TRAVERSE CITY — That envelope with the Traverse City return address that showed up as a prop on the HBO TV show “Boardwalk Empire” may be destined to remain a mystery.
The envelope made a brief appearance on the Sept. 8 season premiere of the Roaring '20s-based series. In the first five minutes of the episode, a mobster is “whacked” by one of the show’s protagonists, Richard Harrow, who then pulls an envelope from the mobster’s pocket. The return address: “Old Mission Title Insurance, East Front Street, Traverse City, Michigan,” with address number obscured.
Traverse City native Zack Fivenson watched the episode Sept. 9 and promptly froze the screen to make a print of the envelope image using his digital video recorder.
“They held the camera on there just long enough and I’m tuned in to Traverse City,” said Fivenson, a business consultant in Vancouver. “I immediately tried to research it online” without success.
Created by Terence Winter, the Emmy Award-winning writer of “The Sopranos,” and Academy Award-winning director Martin Scorsese, “Boardwalk Empire” is set in Atlantic City during Prohibition, when the sale of alcohol became illegal throughout the United States.
Traverse Area Title Service is one of two title companies currently on East Front Street, said closing agent Sabrina Gaylord. She doesn't recall another title company in the area. But John McCarthy does.
"It was a real title company," said McCarthy, whose family started Grand Traverse Title Company in 1927. "But I can't tell you when and I can't tell you who was behind it."
Tobe Becker, vice-president of media relations for HBO, said he’s not aware of any specific reason why Traverse City was the lucky beneficiary of a shout-out on the show. But he noted that the series' storyline takes Richard Harrow to his family’s farm in the Midwest. Based on that scenario, the city could conceivably be a reasonable venue for some of the character's contacts.
Mike Norton has a less complicated take on what may have been behind Traverse City's cameo appearance.
“My guess is that it was somebody on the writing team who had a place up here or vacationed up here,” said Norton, media relations director for the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau. “It happens all the time.”