Moammar Gadhafi may have been a brutal dictator, but "he was a good pen pal," says Louis Schlamowitz, 81, a retired Brooklyn, N.Y., florist and longtime letter-swapper with the recently slain Libyan leader. Locally famous as an accomplished autograph hound, Schlamowitz kept up a sporadic correspondence with Gadhafi dating back to 1969 when the Libyan seized power. "I... congratulated him on being the new leader of Libya, hoping for many more years ahead of him," Schlamowitz tells the New York Post. Here, a brief look at the "unlikely pen-pal relationship" between the Jewish florist and the Israel-bashing despot:
How extensive was their correspondence?
Not very. Schlamowitz has two "rambling letters" and four signed photographs from Gadhafi, The New York Times reports. After Schlamowitz's first congratulatory note, Gadhafi wrote back, thanking him for his "kind message," and Schlamowitz sent him letters and Christmas cards until 1988, after the bombing of a Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland. Gadhafi "committed crimes against humanity," Schlamowitz says. "I didn't want to get mixed up with him or his organization, so I backed out."
Was that the end of their pen-palling?
No. Gadhafi sent Schlamowitz a Christmas card in 2000, thanking him for his "friendship through the years." And six months ago, after the Libyan uprising started, Schlamowitz sent Gadhafi one last letter — which was returned, unopened. "I wanted to give him a lift, with all he was going through," Schlamowitz tells the Post. "So I wrote him a letter saying, 'If you don't take care of your people, your people will take care of you.'"
And Gadhafi was really "a good pen pal"?
Yes, at least according to Schlamowitz. "I felt it was very nice of him to take the time to write back to me, because I'm nobody special." Actually, I think he sounds like "the world's worst pen pal," says Adrian Chen at Gawker. Who considers it polite to send an American Jew "a virulently anti-American letter" that includes the line: "America practices terrorism against the Palestinian people through providing Israel with the planes and weapons for attacking the Palestinian camps"? Answer: Gadhafi, in 1981. "I wish people well, but I don't have to agree with them," Schlamowitz tells the Times. "I'm not in politics. I do it as a hobby."
Who else has Schlamowitz corresponded with?
Lots of people. His collection of more than 6,000 autographs and letters from luminaries started when he sent President Harry S Truman a Christmas card in the early 1950s, and got a reply. He's snared a signed letter or photograph from every president since, every living Supreme Court justice, every astronaut who walked on the moon, several popes, deposed Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak, Iranian Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Syria's Bashar al-Assad, late Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat, and a veritable who's who of Hollywood. His correspondence with President Richard Nixon even earned him an invitation to a White House Easter event. Nixon "kept calling me counselor," Schlamowitz says. "I'm not a lawyer."
Sources: Brooklyn Paper, Gawker, Huffington Post, NBC, New York Post, New York Times