Tuesday, September 1, 2020

USPS Officials Order Historic Murals Covered in 12 States; Considering Removal

From Rural Florida to Upstate New York

Internal emails obtained via the Freedom of Information Act reveal that an "artwork workgroup” of high-level United States Postal Service (USPS) officials, including attorneys and USPS's Federal Preservation Officer, has directed facilities and maintenance personnel to cover up 80-year-old murals housed at 16 post offices spanning 12 states. USPS is considering the murals' outright removal, and it is unclear whether this initiative will expand to include historic artwork at additional locations.

Recent photographs from four of these locations show tarp-like plastic sheets, resembling heavy-duty garbage bags, covering the entirety of their respective murals to render them unviewable. The coordinated effort is without modern precedent, and the Postal Service has repeatedly declined to explain its actions in response to inquiries from local news reporters and even members of Congress.

Before and after (covered): Photographs of the 1940 mural, "Cotton—From Field to Mill," at the Jackson, Georgia post office, taken Jan. 2008 and Aug. 2020. Photos courtesy Jimmy Emerson.
'Cotton--From Field to Mill,' at the Jackson, Georgia post office. Photographed January 2008 by Jimmy Emerson.
'Cotton--From Field to Mill,' covered, at the Jackson, Georgia post office. Photographed Aug. 2020 by Jimmy Emerson.

Impacted post offices serve locations ranging from small cities in Illinois and Florida to the suburbs of Boston and Baltimore, as well as multiple locations in the Deep South. Several of the post offices are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. One of the post offices, in New York's Hudson Valley, was uniquely designed to the specifications of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose New Deal programs commissioned each of the murals.

Dismissing Information Requests

Postmasters and employees at post offices have been instructed not to respond to requests for comment regarding the murals. Anecdotal evidence suggests that many know little, if anything, about the situation. Requests to USPS for information are funneled through communications "field managers" for inquiries from "the Postmasters and media," and Government Relations (GR) officials "for any congressional inquiries they may get." The response is exactly the same.

Internally this blanket response is known as the holding statement, which reads as follows:
In past decades, artwork has been placed in Post Office lobbies for permanent public display. Traditionally, Post Office lobbies were community gathering spots, frequently visited by community members from all walks of life, making those locations particularly accessible display sites.

The Postal Service respects and embraces the uniqueness and diversity of every individual. And we encourage contributions of people from different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives, including those of our employees and members of the communities we serve.

While it is the policy of the Postal Service to preserve and protect the historic artwork in its collection for future generations, we are mindful that certain murals generate strong feelings for some of our employees and customers.

With that in mind, discussions are being held on how to properly handle and safeguard the future of those pieces. We are evaluating each of the pieces and we will work to ensure that appropriate action is taken on select murals, if deemed necessary.
On Friday, August 28, Postlandia emailed the following questions regarding the murals and "artwork workgroup" to two senior Public Relations Representatives, for this article:

• When and why was this group formed? Who is on it and why?
• How were these murals selected for covering and analysis [for potential removal]?
• How are the murals being analyzed? When will a determination for the murals' “final disposition” be complete?
• What are the options being considered for the murals’ “final disposition”—e.g. returning to the way things were; adding informational plaques, etc.; relocation to storage; relocation to a public-facing institution, like a museum; or destruction?

Instead of answers to any of these questions, the author was treated to a startling string of private Reply All emails to which he was accidentally cc'ed, in which the two senior Public Relations officials questioned his character and the motivation for this journalism. They proceeded with the following internal discussion:

PR (1): "I assume this is someone we dealt with before? Who is he with?"
PR (2): "He is the guy who recently filed two foias for the murals. He's angry that we're covering up some of the murals in POs. ...
PR (1): "Based on that I think we don't provide further information."

At this point one of the officials attempted to recall two of the emails; they later apologized for the "inadvertent emails" while fully denying the request for information.

Regulations and Precedent

The Postal Service is responsible for the preservation and maintenance of most of the 1,400+ murals, bas reliefs, and sculptures commissioned for federal buildings (including post offices) by the Treasury Department's Section of Fine Arts and similar New Deal agencies between 1934 and 1944. Over the years many of these works have been mistakenly attributed to the Works Progress Administration (WPA); however, the WPA's Federal Art Project did not participate in the creation of artwork—also known as "decorations," or "embellishments"—for federal buildings.

The covering of these murals deviates sharply from modern USPS precedents. In 2019, when one couple petitioned for the modification or removal of the mural "Three Ages of Phoebe Goodell Judson," which has been on display at the Lynden, Washington post office since 1942, a USPS official "cited the General Services Administration Fine Arts Policies and Procedures in his response saying “adverse public opinion ... does not justify the relocation, covering from public view, or removal of artwork."

