Owney, Mascot of the Railway Mail Service, Makes an Appearance at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival
By Patricia Raynor, Museum Specialist, National Postal Museum
Owney held court in the “American Experience” tent at the 2010 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. National Postal Museum staff and volunteers had three days during the festival to highlight the museum’s collection and its programming. Owney had a day all to himself on July 5th.
Owney was a terrier mix who wandered into the Albany, New York Post Office in 1888 and was adopted and named by the postal workers. He was fond of riding mail wagons and began following the mail onto the trains where he quickly became a good luck charm to the railway mail clerks. Owney rode the trains across the country and even made a voyage around the world by steamer in 1895. Beloved by postal workers and the public alike, he acquired tags and metals that were affixed to a jacket that was given to him by Postmaster General John Wanamaker. Owney died in Toledo, Ohio in 1897.
The taxidermy specimen of Owney and some of Owney’s tags are on permanent display in the Postal Museum’s atrium. At the Festival, we featured a fiberglass model of Owney created for us by the Smithsonian’s Office of Exhibits Central as well as a small stuffed Owney toy that traveled to South Africa and the World Cup with NPM staff member Rebecca Johnson. The toy “Owney” had its own collection of tags and was a hit with our visitors. Many teachers use a similar version of the toy dog in their geography curriculum.
Many varied and enthusiastic visitors were drawn to the life-like dog sculpture sitting on our table. They included families who have visited the museum since its opening in July 1993 as well as those unfamiliar with our museum and Owney. A canine even dropped by with his owner to visit and drink water before moving on to other displays.
Former NPM curatorial intern Rachel Barclay and I had the pleasure of telling the public about Owney and his travels. Rachel’s internship project last year was performing research on Owney and constructing a chronological timeline of his travels. It was exciting for us both to be able to use this valuable list to answer the public inquiries about the details of his travels.
At the end of the day, the story of Owney was highlighted on the discussion stage, “The Commons” as part of “Stories from the Vault.” I shared the stage with my colleague Harry Adams from the Office of Exhibits Central who spoke of their office’s crafting of the fiberglass model and the construction of our Railway Post Office “RPO” car that is behind Owney in the Museum.
Hopefully, during Owney’s special day, he captured the interest and imagination of future museum visitors. For those of you who live in the Washington DC metro area stop by the Postal Museum on August 6 and 7 to help us celebrate the dog days of summer during our Owney Family Festival.
For more information on Owney visit: postalmuseum.si.edu/owney
About the Author
Patricia Raynor: "I have worked at the Smithsonian Institution since 1990 and served as the collections coordinator for the National Postal Museum's inaugural exhibitions. I am now the museum's loan coordinator and liaison for the Smithsonian Affiliation's Program. My activities include memberships in the Smithsonian's American Indian Employee Network and Loans Forum, as well as the Mid-Atlantic Association of Museums in which I served on its Registrars and Program Committees."