100 Years of Our National Parks

Wish You Were Here Mail and Our National Parks

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Presentation by Chief Curator of Philately Daniel A. Piazza featuring objects and stories from Trailblazing, the National Postal Museum’s special exhibition for the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.

Public talk filmed at the Westpex Stamp Show, April 2017.

Chief Curator Dan Piazza: My name is Dan Piazza, I'm the Chief Curator of Philately at the National Postal Museum.

And I'm also the curator of this exhibit called Trailblazing, which is our current rotating exhibition in the Philatelic Gallery.

(crowd noise drowns out Dan)

It's about the Centennial of the National Park Service, which was last year.

So the exhibit opened last year, and it's on display until March of next year.

And it tells the story really, of some of the interesting ways that mail moves to, through, and from the National Parks.

Both historically, so a number of places that are now National Parks, or National Monuments, National Historic Sites.

At some point in the past, they had mail service, where they had mail connected with them.

But then also, some of the modern mail stories that go on in National Parks today.

And I'll show you some highlights of some of the pieces that are on exhibit, some photographs of the exhibit itself as well.

And while I'm giving my talk, feel free to help yourself.

There are some brochures in the middle of the room.

These are actually the gallery guides, that are available free in the exhibit.

So everybody who comes through the museum galleries and visits the exhibit, can pick one of these up.

And it gives a little story of the exhibit.

Tells some extended stories, about some objects that are featured in the display.

But then it opens up into an exhibition poster.

Which is a nice little souvenir of people's visit to the Museum.

And this is the original artwork for the Grand Canyon stamp in the Celebrate the Century Series from back around 1999, 2000, if you remember that series of stamps.

This was original artwork that was commissioned for that set of stamps.

And the original artwork itself is on display in the museum.

And I was just - for those folks who are just coming in - I was just saying that some people are...

have found that they like getting these, the Forever Succulent stamps, and putting them on these posters and getting first day cancels.

So feel free to help yourself, if that's something you'd like to do.

And then also, at the end of most of the rows, there are these little lucite boxes full of stamps.

They're all hand selected stamps, here.

All themed around the National Parks.

So while I'm giving my talk, if you'd like to pick up one of those envelopes from the tray, in the middle of the room.

And dig into one of these boxes of stamps, and create your own National Parks stamp collection.

Feel free to do that.

I will give a little warning, which is that the last stamp show I took these to, I think accidentally another little batch of stamps got mixed up in here.

So I did this morning, find a few like, Belgian and Italian things.

I don't know how they got in here.

They weren't in...

(Dan laughing) They weren't in there, when I put them together, but...

Feel free to have fun going through those boxes.

Before I talk a little bit about the exhibit though, for those who've maybe never been to the Smithsonian National Postal Museum, or haven't been in quite some time, need a little refresher, I wanted to give you some...

an introduction, and background.

The National Postal Museum, this is our building here, in Washington, DC

We're right next door to Union Station, on Massachusetts Avenue.

About a quarter of a mile from the Capitol Building, in a really, really great old building designed by a famous architect named Daniel Burnham and built as the city's main Post Office from 1914 to 1986.

So, we are actually in an old postal building.

We are one of 19 Smithsonian Institution museums and research centers.

Although I guess now that's 20, with the opening of the new...

last time I gave this presentation, maybe it was before the opening of the new African American History and Culture Museum.

So now we're 20 museums And research centers, I guess? The museum opened in 1993, in this building that I was telling you about, but the collection is much older than the Museum.

The Smithsonian has been collecting stamps and mail since 1886.

And prior to the National Postal Museum our collection was located in the American History Museum.

And I was just chatting with a gentleman in the back of the room there, who was telling me about his first trip to Washington.

And he vividly remembers going up to the old pullout frames on the third floor of the American History building.

And hoping that the guards would lock him in overnight, so that he could...

(laughs) So that he could stay, and just keep looking at stamps all night long.

We still have that collection, the collection is much older than the Museum.

And it's all now, over in the Old City Post Office building.

Our collection is the largest philatelic collection in the world, at about six million items in our collection.

