Last Tuesday after I got off work (2:00 pm), Briseis and I headed into the city to park my car on the Army base right down the street from the Taylor Swift concert – before the area became gridlocked because of the concert and rush hour, and for free – and then met up with Shannon a few Metro stops away to explore the National Postal Museum, which means this isn’t technically a field trip that we took on a Friday, but since I’m posting about it on a Friday I’ve decided that it can borrow the title and not be a fraud.
So yeah. The National Postal Museum. Sounds kind of lame, right? Going into it even I was a little “meh,” and that’s notable because the mail is one of my favorite things ever. Srsly. I’m a grown ass woman that still hand-writes letters to pen pals (so do my kids!), and getting the mail is my favorite time of the day (I freak the fuck out if anyone else does it, especially if they do so without asking). Even still, I did have overly high hopes for this place, especially after the disappointment of the Building Museum a few weeks back. BUT. Turns out: The National Postal Museum is one of the coolest fucking museums I’ve ever been to. Maybe even my favorite. Absolutely unexpectedly amazing.
That bright blue mailbox ↑ is from The Vatican!!
The National Postal Museum is housed in “the” Old Post Office – not the one right downtown across from FBI headquarters that’s being turned into a hotel by Donald Trump, but the one in Northeast literally right across the street from Union Station. We entered on street level, which is actually the top level of the musé.
The top half of the museum is hollowed out in the center so that all of the exhibits are housed along the perimeter of the building. And they’re pretty fucking rad exhibits. A lot of the stuff is low-lit in order to preserve the integrity of the historical items, so apologies in advance for some oddly-colored photos.
The first thing we saw was the first-ever postage stamp – the Penny Black from 1840. The room that this was in had a shit ton of early postage stamps, along with some of the most notable stamps in American history (like the introduction of the breast cancer awareness stamp, etc.). There was also an old spider machine thingy (I think that was its official name) that was used way back when by teams of two workers for producing sheets of stamps in bulk, including the famous inverted Jenny sheets.
We also saw a flight suit worn by Amelia Earhart during flights she piloted that had mail aboard:
An old school Pitney Bowes postage machine (from the very early 1900s, if I remember correctly):
A letter aboard the Hindenburg:
A letter aboard the Titanic (which was written exactly 100 years (to the day!) before Madden was born):
And the oldest piece of paper mail that made its way to its recipient along the Silk Road way back in 1390 (Make sure you read that correctly. Not 1930. 1390. THIRTEEN NINETY. As in 14th century…holy eff!):
There were A LOT of other really cool artifacts housed in the top floor exhibits – documents and letters and personal items and public property that survived some of history’s most defining moments. There was also a cool interactive display that you could search or browse through every postage stamp ever produced in the United States, there was even an area for kids to design their own (commemorative) postage stamp, and there was a table with three or four trays full of old postage stamps from around the world that each visitor is allowed to pocket six from, to take home and start his or her own stamp collection (or to paste in a summer mini).
The bottom floor of the museum is where all the stuff is kept, most notably old mail carriers in all different shapes and sizes: Planes, trains, auto, horse-drawn carriages, semis, you name it.
I seriously can’t say it enough: You have to check this place out. It might sound weird, but even in the digital age, the postal system is so integral to our connection to others, near and far. Digital communication is great, sure, but the tactile quality of real mail is something you can’t replicate on the computer or your iPad or your smartphone. If nothing else, a trip to this museum will absolutely shift your perspective and help you realize how important the postal service has been, and continues to be, to not only our daily personal lives but to international relations and commerce, exploration and history. The exhibits are relevant, rich and interesting. This place really is a hidden gem. And besides all that brain-y, thinking-y stuff, it’s just a gorgeous building with a beautiful aesthetic, plus it’s right next to some other really cool DC stops, like Union Station, which is packed full of eateries and shops.
Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to explore the whole thing, or to take our time perusing the exhibits that we did make it to, because we had to get back to the Metro to head to the stadium in time for T. Swift. But since it’s free and like, four seconds away from work, we can easily head back on a day we have more time. If you ever get the chance to visit DC, check this place out. So many little bits of history packed into it, which makes it a must-see DC stop. It will be one of the highlights of your trip, I promise.