As written on the wall in one of the exhibits at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum.
“Letters From Home,” by John Michael Montgomery, 2004
Happy postal music Sunday! Last time I was at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum, I stopped by one of their exhibits on military mail. The incredible efforts of the postal service to make sure that soldiers received their letters was touching. You don’t have to support war to show kindness to a solider far from home, and that simple act can really make someone’s day. Before technology, letters were all families had to know that their loved ones were safe. They could hold on to the cheer of a letter for months.
Not only can a letter mean a lot to a soldier, but it can also mean a lot to their families back home. My box of Cheerios the other day explained a postcard project they’re teaming up with USO (United Service Organizations) to do. Basically, you cut out the postcard provided on your Cheerios box and write a little note to a military family, and drop it in the mail. USO makes sure it gets to families that could use the support. You can read more about the partnership here.
Systems at Work
This is a great video put out by the United States Postal Service. It shows just how amazing it really is that you can simply drop a letter in a mailbox and it will end up wherever in the world you’d like it to go in a matter of days. I am in a state of wonderment.
An exhibit of “Systems at Work” is currently on display at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum.
Also, please note that the post office had a little confusion over what name to expect on my mail. It’s all resolved now, and nothing should get sent back, but if for some reason your letter gets returned, do please let me know! I appreciate the U.S. Postal Service giving me a call to check it out. As you can tell from the video above, they are a busy bunch!
Messenger of sympathy and love
Servant of parted friends
Consoler of the lonely
Bond of the scattered family
Enlarger of the common life
I took a trip a few weeks back to the National Postal Museum to help immerse myself in the history of the post office in preparation for this project. I’m sure I’ll talk more about the museum in a future post, but for now, I’d like to focus on one of the more unexpected exhibits. His name is Owney.
During his lifetime, a scruffy mutt named Owney was the nation’s most famous canine. From 1888 until his death in 1897, Owney rode with Railway Mail Service clerks and mailbags all across the nation.
Owney’s story begins in 1888 with his attachment to the mail clerks and mailbags at the Albany, New York post office. His owner was likely a postal clerk who let the dog walk him to work. Owney was attracted to the texture or scent of the mailbags and when his master moved away, Owney stayed with his new mail clerk friends. He soon began to follow mailbags. At first, he followed them onto mail wagons and then onto mail trains, beginning an almost decade-long story of travels far and wide. Owney’s journeys took him across the United States, into Canada, and possibly Mexico. On August 19, 1895, as part of a publicity stunt for the town of Tacoma, Washington, Owney left that city on a mail steamer and spent the next few months traveling around the world. He docked back in at New York City harbor in late December, returning by train to Tacoma on December 29, 1895.
Among the first to visit the dog upon his arrival in town was often the local reporter, eager to learn where the dog had been, and share his travels with readers. This far-traveled canine would have achieved fame for his travels alone, but he also gathered attention for his fashion sense. Postal workers were the first to attach tokens to the dog’s collar, but soon just about anyone and everyone who had the opportunity to give Owney a little souvenir of his trip did so. Before long, the poor dog was carrying so many tags on his collar that he could barely keep his head upright. His mail clerk friends began shipping excess tags back to the Albany post office, where the postmaster soon put them on public display. Postmaster General John Wanamaker had a special harness built for Owney to wear, so his tags could be spread out evenly all over his body. A writer for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that “Nearly every place he stopped Owney received an additional tag, until now he wears a big bunch. When he jogs along, they jingle like the bells on a junk wagon.”
[Upon Owney’s death,] mail clerks raised funds to have Owney preserved, and he was given to the Post Office Department’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. In 1911, the department transferred Owney to the Smithsonian Institution, where he has remained ever since. Owney can be seen on display in the National Postal Museum’s atrium, wearing his harness and surrounded by several of his tags.
I love how Owney’s adventures became such an exciting topic for communities to read about. He was the fleshly representation of the incredible ability of mail to travel so far and wide. And, thanks to this postcard I picked up, he’s still traveling along with those bags of letters!