As recently as July 2020, in response to complaints about the mural "John Eliot Speaks to the Natick Indians," housed at the post office in downtown Natick, Massachusetts since 1937, a USPS Communications official confirmed:
Our policy has always been not to cover or remove these artworks based on one person or group's artistic interpretation, but to preserve the works in our custody for future generations. In some cases, we have added interpretive text alongside a mural to give it historical context.
The Postal Service's management of New Deal artwork is governed by Handbook RE-1: U.S. Postal Service Facilities Guide to Real Property Acquisitions and Related Services, § 333.2, which begins: "It is the policy of the Postal Service to preserve, protect, and maintain the New Deal Art Collection, defined as the Postal Service-owned murals and sculptures commissioned specifically for Postal Service facilities from 1934 to 1944..."

It is unclear how covering and potentially removing the murals supports this mission.

Generally, the Postal Service only relocates such New Deal artwork when the agency "disposes" of a historic building bearing such artwork, and the artwork needs a new home (see: Greenwich and Fairfield, Connecticut; and Virginia Beach, Virginia). This is not the case with any of the 16 post offices whose murals are impacted by the current initiative. While USPS has declined to specify why these particular murals have been targeted, in multiple instances the works have been subjected to one or more public complaints regarding their potentially discomforting content. Some depict slavery in some capacity.

Internal USPS emails reveal that three post offices with "American Indian themed mural subject," which have also been "subject of recent complaints," are excluded from the present program. Instead, informational statements with text provided by the Federal Preservation Officer are being posted at the post offices: Natick, Massachusetts; Wayne, PA; and Greensboro, GA (more about this one later). Some question why USPS did not immediately take this approach with the now-covered murals, presuming it ultimately decides not to relocate the works.

While USPS Handbook RE-1 does not discuss the remedies available under such circumstances, the parallel policy of the General Services Administration (GSA), which manages thousands of Federal properties and an extensive New Deal art collection of its own, is quite clear: "GSA's policy is to retain the existing location of an installed artwork—be it the original location or a permanent relocation—and to honor the artist's original intent. Adverse public or tenant opinion does not justify the relocation, covering from public view, or removal of artwork" (Fine Arts Policies and Procedures § 3.4.1: Relocation Eligibility). It is unclear why USPS's policy differs from the GSA's.

USPS guidelines state that all changes to a mural's disposition must meet with the approval of the Federal Preservation Officer (FPO)—currently Daniel Delahaye, who has held the position since December 2013. The inclusion of Mr. Delahaye and Postal Service lawyers on the artwork committee suggests that at least some of these murals are being considered for removal and/or relocation to a non-USPS location. Per Handbook RE-1, § 333.2 ¶ 2:
"No New Deal Art Collection artwork may be removed, sold, lent, or otherwise disposed of without the Federal Preservation Officer’s (FPO) written approval. It is the intention of the Postal Service that New Deal Art Collection artwork will remain the property of the Postal Service. When the Postal Service anticipates transferring ownership of a Postal Service building containing New Deal Art Collection artwork, the FPO will take steps the FPO deems appropriate to safeguard such artwork. The FPO may relocate such artwork to another Postal Service facility, may leave such artwork in place under a loan arrangement with the new building owner, may relocate such artwork to a non-Postal location under a loan agreement with a governmental or private museum, library, arts center, historical society, or similar non-profit organization, or may take such other steps as the FPO deems appropriate. The FPO, in consultation with the Law Department, will determine the terms of each loan agreement for New Deal Art Collection artwork. ..."
Precedent raises questions as to whether these regulations were intended to permit USPS's current course of action; however, it is possible FPOs have just opted not to execute their full authority in the past. Under a broad interpretation of this text, USPS may make any changes to the disposition of any or all items in its New Deal Art Collection, at any time, so long as the move is approved by the Federal Preservation Officer.

The Postal Service has not responded to an email seeking clarification of this matter.

Where Are the Murals?

An internal USPS email (obtained under FOIA), dated August 4, identifies the 16 post offices whose murals were to be covered, stating that the "process should be complete within three weeks." [Updated, Sept. 4:] Visitors to six of these post offices have confirmed, by way of social media post or email to Postlandia, that the affected murals have been covered: five in their entirety, and one in part—by a USPS banner, no less. As of August 28 the 12-panel mural in Rhinebeck, New York, had not been covered.

