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September 11, 2001
Collecting and Exhibiting a National Tragedy

Nancy A. Pope
National Postal Museum, Smithsonian Institution



Anthrax contaminated letter addressed to Senator Daschle from 4th grade at Greendale School, Franklin Park, NJ 08852
Anthrax contaminated letter addressed to Senator Daschle.

A Final Irony, A New Challenge 

The objects' story was not yet over. On October 6, 2001, two seemingly innocuous letters traveled through Washington's Brentwood mailing center. Addressed to Senators Daschle and Leahy, the letters contained anthrax in a fine powdery form. As the letters flew through the mail sorting equipment, especially the optical character reader, they were squeezed between other letters, releasing some of their spores into the facility. The postal service shut down the Brentwood mail facility on October 21, 2001, after two postal workers died from anthrax inhalation. Among the millions of stranded and possibly contaminated mail left in the building were the two boxes of objects from New York City's Church Street Post Office. 

Anthrax contaminated letter addressed to Senator Leahy from 4th grade at Greendale School, Franklin Park, NJ 08852
Anthrax contaminated letter addressed to Senator Leahy.

By the time the last of the items selected for the National Postal Museum reached the museum (following the reclamation and decontamination of Brentwood), they had become part of a second tragic story and the Museum staff all too soon found themselves faced with discussions over the suitability of collecting items from a national tragedy. This is a discussion that continues. 

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One of two boxes of objects sent from the Church Street Post Office, reclaimed at the Brentwood facility, and decontaminated before reaching it's destination, The National Postal Museum
One of two boxes of objects sent from the Church Street Post Office, reclaimed at the Brentwood facility, and decontaminated before reaching it's destination, The National Postal Museum. 

Upper-right sticker on box reads: 

WE APOLOGIZE FOR THE DELAY... 
The Postal Service retained this item until processes were implemented that would ensure safe transmission to the intended destination. 
Postmaster 
Washington, DC 
301-224-4884