That includes stamps, and pieces of mail.

It also includes things like mail trucks, and vehicles, and uniforms.

But 99% or more of the collection, is philately - stamps and mail.

And the museum's mission is twofold, really.

To care for this national treasure, but also to provide public access to it.

And we provide public access to it, in a variety of ways.

One of which is through exhibits, in our gallery spaces.

But then also, by coming out and going to stamp shows, giving talks like this.

We don't often get out to the West Coast with this material, so it's a real treat to be able to come out, and show some of the material out here.

So this is another way that we provide access to the collection, and our exhibits.

So, this is a photograph of the gallery space.

It's a really beautiful suite of rooms in our building, that used to be the personal private office, of the Washington, D. C. city postmaster.

So our building was a working post office, from 1914 to 1986.

And it was gutted and renovated many times during that period, because it was a working post office.

And they were bringing in new material, ripping out old material, new walls, old walls, and so forth.

But this suite of rooms, because it was the postmaster's private office, basically remained untouched.

With the original wood paneling, walnut paneling.

And parquet floors, and light fixtures, and so forth, from 1914.

So when we were creating the William H.

Gross Stamp Gallery, on the main level of the Museum.

We really wanted to leave that set of rooms intact, and not make any changes to it.

So, that's where we present our rotating exhibits.

Exhibits that have a life, you know, of maybe a year, year and half, or two years.

And this is the latest in the series.

It's called Trailblazing, 100 Years of Our National Parks.

And one of the things I think we do really well at the National Postal Museum, in presenting stamps, and philately to the public, is that we do it in a way that puts it in a larger context of American history.

Using objects on loan from other museums, to augment the stamps and the artwork, and the covers from our own collection.

So you see here, for example, this a prepared slab from a cross-section of a sequoia tree, that's on loan to us from Sequoia National Park.

In the next picture you'll see on the other side, there's a similar piece of petrified wood.

We have signs from some of the post offices, that used to exist inside the national parks.

So about 18 different national parks loaned us items out of their museum collections, to show at this exhibit, alongside our stamps and mail.

This is...

Actually you can't really see it too well in this photo, but this is actually a neat California photo.

This is from Sequoia National Park.

This is a photograph of the first Post Office in Sequoia National Park, which opened in I think, 1902.

And the name of the Post Office, was Ranger.

Ranger Post Office.

Appropriate enough.

Dan, is that the one right near Yosemite? It's down Yosemite, a few mile.

Right, okay.

Well, this is Sequoia.

Right, Sequoia National Park, is below Yosemite.


One of them.

I'm gonna say a few miles, I can't quote it on that.

Yeah, yeah.

I don't think this building exists anymore, though.

That building's not there.

This was the postmaster's private office.

Here in these photos, you can really see the walnut paneling, and the parquet floors I was telling you about.

See here, were a rangers hat and boots.

That were loaned to us by a park ranger, for the exhibit.

You can kinda see here, there's a dinner plate in the exhibit.

This is from one of the Fred Harvey hotels.

This one was the Painted Desert Inn, in Arizona.

So along with the stamps and mail, we try and put this material in a larger context.

And give people who aren't necessarily stamp collectors, a reason to want to come to the museum, and see and experience the hobby, you know.

We have about four to 500,000 visitors a year, at the National Postal Museum.

It varies a little bit from year to year, but that's been pretty steady for a long time, now.

And fully three-quarters of our visitors to the museum, tell us that they are not stamp collectors.

And so, by coming and visiting the museum, you know, up to 350,000 people a year have a really positive experience of looking at stamps and mail, and seeing them in a context that...

that "Gee, this stuff is important."

"This stuff is interesting."

"I want to come and learn more about this material."

So that's something we try very strongly to do, in our exhibits.

Here's another view where you can see, there's the petrified wood.

Can you step a little bit to the right? Yep, sure, sure.

There's the petrified wood, there.

That must weigh a lot.

(laughs) Yeah.

Shipping and installing both of those, was interesting, yeah.

(laughs) So the first section of the exhibit, deals with the origins of the national parks.