The post offices (and respective murals) are:
  • Luverne, Alabama: "Cotton Field," by Arthur Getz (1942). Getz illustrated 213 covers for The New Yorker between 1938 and 1988, and his work appears at two other post offices: Lancaster, New York, and Bronson, Michigan. Alabama Moments:
    “Getz received the commission for Luverne on the basis of designs he had submitted for a competition for the War Department building. As a northern artist he was warned by the Section when he proposed the theme of cotton: “It will be necessary for you to acquaint yourself thoroughly with the appearance of a cotton plant as the individuals using this post office will be especially observant on this point.” Getz consulted southern painters as well as researching the growing of cotton while he worked on the mural. The story of the completion of Getz’s mural was all too familiar late in the Section program. He had received the commission for the Luverne mural in May of 1941. In February of 1942, while completing the project, he needed a letter for his draft board from the Section to allow him to finish the work. Getz seems to have managed to complete the mural and send it to Luverne for installation only a week or ten days before he was to be inducted into military service.”
    Postlandia has confirmed by way of social media post that the mural has been covered with a gray plastic "tarp." Prior to its covering Postlandia had been alerted to several posts on Facebook objecting to the content of the mural.
  • Madison, Florida:"Long Staple Cotton," by George Snow Hill (1937). Hill also painted the mural for the post office in Perry, Florida. Greene Publishing reported the covering of the mural on August 18. "The painting depicts workers preparing cotton to be [baled] and shipped out. The painting pays tribute to the long staple cotton industry that was the economic engine that drove much of North Florida, including Madison County, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. According to an article in the Florida Historical Quarterly, Madison was “one of the centers for ginning and shipping of Sea Island cotton in the late 19th century."

    Hill's works have long been controversial in St. Petersburg, Florida, and have at times brought charges of racism. St. Pete Catalyst details the numerous fascinating debates over his artwork.
  • Camilla, Georgia: "Theme of the South," by Laura G. Douglas (1942). She is quoted as saying, "the South has been sung in song, literature, prose, and poetry, but the portrayal of the South in painting has not been successfully done as yet. I seek to put the poetry and history of the South in paint, but with vigor and creativeness and not sentimentalism."
  • Greensboro, Georgia: "The Burning of Greensborough" and "Cotton Picking in Georgia," by Carson Davenport (1939). The U.S. Postal Service has taken dramatically different approaches to these paired murals, both of which feature intense subject matter.

    The National Postal Museum details why this post office received two murals. It begins:
    As was typical of the Section, the artist was encouraged to visit Greensboro to best determine a subject that “embodies some idea appropriate to the building or to, the particular locale of Greensboro.” Finding the right subject matter to satisfy the community of Greensboro was not easy, and eventually led to intervention by town leaders and Georgia congressman, Paul Brown. The congressman, as well as local banker and self-appointed historian T.B. Rice, were particularly dismayed the subject of Davenport’s mural was Cotton Picking in Georgia. They were adamant the subject should have been The Burning of Greensborough, illustrating a 1787 attack on the village by the Muscogee (Creek) Indians.
    The Postal Service has covered, and is considering the removal of, "Cotton Picking in Georgia." By contrast, regarding "The Burning of Greensborough," the FPO wrote in the August 4th email:
    "Three POs have American Indian themed murals subject of recent complaints that will not be covered. I sent three installation heads texts for posting near the mural at each of those locations."
  • Jackson, Georgia: "Cotton—From Field to Mill," by Philip Evergood (1940). The phenomenon of newly covered murals was first brought to the attention of the author by a post office and New Deal enthusiast, Jimmy Emerson of Georgia, who has photographed New Deal post office murals in all 50 states and randomly encountered the covered mural during a trip through Jackson on August 12th. The mural had been covered two days earlier.

    The covering was soon reported by Larry Stanford of the Jackson Progress-Argus in Jackson, Georgia. The mural was installed at the city's then-new post office (now Municipal Court building) in 1940, where it resided for 55 years until the Postal Service relocated—along with the mural—in 1995.

    The Smithsonian American Art Museum describes Philip Evergood as an artist whose "experiences in the Great Depression led him to turn from biblical subjects to social criticism. He was also active in organizations devoted to the civil rights of artists. ... Evergood’s art, like his other activities, reflects his devotion to egalitarian ideals, and his early paintings, especially, are statements of sympathy for those who struggle against oppression."

    Stanford writes, "When the mural was moved to the new post office, there was a minor controversy when it was found that in order to place it over the postmaster’s office door, a 36-inch section at the bottom in the center of the mural, needed to be removed in order to fit it around the door frame. Art experts were brought in and it was determined that removing that section would not affect the integrity of the mural."

