Going Postal

In Museums on May 31, 2011 at 11:46 pm

So, I made a detour up to Takoma today (wouldn’t venture there at night, if I were you. I wouldn’t exactly rush back during the day either…) to meet the Director of the National Museum of  Health and Medicine , which was based at the Walter Reed Army Medical Centre until April – it’s now in the process of moving to a new site and will be reopening in May of 2012 – based on the enthusiasm of Dr Adrianne Noe (sadly pronounced No-eee, not Dr No) and the description of their collections, it’s going to be well worth the visit.

Anyhoo, that’s a sidetrack. On the way back I hopped off the metro at Union Station to make a visit that I have been looking forward to to another Smithsonian – the National Postal Museum.

This had been much hyped as an “alternative” museum to go see – although it is a Smithsonian, it’s not on the National mall like the majority of the others, so it is less visited. It is literally across a small road from Union Station though, so don’t let that put you off – it’s very, very accessible.

I wasn’t, as you might think, worried that I would be inundated with stamps, because all the books say “It’s not all stamps!”. And they are correct – it’s not. There IS a pretty cool stamp collection though, and if you’re into your Philatey then you definitely shouldn’t miss this museum (but let’s face it, if you are into your Philatey this is probably the only reason you ventured out of the house).

There are also some other great exhibits. The one on postal inspectors is pretty great – the brave men and women (who do sometimes die in the line of duty – the most recent being in 2000) who defend against bio/chemi hazards and parcel bombs, as well as responding to disasters like Hurricane Katrina (which wiped out a serious amount of post and post offices) and trying to catch the bloody kids who smash postboxes with baseball bats whilst driving past. Also, there was one on V-mail, a microfilmable way of sending mail to the US forces overseas in the first half of the 20th Century.

Never caught on, apparently, but they give you free envelopes to send some pretend ones yourself! No stamp included, though, which is a tad unsportsmanly. It’s not like they don’t have loads.

So, there are some good things to see, and as you will more than likely be passing through Union Station at some point, you should call in. It is, however, a bit disappointing – it’s not very big and it feels unloved. The main gift shop is being renovated, and the map I was given at the desk was way out of date (which was especially heartbreaking as there were two exhibits on it I really wanted to see that no longer existed, and had been replaced with stuff that I didn’t really find very interesting at all).

The current giftshop, however, was the biggest disappointment. I am a HUGE stationery geek, and I was excited to buy letter writing tools and stuff at the shop. There is a shop of a fair size, despite the construction work, but most of its contents was generic Smithsonian Stuff, with a couple of stamps and, wait for it, HARDLY ANY POSTCARDS! What the hell?! I was pretty annoyed by that.

So – National Postal Museum needs a bit of work to get it back up to speed, but it looks like that work may be happening. I’d say visit, but try and factor it in to passing through Union Station.


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