And I think one of the highlights, one of the treasures in this part of the exhibit, is a piece from our own collection.

It is Ansel Adams' childhood stamp collection.

Which was only donated to the Museum, about five or six years ago, by the family.

They contacted us, and donated the album.

This is the first opportunity we've really had, to feature it in an exhibit.

But Ansel Adams as a young boy, was a stamp collector.


I knew immediately going through the album when we first got it, that it was kind of an unusual collection.

Now, his mother had sort of started the collection.

And then, according to the family, anyway, his mother had started the collection, and gave it to young Ansel, but Ansel Adams actually added most of the stamps to the collection.

And one of the things that jumped out at me immediately, as being unusual for a boyhood stamp collection.

Because you know, you do see lots of these, and encounter them, is a complete set of the Trans-Mississippi Issue.

And you don't...

You know, usually you get up to the...

maybe you get up to the 50, but usually it stops at around the 10 cent, you know, in a child's stamp album.

But he had the whole set complete.

And I can't prove it, but it makes me feel good to think that some of the imagery of the American West, some of the principles of composition and framing that Adams encountered for the first time in his stamp collection, and particularly in this series of stamps - which obviously captivated him enough to get the whole set - had an influence on his later work as a photographer.

It is in some ways, I guess, a disappointment that he gave up philately and became a photographer.

If he had stuck with stamps, he could have really been somebody.

(audience laughing) But you know, I mean, you win some, you lose some.

But this is, so this is...

you do have a hometown hero here in San Francisco represented in the exhibit through his boyhood stamp collection.

These are some of the very iconic photographs that he took during his years as a photographer in the national parks.

It was on a visit to Yosemite at about the age of 16 that, on the way to the park actually, the family gave him his first sort of, Kodak Brownie camera, and he started taking pictures.

And that was the end of the stamp collecting.

But we have his album, and this is very popular with visitors coming to the museum to see the exhibit.

One of the most unusual mail stories, that has a long history in the national parks, and still goes on today, is the mule train to the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

There are actually two mule trains at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

One of them is an official postal route.

And one of them is, it turns out...

actually functions as a somewhat unofficial postal route.

So, there's one inside the national park.

And that is a mule train down to Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

There are only two ways to Phantom Ranch, really.

You can raft in on the Colorado River or you can go down the trails on foot.

And that's how the mules get down there, and keep the ranch supplied.

A lot of people who are staying at the ranch, rather than carry their own luggage, they actually, they pay for the ranch's mule train to carry the luggage down.

This is primarily a luggage train, for the...

and a supply train, a mule train, for the Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the canyon.

But, as a courtesy to their guests, they do actually provide a mail service, where you can...

there's a mochila - a mail pouch - in the lobby of the Phantom Ranch Hotel.

They have two of them, they loaned me one of them for the exhibit, and it's on display in the gallery.

Any mail that you leave in there by the time the mule train leaves that morning, gets carried up to the top by mules and deposited in the post office at the south rim of the Grand Canyon.

And it receives an oval cachet marking showing that it was carried by mule train.

An interesting...

phenomenon, I guess, is that, as I was out at Grand Canyon researching this, and talking to curators in the museum there and so forth...

no one really knows when the mule train mail to the bottom of the Grand Canyon started.

They have photographs from the 1930s, that's one of these that they loaned me, for the exhibit.

And they found a painting of the mule train, that dated to about the late 1880s, early 1890s.

So it was going on at least that early, but exactly when it started, nobody knows.

But it does still go on today.

This is a photograph I took of the mule train in 2014, setting out down the canyon for Supai.

So there's a United States Post Office at Peach Springs, Arizona on Route 66, which is distinctive because it's the only post office in the United States with a walk-in freezer.

Because a lot of the mail going down to the Grand Canyon is perishable, it's food.

It's consumable items.

So they put it in the freezer at the Post Office overnight so that it's frozen.

They drive it 60 miles from Peach Springs to the hilltop, to the Havasupai hilltop, on the south rim of the canyon, and then bring it down by mule train.