    More recent controversy stems from the content of the mural, which "depicts Black and white farm workers harvesting cotton and loading it to be taken the mill during the Great Depression." While USPS has declined to cite any objections it has received, Postlandia found two, including an anonymous comment to the project page for the mural on the Living New Deal website, which objects to the "glorif[ication of] slavery or anything that looks like it."

    Documents received by Postlandia suggest that the negative opinions of this work are not uniform. The office of Congressman Jody Hice (GA-10, R), whose District covers Jackson, has "received a few comments from constituents regarding a mural depicting early 20th-century agricultural life and its recent cover by a black tarp." In response to the question of why the 80-year-old mural was covered up, a Government Relations official responded with the aforementioned holding statement.

    In response to the Progress-Argus's coverage, former Butts County Commissioner (Jackson's county) Harry Marett responded:
    I read your report concerning the mural that has graced the walls of the Jackson post office for generations. Interest and dismay were my two main reactions. There are several things in that article that just do not ring true. First, if there has been no decision to remove it, then why has it been covered? If a final decision is yet to be made, what is the harm in leaving it as it has historically been?

    Do postal officials not realize that they are employees of taxpayers and that failing to provide all available information to those citizens is a slap in the face and an affront to all who are interested?
    An additional commenter to the Living New Deal project page, Brenda Adams, writes:
    This mural is a representation of southern life when cotton was king. My husband picked cotton as a child. He is white, and picked alongside white and black people. It was part of their life and I wish this mural and all the others this artist painted could remain where they are.
  • Chester, Illinois: "Loading the Packet," by Fay E. Davis (1940). Ms. Davis received three commissions to paint murals at post offices, including "Loading the Packet"; "Cutting Timber" in Ligonier, Indiana; and "The Illini and Potawatomies Struggle at Starved Rock," in Oglesby, Illinois.

    The Chester mural "portrays the daily lives of citizens during the peak of riverboat travel—children playing, families talking and dockworkers loading boats. It was cherished by the community as reflective of their heritage, with the postmaster once saying if the building caught fire, the mural rather than the mail should be saved."

    Interestingly enough, this is not the first time one of Ms. Davis's post office murals has met with controversy and was covered up:
    In 1942, Davis's second Illinois mural, The Illini and Potawatomies Struggle at Starved Rock, was installed in the post office at Oglesby. She had won the commission to paint the mural the previous year and made several trips to Starved Rock State Park to prepare the painting, which features 14 Native Americans in battle. Some of the fighters are on horseback and others are on foot. Painted in muted earth tones, the painting faded badly and was restored in 1988. In 1993, the mural came back into the news when a janitor at the post office claimed the nudity of the figures rendered the scene pornographic and filed a union grievance; while his complaint was being reviewed, the painting was shielded from the public by blinds. After a petition drive by local citizens to remove the blinds, the mural was uncovered and back on public display. Post office employees reported that the controversy had elevated the number of people who came to see the painting.
  • Anchorage, Kentucky branch post office: "Meeting the Train," by Loren R. Fisher (1942). There are few non-paywalled resources about this mural or artist available, though the Louisville Courier-Journal has written at least two items about them: (Feb. 6, 2000:) "A nostalgic 1942 mural of "Meeting the Train" at the Anchorage post office by Loren Fisher reflects the early 20th-century reality..." and (Sept. 13, 1942:) "Loren R. Fisher has gone to an Army induction center in Indiana after a deferment to permit completion of his mural for the Anchorage, Ky., postoffice."
  • Jeanerette, Louisiana: "Sugar Cane Mill," by Hollis Holbrook (1941). Lafayette, Louisiana's KLFY reported on local objections to this mural in early July.

    While the image might appear startling, Richard B. Megraw, in his 1990 dissertation "The Uneasiest State: Art, Culture, and Society in New Deal Louisiana, 1933-1943," describes the intent of the artist:
    Blacks also received sympathetic treatment in the hands of Hollis Holbrook, a Florida artist awarded the post office commission for Jeanerette, Louisiana. ... Shortly after receiving his commission, the artist contacted the Jeanerette postmaster, who recommended a sketch of an antebellum scene with all the trimmings. Holbrook complied. In his preliminary sketch the obligatory "Big House," a mansion modelled on the postmaster's home, dominates the scene. A fine carriage passes beneath the vigil of a tingioned mammy, her bundle of washing balanced upon her head... But Holbrook grew uneasy with this sentimentalized glimpse into the southern past, so he made a second sketch. His concern for the plight of minorities in American society, evident in the mural he completed for the Natick, Massachusetts post office*, resurfaced in his second sketch, ultimately the design for Jeanerette. While the Natick mural suggested the eclipse of the Indians by the arrival of the white man, the Jeanerette decoration depicted the plight of southern blacks, whose treadmill existence Holbrook paralleled with mules, the other southern beasts of burden. Backs bend pathetically under the strain. In this, the most sensitive portrait of black life completed in Louisiana, broken cane stalks fall from the grinder in a powerful and unmistakable reflection of the workers' lives played out in the shadow of the big house.
    (* Natick's post office mural, also a subject of recent controversy, was noted above in the discussion pertaining to "American Indian themed mural subject[s].")
  • Catonsville, Maryland branch post office: "Incidents in the History of Catonsville," by Avery Johnson (1942). One of several works created by the artist for post offices, this mural's unusually shaped canvas was created specifically for the site, encompassing five windows as it wraps around three of the walls of the post office lobby.
  • Medford, Massachusetts branch post office: "Golden Triangle of Trade," by Henry Billings (1939). Billings was responsible for murals at four post offices, including at Lake Placid, New York; one of the "FDR post offices"—Wappingers Falls, New York; and Columbia, Tennessee.

