gagnon’s wife, Rose Rachel Gagnon, was originally from Winooski, Vermont, the daughter of Finnish immigrants. She died in Camden at the age of 90, in 2002.

Both the Gagnons are buried in Portland’s Evergreen Cemetery, not far from where they lived.

According to Rene Gagnon’s obituary, one of his daughters was married to a Roy Salzman and the couple lived in Brussels, Belgium.

“That could be the Roy who signed the card,” Means said. “That would make sense.”

A 2018 online obituary for the Gagnons’ other daughter, Ruth Greenwood, indicates she’d lived in Daytona Beach since at least 1970. It also lists Salzman relatives who survived her in the sunshine state.

Means reckons one of those relatives may have found the postcard while cleaning out and popped it into the mail. But why remains a mystery.

If she can ever figure out who sent the card, Means knows what she wants to tell them.

“I’d really like to say thank you to whoever decided to put a stamp on the postcard and drop it in the mail on July 12,” she said. “I’m sure they knew the intended recipients were long gone and yet they chose to mail it anyway. I just want that person to know that the card not only made it but that that one small, simple gesture made my day.”

Troy R. Bennett is a Buxton native and longtime Portland resident whose photojournalism has appeared in media outlets all over the world.