Slogan cancels promoting the parks were really big in the 1910s, and this one dates from 1917.

We have a small grouping of them on display, in the exhibit.

World War One - since we're in the midst of the World War One Centennial, right? - World War One was a really important time for the national parks.

Because up until that point, if you were a wealthy...

particularly a wealthy Easterner, and you had a lot of disposable income, and you were going on vacation, well, what did you do? You took the grand tour of Europe.

You went to France, you went to Spain, you went Italy, and so forth.

Well, in World War One, you couldn't do that.

Most of the transatlantic traffic was stopped by U-boats.

Even the ships that were getting through, very few people really wanted to travel on them, because you had a very high likelihood, especially in '16 and '17, when unrestricted submarine warfare starts.

So Europe, as a vacation destination, is no longer popular.

And people start going west instead, to the national parks.

Which are very rustic, at this point in time.

But it's when a lot of the luxury hotels that still exist in the National Parks are built, just before and during this period.

Because the parks are becoming a popular alternative to travel and "See America First" was the slogan in the 1910s, as an alternative to travel in Europe.

And many of the parks then were seasonal.

So here, for example, Mount Rainier - well, Mount Rainier is still seasonal - but you see it opens June 15th.

Very short season, actually, at Mount Rainier.

One thing that we explore in this exhibit about the national parks is the extent to which the park service employees, and their families who live in the parks, rely on postal service to the national parks for all sorts of ordinary daily things that we take for granted.

I was attracted to this cover, so I put it in the exhibit.

It's a very common cover; not a particularly valuable cover at all.

But what it shows is, it was mailed from the Petrified Forest National Park, in Arizona.

And it's someone sending off for a magazine subscription for their children, right? This is likely a park ranger stationed - living - in the park, who has kids - family - living with them in the ranger housing in the park.

And they're sending off for a magazine subscription, to keep the kids entertained.

Petrified Forest, in addition to having its own post office, had it's own elementary school until they finally closed it, I think, in the 1980s.

And the few children who still live in Petrified Forest with their parents, who work for the park service...

They have a bus ride, they have a commute, that would make most people living in Washington, DC


They have like a two-hour commute each way, to the nearest school district, so...

These are really neat pieces, that not very many people know about.

Because they are in a sense, sort of, deep "back of the book."

But these are revenue philately associated with the national parks.

From 1939 until the early 1950s, if you wanted to operate a motor vehicle, and especially a house trailer, inside the national parks, you actually had to get a special license to do that.

And you had to see the ranger, and pay a fee, and attach the revenue stamp to your license to show that you had paid the fee to operate a motor vehicle and a trailer in the park.

And this is an example of something that, when we set out to put up this exhibit, I went looking for some of these pieces in the museum's collection, but we don't have any.

So, we went out and acquired them.

Exhibits are sometimes an opportunity for the museum to acquire pieces that are missing from its collection.

And so, we went out and were able to acquire two of these licenses.

They're really neat.

"Feeding bears is prohibited," hand stamped here.

And just the imagery of the woody wagon, pulling the trailer on the stamps themselves, is kind of redolent of all the 1940s and '50s road trips.

The station wagon trips to Yellowstone Park that lots of people took in the '40s and '50s.

So, this is a really neat piece.

Most people, I don't think, in philately appreciate how really rare these pieces are.

What's the value of the set, a dollar? This is a...

there's a one dollar red and there's a 50 cent blue.

The 50 cent blue, seems to be, I think, rarer than the one dollar red.

Nobody really seems to understand what the difference between the 50 cent or the one dollar is.

At least, any of the articles or the collectors that I've talked to, didn't...

weren't quite sure.

We do seem to know that they were sold in books of...

they came in books of three.

You bought them right from the park ranger.

They were printed by the Government Printing Office probably, just like the licenses were.

I've never seen an actual census of these, but...

I'd say fewer than 50.

Probably fewer than 40.

I'm talking about the stamps still on their original licenses.

You can buy the stamps themselves separate from the license.

But these were ephemeral things.

I mean, you just bought them for the day or the week, to operate your trailer in the park.