    The work has faced perennial calls for removal. According to the Medford Historical Society newsletter, fall 2011: “It was dedicated in 1939 and by the 1960s was covered up by wood panels. In 1993, it was restored and cleaned, and in 1999, an unsuccessful campaign was ignited to get the mural taken down due to its subject matter.”

    An attempt to contextualize the work was approved by FPO Delahaye in 2016, based on "input from the Medford Historical Society," and placed in a frame nearby:
    The three-panel mural celebrates two of Medford's earliest industries—shipbuilding and distilling rum. In the early 1800s, Massachusetts led the nation in rum production. Rum was made from molasses imported from the West Indies. The mural's title reders to the historical exchange of goods and enslaved Africans. Billings depicted a similar triangle. On the right is a West Indies sugar cane press. The center panel features a slave laborer hauling sugar cane in the West Indies. His open shackles attempt to show how enslaved people were freed in the North, but their presence reminds us of the history of the slave trade. Public art funded by the Federal Arts Project* was informed by many artistic movements in the 1930s and thus, the "Golden Triangle of Trade" should be seen as a modern New York's commission of local mural art at the height of its popularity.
    [* As noted previously, while often mistaken for WPA artwork, the WPA's Federal Art Project was not involved with the creation of artwork for Federal buildings..]

    Multiple organizations have recently taken up the mantle seeking the work's removal, including Delta Diversity Medford, whose mission statement is "[t]o elevate awareness and bring racial justice and education into public art, history, and culture throughout Medford."

    Emails obtained via FOIA reveal that the office of Congresswoman Katherine Clark (MA-05) has contacted USPS seeking the removal and relocation of "Golden Triangle of Trade," going so far as to seek the modification of USPS policy if needed to do so.
  • Hazlehurst, Mississippi: "Life in the Mississippi Cotton Belt," by Auriel Bessemer (1939). Auriel Bessemer created murals for three post offices, including Winnsboro, South Carolina and Arlington, Virginia—a notable seven-panel work.
  • Newton, Mississippi: "Economic Life in Newton in Early 40's," by Mary and Frank Boggs (1942). The Evening News of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania reported on June 26, 1941:
    MARY ROSS BOGGS of Knoxville, Tenn., ... and her husband, Franklin Boggs, have received a prize of $1000 for having painted the best mural for the new post office building at Newton M[i]ss. They competed against hundreds of other American artists. Mrs. Boggs also won another National competition for murals just before her marriage in the Christmas holidays.
  • Tylertown, Mississippi: "Rural Mississippi—From Early Days to Present," by Lucile Blanch (1941). Unlike most post office murals from this era, which were painted on canvases affixed to the wall, this work is "actually a fresco painted directly onto the wall," and as such cannot be physically removed. Blanch was "one of the few artists who actually painted the mural in the same town for which the work was commissioned. She took great pleasure in talking to townsfolk about the progress of the painting, and they, in turn, enjoyed seeing places they knew develop in the work" (Deborah Purnell, 2004).
  • Rhinebeck, New York: [scenes of local history], by Olin Dows (1940). As discussed on Postlandia's post, "A Stamp Issue to Make FDR Proud," posted in March 2017:
    Dutchess County is home to the five 'FDR Post Offices': Beacon, Wappingers Falls, Poughkeepsie, Hyde Park, and Rhinebeck. Each of the five distinctive post offices was constructed during FDR's presidency, and FDR himself had a hand in the design of each. Each was built with locally quarried stone and each possesses sizable or otherwise distinctive works of New Deal artwork inside. (Beacon, Hyde Park, and Rhinebeck house full lobby-wraparound murals; Wappingers Falls has two triangular murals painted directly on walnut wood, and Poughkeepsie's houses five large murals on two stories.) In each case the New Deal artwork displays aspect of the community's heritage. The art was created and installed in public buildings so to be accessible to all people. Four of the five post offices (all but Beacon) were designed after historic buildings in each community. Poughkeepsie's post office— the "Grand Palace"—was designed to emulate the former courthouse in the city in which New York became the 11th state to ratify the Constitution, in 1788. Collectively the five FDR post offices in Dutchess County are among the finest and most concentrated collection of New Deal post offices in the country.
    Dows's mural wraps around the entirety of the remarkable, wood-paneled lobby. As of 2014 the post office even offered a guide to the murals' 12 panels. Descriptions are posted by each panel. The panels depict scenes from the history of Rhinebeck from 1686 to 1940.

