Author Christopher Corbett to Lecture on Pony Express Legend at Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum

10.20.2004
Press Release

WANTED
Young, skinny, wiry fellows, not over eighteen.
Must be expert riders, willing to risk death daily.
Orphans preferred. Wages—$25 per week.
Apply—Central Overland Pony Express

This ad, which reportedly ran in newspapers throughout California in 1860, has been widely reproduced in reputable publications across the country. Its authenticity, however, has yet to be proven.

An upcoming program at the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum seeks to explain why, despite the facts, the thrilling and romantic images endure about the great American story of the Pony Express. Christopher Corbett, author of “Orphans Preferred: The Twisted Truth and Lasting Legend of the Pony Express,” will discuss the facts and fiction behind the legend of the Pony Express in a lecture at the Postal Museum from 1 – 2 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 6.

Backed by rigorous research, Corbett reveals the actual events and real people behind the saga of “the Pony.” He also sheds new light on the forces that transformed the riders of the Central Overland California & Pike’s Peak Express Company from minor players in a daring, madcap and ultimately disastrous business venture into the mythical adventurers that gallop across our national consciousness to this day.

In the spring of 1860, with the Civil War looming, the firm of Russell, Majors & Waddell, which had already cornered the market on freight-hauling west of the Mississippi, established a privately financed subsidiary in a gamble to prove that mail could be moved quickly across nearly 2000 miles of untamed North America. A relay system of experienced riders and exceptional horses would move the mail in 10 days or less. The firm vowed to move a horse and rider across the prairie day and night, despite rain, sleet, tornadoes, dust storms, locusts or foes.

Critics dismissed the Pony Express (a nickname infinitely more memorable than the company’s acronym—COC & PPEC) as a foolhardy idea or a blatant publicity stunt. Yet, in a time when getting a letter from home back East could take months, men gathered to cheer on the intrepid rider racing by with his mochilla, a saddlebag packed with up to 20 pounds of precious paper cargo. Although the experiment lasted only 18 months—stymied when the wires of the first transcontinental telegraph were finally joined—the myth of the Pony Express has endured.

A seasoned journalist, Christopher Corbett spent many years as a news editor and reporter with the Associated Press. He has also written for The New York Times, Washington Post, Philadelphia Inquirer and Boston Globe. He lives in Baltimore, Md.

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.

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