And once you left the park and started heading down the highway with your windows open, I guess it would fly out the window, or whatever.

And the survival rate on these things, was not very high.

But there are examples known with dates as late as the early 1950s.

And then they seem to have just kind of disappeared, after that.

But they were in use for about 10 to 12 years.

Any correlation between the length of stay, and the 50 cents or a dollar? Yeah, I don't know.

Or, maybe the 50 cent was just for...

If you were just driving a car, and the dollar was if you were pulling a trailer...

I'm not sure.

But camper and trailer travel, especially in the '30s during the Depression, again, as a cheaper alternative to overseas travel or more luxury type of travel, became really popular.

National Historic Sites.

So, here's one of the most famous streets in America, right? Pennsylvania Avenue, in Washington, DC

Going up to the United States Capitol building.

This is the old Post Office building, over here.

So we're in the Old City Post Office...

Washington, DC

is full of old Post Offices.

This building is about 16 or 18 years older than our building.

But it's there, on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Is that where the Inverted Jenny was sold? No, the Inverted Jenny was sold at a post office on New York Avenue and 13th Street.

It's no longer there.

That Post Office is gone.

But this is where...

actually up in the tower is where Benjamin Lipsner, the head of the Air Mail Service, for the...

and Otto Praeger...

their offices would have been in this building.

So the service, the Air Mail Service, would have been run from this building.

But the post office where the stamps were actually sold, was about...

about 10 blocks away.

Pennsylvania Avenue, is a National Historic Site.

The street itself is considered by the Park Service to be a National Historic Site because it has a long history of inaugural parades and protest marches.

It's kind of the American public square, that and the National Mall.

But it was also, for many years, the city's main postal route.

Because postal headquarters was here on Pennsylvania Avenue, because Pennsylvania Avenue connects the Capitol building and the White House, and it had lots of boarding houses and stores and businesses all lining along Pennsylvania Avenue.

Now it's mostly government buildings, but then it had a lot more commerce and boarding houses.

Hotels like this one, the Riggs House.

There was...

a group of collection and distribution wagons, they were called, that made seven trips a day.

Up, down, and around Pennsylvania Avenue, collecting the mail from all the businesses, along the street.

And they actually had their own postmark, "Collection and Distribution Wagon, Washington, D. C."

This happened to be trip seven, from wagon number two, I think that says.

And so, this a letter from...

that would have gone up and down along these horse drawn wagons, being collected all along the way, up Pennsylvania Avenue.

Some of the newest National Historic Sites in the system are Manzanar and Minidoka National Historic Sites.

Which are the places, two of the places, where the Japanese Americans were interned during the Second World War.

And there is surviving mail from some of these camps.

There's not a whole lot of it, but there...

it is out there.

I like this example, again which is from our collection.

and is in the exhibit.

I like this one particularly, because it is from one relocation camp, Manzanar, here in California, to another, Heart Mountain, which was in Wyoming.

So these were two people who clearly knew each other, but were interned in different camps.

And these camps were quite remote, they were remote by design.

That was the whole purpose of them.

And so, the only way to communicate and stay in touch with people between and among these camps was through the mail.

And you know, the sad part of this story, is that many of these people in these camps, had...

had sons, who were fighting in the American...

in the American Army, in World War Two, but they were interned at these camps.

And I've had several...

as I gave tours through the exhibit I've had several people ask me if there's an added significance to the upside down Victory stamp.

The Win the War stamp, over here.

I have no way of knowing but it is a nice piece of postal history related to these National Historic Sites.

And these camps had fully operating post offices staffed by the internees themselves.

I was not able to figure out exactly which camp this is.

But you can see the signage.

The mail's picked up three times a day.

The signage was in both English and Japanese.

So, there you have it.

Yes, sir? Mind looking to add to this, sometimes in the Ansel Adams photographs.

This here, photographs have Ansel on.

Yes, yes, I've seen- Quite hard to get.


But the electrician in one of those pictures, is the father of one the Manzanar folks.

Is that right? Yeah.

Yeah, yeah.