    New York Heritage Digital Collections presents images and artist's sketches from the time of the work's creation. Examples include Panel 3: "1728. Henry Beekman, 2nd, now forty and a Colonel, receives the midsummer's quit rent on his lawn, while four-year old daughter Margaret looks on," Panel 8: "Sunday morning before Dutch Reformed Church service," and Panel 9: "1865. A local family in Winter's Express is moving out West."

    It is the image of a kneeling figure in the 1780's scene depicted in Panel 6b: "General Richard Montgomery and his wife, Janet Livingston, plant locust seedlings on what will become the lawn of "Grasmere"," along with the depiction of three enslaved Black men loading the steamboat "Clermont" in Panel 8, that led Laura Lennox Kufner to declare the work an "Ode to White Mastery" in an opinion piece published July 8th. New York Heritage Digital Collections describes the context for the former scene:
    Notice Dows's inclusion of a black slave laborer in lower right corner. Slavery officially persisted in New York State until 1799. After 1799, any child born in New York State to a slave woman would be deemed free according to the 1799 Gradual Emancipation Bill, but would be required to serve his/her mother's master as an indentured servant until the age of 21, pending general emancipation in 1827. Children born to slave mothers on or before July 3rd, 1827 could legally be held as indentured servants until 1848.
    It is unclear whether concerns about these depictions are directly related to the mural's covering; however, local sources tell Postlandia that it is USPS's intention to cover not just Panels 6 and 8, but the entirety of the 12-panel mural.
  • Louisburg, North Carolina: "Tobacco Auction," by Richard Kenah (1939). The artist "completed three post office murals: one in Bridgeport, Ohio, across the river from Wheeling; one in Bluefield, W.Va., built around a coal mining theme, and one in Louisburg, N.C., that focuses on a tobacco auction," wrote Christopher Kenah as part of a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article from 2003.

    A recent petition to have the mural removed garnered more than 300 signatures. Creator Shardae Vines asserts:
    This painting depicts white farmers buying and selling tobacco in an auction and shows African American men working without shirts and shoes. This is just one more unnecessary reminder of the inhumane conditions our African American ancestors were subjected to in an effort to survive economically all while building the wealth of this nation.
  • Virginia Beach, VA: Princess Anne Station post office: "Old Dominion Conversation Piece," by John H.R. Pickett (1939). The historic post office building that had housed this artwork was sold by USPS and demolished a decade ago, and the mural underwent eight months of restoration prior to its installation at the Princess Anne post office. [Update, Sept. 4: A Twitter post presented to Postlandia shows the mural covered, in part, by a USPS banner. The image was taken July 4th, prior to the known beginnings of this initiative.] The following contextualizing text was posted in a display next to the mural:
    Over the next six months, Pickett submitted pencil sketches of his mural theme and exchanged letters with the Section committee as suggestions and changes “for improvement” were made.

    The initial design Pickett submitted included the first ships to arrive in Virginia — the Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery — as well as Neptune in the mural’s foreground. The Section did not find this to be a satisfactory design.

    In the design that was ultimately selected, suggestions included authenticating the type of boat, changing its scale in the mural, improving the drawing of what were considered important female figures, and clothing the female Indian. The artist also submitted a color sketch in the scale of two inches to the foot for approval. ...

    Pickett’s description of the design separated it into three aspects:

    The center portion showed the arrival of the first women at Jamestown — tobacco brides — whose arrival assured the permanency of the settlement. They are shown with “evidences of the beginning of the American home.”

    The left portion showed a cavalier, the growing tobacco, slaves rolling a tobacco hogshead, and an Indian squaw watching the arrival of the first white women.

    In the right background, Pickett included the weighing of the tobacco which paid for the passage of the women.
    When the author visited and photographed the artwork and installation last autumn, a couple approached him out of concern that his interest in the mural was negative. The ensuing discussion revealed that they were vehemently opposed to removing or covering the mural, should it endure complaints regarding controversial content.

