A volunteer was prepping an unopened file for digital scanning and
found this mole’s skin pressed in the papers of a Civil War widow’s
pension file! How did a preserved mole skin end up in our archives?
The soldier, James J. Van Liew, didn’t care to share his tent with
this uninvited guest and captured it. As (a joke? a love token?), Van
Liew sent the skin to his wife, Charity. She kept it for years but lost
his original letter.
In July 1900, Charity applied to the government for a widow’s
pension. In these applications, the widow had to establish her
relationship with the soldier, and in an era before consistent recording
of marriages, the women often had to be creative. Charity had no
marriage certificate, but she did have this mole skin. She sent the
Pension Bureau four testimonials from friends who had seen Van Liew’s
letter—addressed to “Dear Wife”—and the surprising enclosure.
US National Archives, 1860s/1900.