Post Office

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I loved this image of a tiny post office and I think I would have been quite happy to visit it to do my regular postal business. We have to assume that they were serving a relatively small community at the time considering that tiny letterbox affixed to the front to capture those off hour missive mailings. If you look carefully at the sign above the door there is a faded sign which for all the world appears to offer Pork Dolls, but is I believe an older version of the Parkdale sign.

I expected this to be a small photo and instead it is a mid-century version of a photo postcard. There is a stamp (six cents) and cancellation on the back from the morning of May 27, 1968, but must have just been sold that way at the post office as an item since it isn’t addressed to anyone. The photo is a bit timeless, a woman we assume is our post mistress, with her cat, a good size striped kit, long tail and ears back. Parkdale turns out to have remained a fairly remote community and seems to be best known for a recreational park area there.

I don’t know why, but I always liked going to the post office as a child. It was always a thrill. We had two on our regular errand route and I was equally fascinated by both. My parents rented post office boxes at each, one in Sea Bright and the other in Rumson. They were quite different in feel, although probably constructed at about the same time. Each had those wonderfully elaborate, decorative cast iron set post boxes and were in large part responsible for my fascination I think.

The Sea Bright post office was light filled and airy, as befitted a beach community. As a result sun generally cascaded through the cheerful windows of each of those boxes, enabling you to quickly see if you had mail. Sometimes there would just be a chit which meant you had to go to the window for a package that was too large for your box. Of course I just loved the little doors that opened to a code my mom or dad had memorized. That post office existed much the same until hurricane Sandy nearly wiped out the town a few years ago. It was eliminated in the post-Sandy renovation it seems. It is shown below, courtesy of the internet, more or less as I remember it however.


Meanwhile, the Rumson post office is a more substantial brick building and darker, although still with those wonderful decorative windowed post office boxes. It was the post office we frequented most. When I got older I had a friend whose father was a postman. He was ill tempered, or so it seemed, and I was somewhat afraid of him. I associated that post office with him, and therefore liked visiting this post office less over time as a result. The family lived in a gracious, old brick house almost next door however and even as a child the convenience of being so close to work struck me as very desirable. (I grew up to walk to work almost every day for the better part of 30 years at the Met so I internalized that well.) This post office survives in a somewhat expanded version of its original brick structure and appears to service the communities of both Rumson and Fair Haven.

I am sorry to say that as an adult I find visiting the post office here, the one on 85th between Second and Third Avenues, more of a chore than a thrill. Perhaps because we do not have a PO Box? (These are also those charming old metal ones and perhaps if we availed ourselves of one I would like it better?) Our mail comes to our apartment building; packages are held by the doormen who recently began recording them in an electronic tracking system. So much for the romance of chits waiting in tiny windows – instead the thrill of an email announcement I guess. Kim visits the post office more than I do as he is frequently mailing off artwork, books, films etc. to folks. I cannot say he seems to enjoy it, although he takes a book to read in line patiently waiting. There is one agent who is a comic book fan who recognized him and that is about as close to small town postal intimacy as we have achieved here in Manhattan, to date anyway.

I was unable to find an address for a post office in Parkdale now. The closest one, also tiny, appears to be in a town called Swink. It is a small building with two other, unidentified commercial tenants, adobe facade. So I guess the folks in Parkdale head over to Swink now for their postal needs, the tiny building, their postmistress and cat long gone.


Old Tom, the Washington Post Office Cat

Scan(4)Pam’s Pictorama: This old press photo has revealed a world of cat lore I knew nothing about prior to researching it. Evidently cats by the dozens were employed by the US Post Office at the turn of the century to catch rodents that were especially attracted to the glue used on envelopes and packages at the time. In short order it took me to this splendid blogging colleague, The Hatching Cat, (I subscribed immediately) wherein his post, 1904: The Feline Police Society he outlines the fascinating society specifically of the New York post office cat force. It is a very jolly read, and I won’t steal much thunder from it except to say, the New York Post Office had a very large and extremely well organized force of felines for this purpose. There were first-class cats and second-class cats – they even knew to assemble and take the elevator when chow was served. Brilliant!

Back to our friend who seems to be a rather singular member of the Washington force, residing in the nation’s capital circa 1922. The back of this 5″x7″ photo reads, ‘Old Tom’, who has been catching rats in Post office [sic] department at Washington for 17 years. A14 Reference Dept September 11 1922 N.E.A. In pencil cats has also been scrawled, as well as the rather cryptic 1/2 cal Levs. Tom, this old, old timer as we’d call him in our house, was pretty famous.

Tom appears to have been featured in numerous articles period articles – some in what appear to be postal newsletters to the trade, others in newspapers of the day. The Spokane Daily Chronicle featured a story on Tom receiving a box of catnip for Christmas from one admiring Kittie (yes, Kittie) Thomas. This article appears in the September 14 issue, so perhaps she responded quickly to an article which accompanied the photo in another article? Coincidence? Below is a more comprehensive version that appeared in the Postal Record, volume 35, ’22.

Old Tom on a Rampage Old Tom the veteran Post Office Department cat is on a jag. Meanwhile the few remaining rats and mice that have escaped his relentless pursuit are relaxing the eternal vigilance that is responsible for their present existence. The mail man recently brought Old Tom a package neatly wrapped and bearing a 7 cent stamp It was addressed to The Postoffice at Tom Washington DC and was from Mrs Kittie Thomas 433 Shiawassee street Lansing Mich. Being a long ways from Christmas Tom’s superiors the watchmen began a spirited speculation as to the contents of the package. Not so Tom His sense of smell caused him to fall in love with it immediately and he could hardly restrain his impatience until it was opened. Yes. It was catnip and Tom is enjoying his first time off since the Roosevelt administration when he came into office. The watchmen at first were inclined to be resentful of ‘outside interference’ with Tom’s duties but when the increasing boldness of the rodent colony was observed the became general that when Tom recovers he will be able to capitalize the boldness and more than make up for the time lost of his spree. So far as is known Tom is not acquainted with his benefactress but that is not surprising in view of the fact that he has received more publicity than many public men and has been heard of in all sections of the country.

The Hermitage museum is well known for the generations of cats, ratters and mousers, in the basement. (I had hoped I might catch a glimpse of one when visiting – I even got lost and wandered out of the galleries and into a private space, but no. Those cats know how to stay behind the scenes I guess.) Many of you know I work for a large (and very old) museum in New York City. I have been suggesting the employment of cats for years, sadly to no avail. Perhaps this post will change their minds.