Courtesy of Washington.org
By Jeremy Perillo
Located within several hundred feet of the Union Station Metro stop is a museum that is no doubt overlooked by most tourists and museum-goers. While many people may be eager to visit the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History or the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the National Postal Museum does not have the same fan base, despite having free admission and shorter lines. However, regardless of its popular brothers and sisters, the museum is a hidden gem in a bustling city.
Being the son of a Mailman, I would like to think that I have an understanding of how America’s postal system works, so I wasn’t sure what to expect leading up to my visit. I was pleasantly surprised with my experience as the exhibits focused on stamps, Postal Inspectors, and distribution, rather than how the neighborhood Mailman performs his daily route.
The William H. Gross Stamp Gallery, the world’s largest gallery dedicated to the collection and study of postage stamps, is one of the newest, and largest, exhibits the museum has to offer. Even those who have never collected stamps as a kid will find this exhibit thorough and interesting. While the exhibit had stamps (thousands of them), it wasn’t just focused on showcasing the collection.
The exhibit showed pieces of mail that were recovered from the Titanic, postal collection bins that were crushed during the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and postcards that had visited space, which added more substance to the exhibit. The stamp collection was fascinating too. Several of the world’s rarest stamps were on display, all with different backstories that made them unique and interesting.
Most Americans know little to nothing about how the Post Office operates daily, and fortunately, several of the other exhibits focus on that. From the inception of the Post Office, the exhibits go through how the mail service has developed as the demand for mail delivery has boomed over time.
Exhibits include machinery that is and has been used in the post office distribution centers so that visitors could get a sense of how the job was done. There were games for kids to play to keep them engaged with what was being discussed throughout the exhibits, like pretending to sort mail on the railway mail service inside the belly of a rail car.
Going from exhibit to exhibit, the information was presented clearly and succinctly, while some museums have essay-length paragraphs for visitors to digest when looking at exhibits or artifacts. While it is not a large museum, it is certainly not small. The eleven different exhibits, ranging in size, covered a wide range of topics without smothering visitors with too much information. Visitors can take their time in each exhibit and still leave having spent a manageable amount of time inside.
A trip to the National Postal Museum is highly recommended. The reality beats expectations and it turns out to be one of the more intimate, compact, and easy to indulge museums Washington has to offer. Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom will keep the Postal Museum from delivering a fun and interesting time to all who visit it.