When disaster strikes, whether cities are on fire or inundated by flood waters, the postal service is at the forefront of securing the lines of communication. “Disaster: Response and Recovery,” a new exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum, challenges visitors to think about how the postal service responds to disaster. Using commonplace objects including mail, mailboxes, bags and keys, the exhibit is a reminder that mail is a part of everyday life, and that disaster—whether natural or man-made—can dramatically affect everyday life in an instant by.
“People don’t usually think about a large government bureaucracy turning on a dime to respond to disaster,” said Allison Marsh, the exhibit’s curator. “But the postal service does just that. They have a long history of serving the public under extraordinary circumstances.”
“Disaster: Response and Recovery” features several objects recently accessioned to the museum’s permanent collection, including postal keys recovered from the body of sea post clerk Oscar Woody, who perished trying to protect the mail aboard the Royal Mail Ship (RMS) Titanic. The keys were placed in a personal effects bag, which will also be on view. Among the items representing disasters on land are a mailbox remnant that survived the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 and an envelope postmarked the first day mail service resumed in New Orleans after the destruction of Hurricane Katrina. Archival film footage of the Titanic will accompany the exhibit.
For the first two weeks of the exhibition, in conjunction with the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, the exhibit will be complemented by four wireless telegrams documenting the final hours of the Titanic's voyage. These telegrams—also known as Marconigrams—as well as a post card posted on board the Titanic, are on loan from the National Museums Northern Ireland, Ulster Folk & Transport Museum, Cultra.
Next door to the National Postal Museum at Union Station, the Ulster Museum will be staging the exhibition “Titanic - Made In Belfast, Northern Ireland” from June 26 to July 15 as part of the four-month “Rediscover Northern Ireland” program, an international showcase of the province's culture, business and tourism.
The National Postal Museum is devoted to presenting the colorful and engaging history of the nation’s mail service and showcasing the largest and most comprehensive collection of stamps and philatelic material in the world. It is located at 2 Massachusetts Ave. N.E., in the Old City Post Office Building across from Union Station. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. For more information visit the museum’s Web site at postalmuseum.si.edu.
# # #