The author invites journalists interested in pursuing this story to contact him for access to the FOIA response cited in this article. Thank you—Evan K.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

2019 Postal Summary

It's hard to imagine that this blog was founded nearly a decade ago, and that this is my TENTH Postal Summary. I didn't write a lot here this past year... it's not because I haven't been up to anything (quite the contrary!), but I've been focusing more of my energies on the quicker 'n easier Instagram world. Postlandia has a popular, growing Instagram feed. I posted more than 400 (mostly) postal-related photos in 2019, including at least three P.O.s from every U.S. state.

(As always, my prior summaries can be found at these links: 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018. Starting next year I'm just gonna link to this page with entries tagged "annual postal summary," heh. Let's go!)

2019 was an exciting year. I visited a decent 708 new, active postal operations this year across 18 states (in addition to re-visiting classics in New York). After correcting for a handful of errors in my spreadsheet, my grand total is now 9,994 post offices.

This year's travels included three major trips:
1. Puerto Rico / the U.S. Virgin Islands (17 days, all 144 post offices)
2. Ohio Valley / South (21 days, 351 new POs)
3. Delmarva Peninsula / eastern Virginia (13 days, 213 new POs)

Here I am at the San Antonio, Puerto Rico post office—my last in the territory, 11 days after my first. I'm holding a big, paper AAA map with every post office in Puerto circled (and highlighted, once I visited them); my finger is pointing to the San Antonio post office in the upper left corner:

Me at the Frederiksted, V.I. post office—my last in the territory, at the end of two days visiting its three main islands:

I was fortunate to be able to attend the First Day ceremony of the Post Office Murals stamps in Piggott, Arkansas on April 10, stopping at a forum: Postal Places, at Carnegie Mellon University on April 26, an event with an impressive roster of guests from postal circles. Sadly I can't find a link to the four amazing grad student-developed projects online, but here is a link to the course online.

Piggott, AR: Post Office Murals stamp ceremony

During my trip to Delmarva [Delaware / Maryland / Virginia] I took a couple of side trips into Chesapeake Bay to visit the two post offices at Smith Island, Maryland, as well as the post office in Tangier Island, Virginia. Here I am at the latter:

Thank you to the dozens of people who purchased the 2020 Postlandia calendar! Your support is always greatly appreciated. This has always been a passion project, and I don't get paid a dime to do any of this.

I had some fun mailing packages in 2019...
I have too many stamps...
As always, the counts in this post include active 'standard' post offices, Contract Postal Units (CPUs), carrier annexes, and mail processing plants. They do not include former sites (e.g. historic post office buildings), places I've previously been to but revisited (say, to take a better photo), or previously discontinued operations. Here are some assorted photos from various operations I've visited this year:

CataƱo, Puerto Rico Detached Mail Delivery Unit
Catano, PR Detached Mail Delivery Unit

Virginia Beach, Virginia: McDonald Garden Center CPU
McDonald Garden Center, Virginia Beach, VA

North Little Rock, Arkansas (former site, now library)
Old post office, North Little Rock, Arkansas

Paducah, Kentucky Carrier Annex
Paducah, Kentucky carrier annex

I continued documenting the U.S. Postal Service's New Deal treasures as well, for example:

Eutaw, Alabama: "The Countryside," by Robert Gwathmey (1941)
Eutaw, Alabama post office mural

2019 By the Numbers

I visited as many as 34 post offices (of which 31 were new) in one day this year (in the Delmarva Peninsula portion of Virginia). State by state—and territory by territory:

Puerto Rico: 132 post offices
Focus/Foci: [All post offices in the territory]

Virginia: 118 post offices
Eastern counties of the Delmarva Peninsula; Hampton Roads; Richmond

Arkansas: 79 post offices
Northeast corner; Little Rock south to El Dorado

Louisiana: 70 post offices
North central Louisiana; Alexandria

Maryland: 58 post offices
Eastern Shore

Kentucky: 47 post offices
Ohio River Valley (western counties); Berea

Delaware: 34 post offices
North of Wilmington; eastern shore; Sussex County

Missouri: 32 post offices
Southeastern corner

Alabama: 27 post offices
Birmingham; northeast corner

Pennsylvania: 21 post offices
North of Pittsburgh

Tennessee: 19 post offices
Chattanooga; Cleveland; Jellico

Mississippi: 17 post offices
East of Jackson to Meridian

Indiana: 12 post offices
Evansville, to wit:

U.S. Virgin Islands: 12 post offices
[All post offices in the territory]

West Virginia: 12 post offices
Huntington; Charleston north

Massachusetts: 7 post offices
South of Quabbin Reservoir

Ohio: 5 post offices
Random Akron to Columbus; Marietta north

Georgia: 3 post offices
Dade County (NW corner)

Illinois: 2 post offices
Brookport; Cairo

North Carolina: 1 post offices
Knotts Island

This year I finished visiting every post office in Delaware, even getting to visit the post office at Dover Air Force Base. The impetus for the trip was the 58th annual Post Mark Collectors Club (PMCC) Convention, which took place in Dover, Delaware back in late September.