And I think I've seen that series, and there some of girls playing...

is it tennis, or basketball, or something like that? I think it's basketball.

Basketball, yeah.

Yeah, they're a nice series of photographs.

Notice the English.

"Office Hour," singular.

(mumbles) Right.

And then it says...

It says something underneath, oh, lunch.

Lunch hour is 11.

30 am to 12 noon.

So lunch hour is a half hour, yeah.

And then three pick ups a day.

(crowd mumbling) So National Historical Parks are kind of like National Historic Sites.

Except National Historic Sites are usually very compact.

National Historical Parks can be quite large.

Sometimes a whole downtown area, like downtown Boston, is a National Historical Park.

Downtown Philadelphia is part of Independence National Historical Park.

And sometimes National Historical Parks are located in multiple unconnected places, like this one.

Manhattan Project National Historical Park is actually in three different states.

It's at Los Alamos in New Mexico.

It's at Oak Ridge in Tennessee.

And the name of the town in Washington State.

Is it Kennewick? No...


It's right next to that.

Okay, yeah.

Hanford, Washington.

So actually in three totally discontinuous states, but they're all part of the same National Historical Park.

The Manhattan Project National Historical Park.

And this...

This is a great postal story actually, because, you know, particularly in Los Alamos, there were about 5,000 people stationed at Los Alamos during the height of the operations there.

Again, the only way to communicate with the outside world was through the mail.

But the location of Los Alamos, and what it was working on, were both highly classified, top secret, you know, government secrets.

So you couldn't simply tell...

give people your address and tell them where you were, to write letters to you.

Because it was a secret where you were and what you were working on.

So what they did was actually set up a series of undercover addresses.

These were drop boxes, post office boxes.


residents at Los Alamos would give out to their friends and family and use as their return addresses.

And then, even the postmasters at these post offices had no idea where this mail was going.

The military would come several times a week and empty the boxes, pick up the mail.

Only the military officers who picked it up knew where the mail was actually going.

There are maybe, eight to 10 of these undercover addresses.

They were in locations all over the country.

The one you see most commonly is this one.

"Box 1663, Santa Fe, New Mexico."

So you can go up to the show floor and ask anybody if they've got New Mexico covers and start looking for Box 1663.

You would find [unclear].

But you could also recognize them because they're domestic mail that is censored.

And most domestic mail in this period just isn't censored, unless it's to one of these top secret facilities, or they were still censoring mail in and out of the Hawaii Territory 'til the end of the war after the Japanese attacked.

So this was a method of...

an undercover, a secret address for the Los Alamos Project, which is now part of the Manhattan Project National Historic Park.

It's 5,000 people there, including men and women.

And men and women stationed at Los Alamos, got up to the things that men and women get up to, when they're stationed anywhere, right? And there were children born at Los Alamos.

And even on their birth certificates, their place of birth on their birth certificates, is "Box 1663, Santa Fe, New Mexico."

And they're called the "Box 1663 babies."

And every few years they have reunions of the Box 1663 babies.

And one of the best books, not a historical academic book, but memoir of life at Los Alamos and of the Manhattan Project is called, "Inside Box 1663."

So this is kind of an iconic address in World War Two history and American history.

And it's part of the National Park Service.

National Monuments.

The most...

the National Park Service unit most featured on U.S. postage stamps is the Statue of Liberty.

Something like 28 different stamps now, featuring the Statue of Liberty.

Most people don't think of it as part of the National Park Service, but it is.

Fort McHenry National Monument - and Shrine, by the way - that's the only one that has that designation National Monument and Shrine, in Baltimore Harbor, is well-known and associated we all know, with the War of 1812, and the Star-Spangled Banner.

Smithsonian makes a lot of that connection, right? Because we have the Star-Spangled Banner flag, and so forth.

But that was an active military fort into the 1930s.

And during World War One it was used as a military hospital.

And it was known as Army General Hospital Number Two, Fort McHenry.

And it started with just a few doctors and nurses, and a small number of patients.

