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When Spider-Man Lived in Forest Hills

The letters to Spider-Man were either a great cosmic accident, or a joke.

(Pamela Parker)

In December, a house in the leafy residential enclave of Forest Hills, Queens, was listed for $2.1 million. The Zillow listing for 20 Ingram Street mentions the fireplace, hardwood flooring, glassed-in porch, and detached garage. It does not mention the fact that it is Spider-Man's house.

It was either a great cosmic accident, or a joke: In the summer of 1989, Marvel Comics published issue #317 of "The Amazing Spider-Man." In the comic, a snarling Venom has cunningly tracked down Peter Parker to his home in suburban Queens. Or maybe not so cunningly, given that Peter had just left a change-of-address form lying around after one of his recent wardrobe changes. The form reveals Peter Parker's full address, where he lives with his Aunt May: 20 Ingram Street, Forest Hills, NY 11375.

(Pamela Parker)

It's possible someone at Marvel Comics was enjoying a private chuckle: In real-world Forest Hills, a real-life Parker family had lived at that address since 1974. Following the comic's publication, through the '90s and into a peak during the 2000s, the Parker family received stacks of mail from the superhero's fans, addressed to Peter Parker or Spider-Man.

"They would come randomly in our childhood," recalled Pamela Parker, now 41 and working as a graphic designer in Brooklyn. "We weren't big Spider-Man fans—I was more of an Archie Comics girl—so we didn't understand the connection. We just thought it was a prank by one of our friends who thought it was funny that our last name was Parker."

(Pamela Parker)

The family was alerted to the comics connection when a reporter from the Queens Tribune dropped by Ingram Street around the time the Sam Raimi-directed Spider-Man movie came out in 2002. 

The family was obliging with the media attention that followed, charmed by the connection and by the letters, which they kept. "We got tons of it," Pamela's mother told the New York Times in 2002. Spider-Man creator Stan Lee, for his part, refused responsibility: "I never pinpointed his address," he said. "Spidey would have gotten a kick out of the coincidence, but Peter Parker, he would have loathed all this publicity revealing where he lives."

For the first time, a selection of the Parkers' letters are on display in the city, at the New York memorabilia museum City Reliquary, on Metropolitan Avenue in Williamsburg.

The collection includes letters from all around the world: Verlene from Switzerland ("I often dress up as you to kill all the baddies"), Thomas from Australia, Henrik from the Netherlands. "Could you teach me how to make two web shooters?" asks Sid. "Would you like to come to our house sometime in summer?" asks Shelby, inquiring if Spider-Man lives in Kentucky too.

(Pamela Parker)

There's a photograph of a boy named Mason proudly sporting his new Spider-Man gear: "Thank you for my Spiderman sweatshirt. I love it! Merry Christmas!" Elsewhere, a young man named Connor threatens blackmail: "Everybody knows your secret," he writes. "Your [sic] Peter Parker … I want a web slinger and all the spiderman things or else i'll tell Aunt May."

One fan in Germany sent, by priority mail, a care package of sorts. It contained sour chewing gum, an assortment of horse stickers, a piece of string, and a €0.01 coin.

(Pamela Parker)

Pamela's favorite is an elegantly written letter from "a remote village" in southern India: "We would love to imitate you," it reads, "scaling the walls, jumping off from the top of the buildings and to protect children in danger like a superhero; but we know very well that happens only in reel life and not so in real life."

The exhibition also features a representative sample of junk mail—inviting Peter Parker to "Call today to activate your DISCOVER card!"—but not the check made out to Peter Parker for $1,645.

"I think my mom cashed the check," Pamela said.

(Pamela Parker)

Some of the mail evidently found its way to the Parkers without the benefit of a full street address on the envelope—just "Forest Hills"—suggesting the cooperation of a sympathizer at the local post office.

According to Pamela, the family resisted the temptation to write back. "We thought twice about encouraging it—it was maybe just a bit off-putting as a privacy thing," she said. "Not too many" fans knocked on the door of 20 Ingram, but some did stop by to take photos.

So far, 20 Ingram Street is the only Spider-Man-related landmark in Forest Hills. Last year, another local, Larry Ng, started a campaign to erect a statue in the area, depicting the superhero hanging from a lamppost. He tells Hell Gate that Disney has quashed the idea: "They are very protective of their intellectual property."

The Parker family moved out in 2017; Pamela was inspired to hold onto the letters. "I don't know who the next owners were, and I don't know if they were as charmed by it all."

Clay Langston, from Corinth, Mississippi, was nine when he sent one of the letters now on display at City Reliquary: "I think you are the best superhero," Clay wrote, requesting that Spidey "please right back [sic]."

Hell Gate reached out to Langston, now a student at the University of Tennessee. "That's amazing," he said, clearly enjoying the "sloppy writing" of his nine-year-old self. "I was a giant fan of Spider-Man growing up. I do remember writing him fan mail, drawing costumes, and sending them to him. He helped me cope through the hard times as a kid." He probably turned up Peter Parker's mailing address after a quick Google, he said.

He still thinks he's the best superhero. "I now collect Spider-Man Funko pops."

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