Thu May 16, 2013
'Neither snow nor rain': Museum shows what it took to get your mail
Wanted: Young skinny wiry fellows. Not over eighteen. Must be expert riders. Willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred. Wages were $25 per week.
This is an example of what you might find at the U.S. Post Office Museum in Marshall. It's an ad to hire men for the pony express...and the job sounds less than appealing.
The museum is manned by volunteers and rarely open outside of group tours. But on Saturday admission to the museum will be free along with all other museums in Marshall in celebration of Michigan Week.
The museum is in the basement of the U.S. Post Office in Marshall. It's second only to the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum in Washington DC. With the exception of the 1931 Model A mail truck used in parades, nothing was purchased with postal funds. The museum is filled with old stamps, photographs, signs, mailboxes, wooden post office fronts and furniture and much more.
There is a display of every train route that went though Michigan. The last train ran until 1973. The railway clerks stayed on the post office train cars twenty-four hours a day sorting mail.
“You can see it says, ‘Danger! Look out for mail pouches thrown from trains at this point.’ Because if the train didn’t have stop in a town, then it would just throw off the mail bags that went with that town," says Beth Martin, the Marshall Postmaster. "And, then they have a big hook. The train would put an arm out and it would grab the pouch, if they had mail for the train to pick up.”
Also on display is a stagecoach mail pouch that ran out of Brutus, Michigan in 1859 and a railway safe that was used to transport mail back and forth on the ferry for Mackinac Island. The museum has pictures that came out of the Postmaster General’s dining room and include when the women delivered mail during the war.
“We have a scaled-down version of the first air mail planes that were bought. They bought these after the war, the de Havillands,” Martin says.
One display is a small rustic buggy for a rural carrier. He would have also sold stamps out on the route. Sometimes eggs were sent from out in the country into town so they could sell them. The collection includes a leather pouch that might hold twenty letters from the first Michigan rural carrier in Climax in 1896.
An Ever Ready Parcel Post Laundry Case was a small canvas container. A visitor to the museum explained that when he was in college, he would send home his dirty clothes and his mother would send them back clean for twenty-seven cents with maybe some cookies inside.
Beth Martin is the Marshall postmaster. Her father Michael Schragg was the postmaster for twenty-five years. He started the museum in 1988 and when he retired, he stayed on as curator of the museum. Schragg began by purchasing a brass mailbox and other items. Some of the items were in the historic Marshall post office in the historic town. Martin says, as people in other post offices started hearing about it, they would say, ‘Oh do you have one of these? Do you have one of those?’ And, so they would start sending things to him.
Martin says that when people come through on tours, they sometimes donate and that is what is keeping this museum running.
“Its fun for them to reminisce," she says. "And think about what the mail has meant to them in their lives.”