Undiscarded: Stories of New York, Episode 8 (Letters To A Hero)

If you like Undiscarded, tune into The Brooklyn Public Library’s flagship podcast, Borrowed. Brooklyn has so many stories to tell, and a lot of them start at the library

Superheroes are worshipped for a reason and we often place them on a high pedestal. We look up to their courage in the face of grave danger, we gleefully cheer them on (at a safe distance) as they vanquish all-powerful villains. As mere mortals, we can’t help but be drawn (sometimes obsessed) by these larger-than-life figures, who hail from destroyed fictional planets, mythical islands, or forged by crazy experiments that have gone wrong. Those who don’t possess superhuman strength & mind-bending abilities, often compensate for their lack of powers with endless wealth, superior intelligence, or unparalleled mastery in warfare (trained under some ancient warrior no doubt). We’ve devoured endless film franchises, TV shows & comic series and are fully vested in their complex worlds, offering an escape from reality. But despite the “hero-worship”, every so often, a superhero surfaces that feel a little closer to home, a figure we can genuinely relate to and aspire to be.

Despite his spidey superpowers, no one is more relatable than Spiderman, also known as Peter Parker and his realness is one of the reasons he’s been an enduring fan favorite. He is a student who hails from what is considered the most unglamorous borough, Queens (strongly DISAGREE). He fights crime not in a mythical metropolis, but right here in New York City. As he swings over the Queensboro bridge or perches atop the empire state building, he epitomizes the quintessential friendly neighborhood Spiderman. Balancing his mighty powers with everyday worries, like caring for his aging aunt, making the rent, and navigating high school relationships, Spiderman embodies a unique blend of the mundane and the extraordinary. It’s this mix that endears him to fans worldwide, making us wonder: Could there be a superhero among us? Could he be living at a real address in Queens?

It just so happened that The City Reliquary’s latest blockbuster exhibit broached this very theme. The “Letters to Spiderman” exhibit at the Reliquary Museum caught my attention due to its bizarre blend of coincidence and fandom. It’s been the subject of much media coverage lately and I knew it had to be part of Season 1 of Undiscarded.

Back in 1989, two issues (#316 & #317) of “The Amazing Spiderman” comics cleverly hid Spiderman’s Forest Hills address. Only the keenest fans could decipher it, piecing together the details from both issues.

And what did these ardent fans do next? They wrote letters to their hero, only to be received by a real family named Parker who lived at this actual address in Forest Hills, Queens! This peculiar story became public knowledge in the early 2000s when Sam Raimi’s Spiderman, featuring Tobey Maguire, hit the screens. (Fun fact I was living in LA in those days, and was an extra in the Times Square scene when the Green Goblin attacked the Unity Festival).

Our guest on the podcast, Pamela Parker, shares the surreal experience of her family becoming entangled in this comic book mystery. This narrative has garnered attention over the years, fascinating fans and capturing the magic of life imitating art. The uncanny parallels extend even further – with an Osborne family living next door, echoing Spiderman’s arch-nemesis! Pamela knew these letters were something special and managed to keep a few. They moved from place to place with her in a shoebox, till they found their home at The City Reliquary, a fitting resting place. Securing an interview with Pamela seemed challenging initially, given our commitment to in-person recordings and Pamela’s relocation from the city. But, as luck would have it, we managed to connect during one of her visits to the city. You can see all of the fan letters here

Though we didn’t quite have the resources to track down all the original kids from around the world, we did bring in some local adorable talent to contribute to the episode! Friends from the Sunnyside, Queens let me record their kids reading out these fan letters. They were quite eager to participate in anything Spiderman related.  One could argue nepotism was at play, with one of the young readers being my son! It was really cool to have kids from Spiderman/Peter’s home borough read out the letters.

Fox News and Hellgate reporters even tracked down one of the original letter writers, now a college student and unsurprisingly, still a die-hard Spiderman fan. This delightful story encapsulates a universal yearning – the desire to connect with our heroes, making them feel real and reachable. It’s a testament to the magic of fandom, a testament to the idea that superheroes might just be more than figments of our imagination. Maybe we should take a closer look to appreciate the real-life Superheroes who are hiding in plain sight every day.

Resources & Additional Reading
The Bowery Boys – Spidey in NYC & The Secret Origins of Comic Books
Marvel’s Podcast “This Week In Marvel” feat. Greg Young about the History of Marvel in NYC
Royal Collections – your friendly neighborhood Comic shop – in Forest Hills
Other famous Spiderman NYC destinations – here
A Brief History of Spiderman – Historynet
Spiderman We Know Where You Live – NYTimes

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