On the morning of July 11, Vie Carlson was in her Rockford home getting ready to come to Madison.

Carlson, 84, was planning to attend the "Antiques Roadshow" event at the Alliant Energy Center.

"I had a friend who had tickets," Carlson was saying this week.

"Antiques Roadshow" is a popular PBS show in which people are invited to bring in their old stuff for appraisal by experts. The owners of the most interesting antiques are interviewed for stories that appear later on the program.

Carlson had a few antiques, including a viola, that she felt were worth having appraised.

But when her friend picked her up for the drive to Madison, a framed letter hanging on Carlson's wall caught the friend's attention.

"That's Frankie!" the friend said. "I want to take Frankie!"

Carlson was skeptical. "That thing had been hanging there since 1976," she said, "and nobody had paid any attention to it."

Carlson continued, "I had real antiques to bring."

But the friend was insistent, so Carlson brought the letter to Madison.

As Carlson said, she'd owned the letter for more than three decades. As letters go, it is more interesting than most. The recipient is a legend, and the author of the letter is an even bigger legend.

It turns out Carlson is quite pleased she decided to bring the letter to Madison.

The story of the letter and how Carlson got it begins with Frank Sinatra arriving in Chicago for a concert in early May 1976.

Chicago's famed columnist Mike Royko was a Sinatra fan, but he couldn't ignore the tip that informed him that Sinatra had a uniformed Chicago police officer guarding his penthouse suite at the Ambassador East Hotel around the clock.

Royko expressed outrage that while ordinary Chicagoans barely rated "getting scraped off the sidewalk after somebody has bashed them on the head," Sinatra had a guard at taxpayer expense.

"Every night," Royko wrote, "hundreds of scrub ladies make it from their downtown jobs to their homes, with only a heavy purse and a strong set of lungs to protect them. But Sinatra, with his army of flunkies, has a full-time police guard."

Sinatra was furious, and had a copyrighted letter hand-delivered to the columnist that day. In it, Sinatra refuted Royko's column, saying he didn't have an army of flunkies and that nobody in his camp had requested a police guard. The two-page letter was typed and then signed, "Sinatra."

Royko reprinted the letter in his next day's column. The columnist also responded, saying it was a thrill to get a letter from Sinatra, "even if he did call me a pimp."

And Royko apologized, in his manner. "If you say you have no flunkies, I take your word and apologize. I'll even apologize to the flunky who delivered the letter."

Royko's conclusion was that a politician must have sent a cop to guard Sinatra's suite as a way of impressing the singer.

And that was pretty much that, except that Royko decided to auction the letter and give the proceeds to the Salvation Army.

Back in 1976, Vie Carlson was a Royko fan. "He was the only reason I subscribed to the paper," she said. Carlson followed the feud in the columns and when the letter went up for bid, she called and offered $400.

She was excited when Royko personally called to tell her she had the winning bid. But she was even more excited this July, when the "Antiques Roadshow" appraisers estimated the letter is now worth around $15,000.

Carlson said she was advised to hang on to the letter until after the "Antiques Roadshow" episode airs, which will likely increase interest in it. An air date isn't set, but a Wisconsin Public Television spokesperson said Wednesday it will be sometime between February and June of next year.

"My real antiques they weren't interested in," Carlson said. "They said the viola was worthless because it had been refinished."

Is she sure Sinatra never played it?

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