But after the real fighting started on the Western Front, and soldiers, American soldiers were coming back, having been gassed, with mustard gas, nerve agents, having lost limbs, many of them were in a very bad condition and needed quite a lot of care before they could be, just sort of released into the population.

This, the hospital at Fort McHenry at its height, had about 20,000 people living at Fort McHenry.

And Fort McHenry's not big.

But patients, doctors, nurses, Red Cross nurses.

This happens to be a letter from one of the Red Cross nurses, who was stationed there, back to her sister.

So in the beginning, there was a carrier from Baltimore, who would just drop the mail bag at the gates of the fort.

And somebody would pick it up and bring it in and distribute the mail.

But once there were 20,000 people out there they needed their own Post Office.

So this is a fairly short-lived cancel, actually, "Baltimore, Maryland Number 4."

This was the canceling machine that was assigned to the postal facility here at Fort McHenry.

And it was operated by the patients themselves, almost as a form of occupational therapy, to sort, and deliver, and make up the outgoing mail.

So this post office lasted for about 18 months to two years, 1918 to 1919.

In Boston...

er, Baltimore Harbor.

World War Two Valor in the Pacific National Monument, is another one of these sites that's in three different states.

California, and Hawaii, and I think there's also a site in Washington State.

And of course, it's the site of the wreckage of the Arizona.

It's where the Oklahoma was sunk, as well.

As well as many other ships.

This is a piece of mail taken off USS Arizona, in April of 1941.

Addressed to this address at Huntington Station, New York.

The sender...

J. O. Kelly, USS Arizona, was killed on December 7th, in the attack, a few months later.

So this is a piece of his mail, that was serviced by the post office on board the ship.

So we have some mail from Arizona and Oklahoma as well, in our museum's collection.

We have two of the...

postal devices, the hand stamps for the mail that were salvaged from the wreckage of the Oklahoma when it was raised and scrapped.

Why would the other two states, share in America, the Hawaii...

Valor in the Pacific? I don't remember exactly which sites they are.

But they're, yeah.

They're related to Washington State, California, and Hawaii has...


I don't remember what the California and the Washington State sites are.

The National Seashores, are part of the National Park Service.

This is a fabulous piece of...

Here is the Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina.

This is a piece that's on loan to us, for this exhibit.

It is a genuine, honest to God, letter in a bottle.

This is from the War of 1812.

And this is a letter in a bottle that washed up along Cape Hatteras National Seashore before, obviously long before, it was a national seashore.

So, it was still actually private land at that point.

And it was found by a ship captain, who actually lived near the area.

He was the man from whom the government bought the land to build the lighthouse that's there in Cape Hatteras.

He was a coastwise captain, he did a lot of trade between the Carolinas, and Maryland, and New York.

And he was out walking along his beach and found this letter in a bottle washed up.

When he unrolled it and read it, it told a harrowing tale of...

of four American sailors who had been impressed into the Royal Navy.

So, their ship was stopped by the Royal Navy on the high seas, the Americans taken off and forced into service in the Royal Navy, on the pretense that they were deserters, that they were British citizens who had deserted from the Royal Navy and were sailing on American merchant ships.

And they described that they're now off the coast of what's today, Colombia.

And this is the first opportunity they've had to get hold of some paper and pen.

And they're writing this letter and throwing it overboard in the hopes that the current will carry it up to North Carolina and somebody will be able to find this, and do something for us.

Now ordinarily, I'd be very skeptical of this letter.

But it comes with not only the letter in the bottle.

Associated with it is the covering letter from the Collector of Customs at Baltimore.

Who says that "This guy from North Carolina" "just sailed in this morning."

"And along with his ships' papers" "he says that he found this letter on the beach."

"And here it is, and I'm transmitting this to you," "the Collector of Customs at New York," "because these guys say they were taken off a ship" "that sailed from New York, so this is your problem."

"And see what you can do with it."

So it does have this contemporaneous cover letter, with all the right markings, and everything showing that the Collector of Customs at Baltimore considered it genuine and sent it to New York for further action.

The problem is, I have not...

I have done a lot of research.

I still have other avenues with it, but I have not been able to find ships by these names.

