Whilst discussing a customer complaint with a client, I was reminded of the Pullman bedbug complaint. A quick enquiry on the internet enabled me to locate it and even Snopes.com, that debunker of urban myths and furphies, states that it is believed to be true.
The story is that on 4 March 1889, Mr Phineas P Jenkins, a salesman of pig-iron products, travelled on the sleeper of the Pullman Palace Car Company.
The sleeping car, or “palace car”, had been developed by George M Pullman (above) who modelled them on the boats that travelled the Erie Canal. After Lincoln’s body had been transported by a Pullman sleeper, orders poured in. In 1867 he established the Chicago-based Pullman Palace Car Company. His railway cars incorporated such luxuries as freshly prepared gourmet meals in Pullman-operated dining cars, chandeliers, electric lighting, table lamps with silk shades, leather seating, and advanced heating and air conditioning systems. And, of course, the famed Pullman porters. Pullman sleepers operated until 1968.
Back in 1889, however, Mr Jenkins was moved to send a letter of complaint to the Pullman Palace Car Company at having had to share his bed with bedbugs. In return, he received a heartfelt apology from George M Pullman himself, the company president. The company had never heard of such a thing, Pullman wrote, and as a result of the passenger's experience, all of the sleeping cars were being pulled off the line and fumigated. The Pullman's Palace Car Company was committed to providing its customers with the highest level of service, Pullman went on, and it would spare no expense in meeting that goal. Thank you for writing, he said, and if you ever have a similar problem — or any problem — do not hesitate to write again.
Enclosed with this letter, by accident, was the passenger's original letter to Pullman, across the bottom of which the president had written, "Sarah - Send this S.O.B. the bedbug letter."
Although Mr Pullman and his sleeper cars are no longer with us, the bedbug letter lives on…
In November 2000 Ian Payne, a fan of actress Jean Simmons, wrote to the BBC to request a season of Jean Simmons films. In the same letter he requested an autograph of Lorraine Heggessey, the Controller of the BBC. He received back a short letter saying that it was unable to consider a Jean Simmons season at this time. Attached to his letter was a Post It Note saying “Nutter, polite fob off – no autograph.” The BBC subsequently “apologised unreservedly”, declaring it had tried to track the culprit from the handwriting but had been unable to identify the person responsible.