'Going Postal' Blogger Memorializes Post Offices

Nov 22, 2011
Originally published on May 23, 2012 11:14 am

The government is expected to shut down at least 3,000 post offices — and one hobbyist who visits post offices around the country has taken notice.

Evan Kalish collects hand-cancellation marks and blogs about it on Going Postal, where he posts photographs of each location.

Kalish, who's also a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania in geospatial analytics, started his hobby right out of college — and he has run up an impressive tally of how many he's visited: 2,745.

Kalish says he got into his hobby after having an "aha" moment while traveling in northeast Wyoming.

"I got off the interstate, and I took a really remote road through some really remote towns whose post offices are indeed in danger," he tells NPR's Robert Siegel. "That's when I first began to feel connected to the service. It was part of an overall experience, but at that point I began to make more of an effort to explicitly go out of my way to visit more remote post offices, because I thought it would be a worthwhile experience."

Kalish says some of his favorite post offices are those that were built during the Depression era by the Treasury Department as part of the Works Progress Administration program under Franklin Roosevelt. His favorite is the one in Greenville, Pa., which takes up most of a city block.

"In terms of sheer grandeur and pride that's visible in its construction, I would say it takes the cake," he says. "It's tall. It's got beautiful granite columns with an orange tint. It's got a beautiful marble interior. It's got marble columns. The counters that are still there from the '30s have carved metal lions. It's all unbelievable."

As for a tiny post office, Kalish says his most memorable experience was in Rozet, Wyo., near Devils Tower.

"That postmaster was responsible for servicing a set of special, limited-edition pictorial postmarks, which he told me were actually done on top of Devils Tower — this big massive rock formation in what is otherwise the middle of nowhere," Kalish says. "I'm told he carried the sack of mail to the top — he did this hand cancellation of envelopes — and he saved a special set for himself, and he gave them to me. So I thought that was very generous, and it's still meaningful."

Kalish's passion has turned into a campaign to protect the endangered post office since the government is expected to shut down at least 3,000 of them.

"I do hope that doesn't happen," Kalish says. "I'm not so convinced that I could, say, save any given post office. But honestly, if I can't save the post office, what I would like to do is at least memorialize the post offices. And the other thing I'd like to do is hopefully save some of the stories that go with these post offices before they're lost to history."

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Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And here's a postscript – if you'll forgive me for that - about how much more than a business the postal service is to some people.

Evan Kalish, a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania, photographs post offices all over the country, especially ones that in danger. He has been to a lot of post offices.

EVAN KALISH: The present count is 2,745.

SIEGEL: Is this, by the way, related to your studies at all?

KALISH: I have attempted to make it so that my studies can pertain to the hobby. Is what I work with a field called the geospatial analytics; anything to do with maps and spatial information, statistics about places.

SIEGEL: Evan, was there a time when this - I won't say obsession...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIEGEL: This extreme interest in post office...

KALISH: Passion perhaps.

SIEGEL: Passion, when it took hold, do you remember a day when the penny stamp dropped and you said I really like post offices.

KALISH: I would say that Aha moment occurred when I was traveling in northeast Wyoming. And I got off the interstate and I took a really remote road through some really remote towns whose post offices are indeed in danger. That's when I first began to feel connected to the service, it was just part of an overall experience.

But at that point, I began to make more of an effort to explicitly go out of my way to visit more remote post offices because I thought it would be a worthwhile experience.

SIEGEL: You have taken a tremendous number of photographs of these post offices. Special favorites that stand out to you, I mean, if you had to give an award to the most incredible post office that we can see in the picture?

KALISH: Well, some of my favorites are those that were built during the Depression-era by the Treasury Department, as part of the WPA program under Roosevelt. My favorite is one of those and that would be Greenville, Pennsylvania. It's in the northwest part of the state. And in terms of sheer grandeur and pride that's visible in its construction, I would say it takes the cake.

SIEGEL: Is it big? You said grandeur. I mean, is it a very big post office?

KALISH: It's a bigger building than you would expect. And it does take up most of a city block lengthwise. It's tall. It's got beautiful granite columns with an orange tint. It's got a beautiful marble interior. It's got marble columns. The counters that are still there from the '30s have carved metal lions, ironwork. It's all unbelievable and it has a very nice lobby.

SIEGEL: What's your favorite tiny post office?

KALISH: Oh, goodness. Well, I've had a memorable experience in Rozet, Wyoming, R-O-Z-E-T, which is near Devil's Tower, our nation's first national monument. And I had a special experience there, so I would say that is, perhaps, my favorite.

SIEGEL: A special experience?

KALISH: Yes. That postmaster was responsible for servicing a set of special, limited edition - what are called pictorial postmarks, which he told me were actually done on top of Devil's Tower, this big, massive rock formation in what is otherwise the middle of nowhere. So, I'm told he carried the sack of mail to the top. He did all of these - you know, this hand cancellation of envelopes on top and he saved a special set for himself and he gave them to me, so I thought that was very generous and it's still meaningful.

SIEGEL: Now, you're describing post offices and postal service that is picturesque, that is full of history, full of tradition, interesting. Efficient isn't the first word that comes to mind and you are going to post offices nowadays that are endangered, that might be on a closure list.

KALISH: That is true.

SIEGEL: Is there really a good case for keeping a post office open if, say, it doesn't even sell enough stamps to support the postmaster who would work there?

KALISH: Indeed, there's a very good case for keeping these open. In fact, there are other services these rural post offices provide. Many residents use them for money orders, so they are, in fact, rather critical to the operations and even the survival of these communities.

SIEGEL: And this passion you have for post offices, this has now turned into part of a campaign to protect the endangered post office. Yes?

KALISH: Yeah.

SIEGEL: And do you get any traction? I mean, it sounds as though the postal service is still going to shut down 3,000 or more post offices.

KALISH: I do hope that doesn't happen. I'm not so convinced that I could, say, save any given post office, but honestly, if I can't save the post office, what I would like to do is at least memorialize the post offices. And the other thing I'd like to do is hopefully save some of the stories that go with these post offices before they're lost to history.

SIEGEL: Well, thanks a lot for talking with us about your passion and now your political campaign.

KALISH: Thank you very much.

SIEGEL: That's Evan Kalish, speaking to us from Philadelphia, which, as you point out, is home to the first post office.

KALISH: Three blocks from this studio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.