I have not been able to find sailors by these names.

There were quarterly reports to Congress by the Secretary of State, of the Americans who had been impressed into the Royal Navy.

Those were required by Congress.

I can't find these guys listed, in any of these reports.

So if it is a hoax, it's a really convincing one.

Actually in some way, if it's a hoax, it's almost more interesting because it's a contemporary hoax.

It's a hoax of the time period.

It has the postmark.

And then, through the National Seashores, the park service owns a lot of lighthouses.

And one of the things that we have on display, is some original artwork for that very long-running, lighthouse stamp series.

It was very popular until the last ones came out, about two or three years ago.

That would be the last...

Those would be the last stamps of the series.

And we're lucky enough to have some of the original artwork, which is on long term loan to the museum, from the United States Postal Service.

And we use it in all of our rotating exhibits.

And, then lastly.

So all of this is...

sort of, kind of interesting stories, that I think most people would not associate with the National Park Service.

I think if most people were to...

if you were to stop them on the street, and ask about mail and the national parks.

Most people would say "the post office," right? "Tourist mail."

"A lot of tourist mail in the post office goes through the national parks."

And that's true.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park became a National Park in 1916, the same year that the Park Service was created.

And I don't know when exactly this stopped, but until at least the late 1920s, you were allowed to walk out onto the lava at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

So you know, the lava comes out of the volcano, And the top forms a very hard crust relatively quickly and cools.

But underneath it's still running hot lava.

And you get fissures in the crust, and smoke, and brimstone, and all this sort of thing.

And it was a popular activity for tourists in the 1920s to walk out onto the lava.

And one of the things that developed as a custom, or as a tradition, was bringing your postcards with you out onto the lava and actually burning them.

They had forked sticks, so they thrust them into the fissures in the lava and burned the postcard, before they mailed it.

Kind of...

singed the edges.

And there are...

not this one...

But there are postcards where the picture side actually shows the tourists doing this, thrusting their postcards into the lava.

And so, when I looked for these - this is another example of something we didn't have in the museum's collection, and acquired for this exhibit but also for the permanent collection - I'm always skeptical, I guess, that someone can come along and burn these things later, because postcards from Hawaii in this period are very cheap.

You can just buy a 50 cent postcard, and thrust it in the oven or something, and burn the edges of it.

And say, "Here, I've got a burned postcard."

So I always look for ones, where the sender actually mentions right in the message that "Hey, I carried these out onto the lava."

"I burned them," you know.

"Here they are, here they are for you."

And this is an example of that.

And also, we show a selection of material...

You know, until the early 1960s, when the post office really started mechanizing, and putting a lot of modern equipment in, and they banned this stuff from the mailstream, until then, you could find postcards made out of all sorts of things.

Wood, leather.

I've seen tin ones, seen metal ones.

And also three dimensional objects, like little dolls, or little figurines and models, with tags attached to them.

That would actually go through the mail, at actually a reduced rate.

For one a half cent rate.

You usually buy them, franked at that rate.

And so, these things are actually back now.

I was at Yosemite two years ago, and I was amazed to find them selling wooden postcards, in the gift shop, right? I figured, "Now I'm gonna have some fun."

"I'm gonna buy some of these wooden postcards," "and I'm gonna bring them over to the post office," "and wait for the clerk to yell at me."

But I bought them over, he said, "Oh, absolutely, yeah."

"You just have to have the right stamp."

"You put the right stamp on it," "and it goes through the mail."

And the right stamp, is the non-machinable surcharge stamp.

They're the big square ones.

They usually have a butterfly on them.

If you've seen them in the post office, they've got the monarch butterfly, or whatever, on them.

If you use that non-machinable surcharge stamp, so that it doesn't go through the canceling machines, you're back to being able to send wooden and leather postcards.

So you can get out your leather burning kit and get back to making leather postcards.

I think that's the last slide.

Pretty sure it is.

Must be, cause it won't go any further.

So if you have any questions, either about the exhibit or about the museum in general that you'd like to ask, or anything like that, I'd be happy to answer them.

Otherwise, I thank you for coming.