Lauren Heasley has recently been on a kick where she wants to “do touristy things.” Nobody knows why.
Nonetheless, we decided to oblige this weekend with a trip to the National Postal Museum. It’s really pretty unbelievable that I, a former philatelist, had never been here before. It’s really pretty more unbelievable, because it is the best museum in Washington, DC. I’m not even joking. You might think I am, because of some of what you’re about to see, but I’m not. I loved it. Since it’s been a while since the heady early days of graduate school when we had to write museum reviews, and since we made like tourists and took lots of unnecessary photos, I’m just going to let the pics (and my captions, duh) speak for themselves. It was a long visit, so it may take two posts to cover it all. I’m devoting today’s essay to three of my favorite/most ridiculous things: dog carcasses, the Titanic, and wandering through the wilderness.
Dog Carcasses (not graphic, I promise)
Ugh. I’m already against this museum. Why can’t they have a statue of a cat? #JasonSays
Owney was a dog that followed mail trains around during the nineteenth century, so naturally his statue is on display at the entrance. I thought it was also on display inside the museum too, but then I realized that it was just his poorly taxidermied carcass. I didn’t take a photo, because weirded out, but if I did, you can imagine that it would go here:
Photo of Dead Dog
If you are curious about Owney, you can also visit the gift store, where all manner of keychains, magnets, mugs, and other treasures bear his stuffed image. I know what Jason’s getting for his next birthday!
See, That Wasn’t so Bad! Now On To the Titanic
Obviously, the mere sight of this exhibit exceeded all of my wildest expectations and rendered the rest of the visit virtually unnecessary.
You might think that an exhibit on the Titanic and Hindenburg has no place in a postal museum, and you would be right but also a moron. As I learned, a lot about the Titanic remains mysterious even to enthusiasts like me. One of those mysteries until today was that RMS stands for “royal mail ship,” and that the Titanic was the largest floating post office of the twentieth century (red dot shows location). The Hindenburg was the largest flying post office ever. Also, they sometimes carried people.
Exhibit centered largely on pop culture, so my day was made, and I learned something about mail. Like that there are stamps bearing the image of Jack and Rose and that I need them.
Also, this happened.
All of that pop culture gave us an opportunity to think. This is an actual historian’s question. I think it helps. And hurts a little bit. But mostly helps. Like any social scientist, I choose to say, “It depends.”
As I learned from the movie, J. Bruce Ismay was the most reprehensible person on board the Titanic. At least we got to see his book.
I don’t know if you knew this, but the sinking of the Titanic was a terrible tragedy. None of the mail survived. Some of the people did survive, however, and we were encouraged to remember at least one survivor’s story. This is the one I’m remembering. It’s tragic, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t chuckle a bit at the caption’s phrasing (“Six-year-old Robert Douglass Spedden plays on Titanic’s Promenade Deck. He survived the sinking but died in 1915 when hit by a car.”).
Wandering Through the Wilderness
After we saw the Titanic (and the Hindenburg, from which, miraculously, they were able to recover some of the mail), we wandered through the wilderness exhibit.
As Susan wrote, “Please explain to me why there are rocks and snow in the Postal Museum…” And as Jason replied, “I think the Postal Service just had, like $200,000 to spend, and they needed to fill some space.” I agree.
The wilderness exhibit featured this stagecoach at its beginning. We were encouraged to climb inside, even though we couldn’t tell whether the people sitting in it were alive or dead. Lauren thinks they’re alive, because they had a nice chat.
Jason had the opportunity to reenact the fate of some eighteenth- and nineteenth-century mail carriers. And that, Susan, is why we have rocks and snow in the Postal Museum.
As you can see, the Postal Museum is, in my opinion, not the least macabre Smithsonian, but we did learn a few things. Some of them even had to do with the mail. We learned so much, in fact, that you’re not even going to believe what relevant and insightful photos will be in the next post . . .