The "kids' table," PMCC convention:

Me at Talleyville Branch, Wilmington, DE, my final post office in the First State

Counting Counties:
I visited 100 new counties in 2019. They are the dark blue counties east of Texas and south of New York on this travel map:

Counting Counties map

Dear readers, thank you for your continued support! I'm hoping to share many more new post office stories and photos with you in 2020.

Monday, November 25, 2019

The 2020 Calendar of Post Offices and Places

So! It's been a while since I've written many articles, but I've still been logging several thousand miles visiting post offices. Alas, it's that glorious time of the year that brings us pumpkin spice and the annual Postlandia Calendar of Post Offices and Places. I'm not here to write about the flavors of autumn, so hello calendar! For those of you new to the 'tradition,' the Postlandia calendar is a 12-month calendar that features a different, interesting, and photogenic post office for each month, plus a description of why it's significant. There's nothing else quite like it anywhere. This will be the fourth iteration, and the calendar has now featured at least one post office from most U.S. states.

The 2020 edition of the Postlandia calendar takes us to post offices far and wide—notably the Caribbean, home to the U.S. Post Offices of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. I've still yet to transcribe my adventures, but I visited every single P.O. in both U.S. territories earlier this year, and it was an unforgettable experience. You'll see two really cool finds from the Caribbean in the calendar. This said, the calendar also takes us to the Northwest, New England, the Mid-Atlantic, and all the way out to the Grand Canyon. The post offices are big and small, and there's something for everyone. (Everyone who's interested in post offices and/or snail mail, at least.)

Here's the [edit: link removed; project retired] direct link to the calendar on , my trusty printer.

The images are printed in high resolution (far better than I present on this site), on high-quality paper. The dates include not only U.S. holidays but dates significant to American postal history. And, yes, you can write on it—again, good paper. Thick stuff.

Postlandia Calendar cover:

The cover (and one of the months) features one of my all-time favorite post offices: Milton, Pennsylvania. Heck, I featured it in a blog post back in 2011. But I stopped back to photograph it again earlier this year with far better lighting on the building, and this gem definitely deserves another look.

Delaware: Birth of an Empire

Illinois: A "Great American Post Office"

Texarkana: Two States, one Post Office

As always, there's so much more where these came from. I hope you experience as much enjoyment with this calendar next year as I've enjoyed curating it. Remember—I've trekked to thousands of post offices (I'm presently just shy of 10,000) so I can bring you some of the very best, anywhere.

I refuse to sell advertising on any website I manage or any product I manage, so this is the only way I make even a modicum of money from this hobby. It really does make a dent in my gas money bills, so I want to thank everyone who purchases a calendar for your support.

Again, the link to the calendar is [removed]. I've always said that this is the perfect gift for the special USPS employee or snail mail enthusiast in your life; a wonderful purchase for philatelist and stamp collectors; and generally speaking, just the perfect post office calendar. The calendar is available here, at the secure website of the high-quality printer Lulu. Everyone I know who's purchased either the 2017, the 2018, or the 2019 Postlandia post office calendar has loved it!


I'm a huge fan of FDR-era (1933-1942) post offices, more than 1,000 of which house beautiful examples of New Deal artwork. Last year I introduced a second calendar that overlaps somewhat with our postal fandom, and this year I'm bringing it back: [retired link] New Deal Legacy: 2020!

It features a bit of postal goodness from the FDR era, but goes way beyond to highlight some of the myriad of accomplishments put forth by various New Deal agencies across the country, including the Works Progress Administration (WPA), Public Works Administration (PWA), and Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).

Again, each image in the calendar is accompanied by a full description of exactly what's going on.

2020 New Deal Legacy Calendar cover:

The projects...

Louisiana: Deco Justice

New Mexico: Desert Pride

Colorado: The High Road

The high-resolution images include the stories that make each one image significant. They are printed on thick, high-quality paper and will hold up to all of your writing-on-your-calendar needs. Just as with the Postlandia calendar, these span the country. There's something for everyone. Here is the combined link to my author's page that will lead you to both the the Postlandia and New Deal Legacy 2020 calendars.

Thank you for your continued support.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

30,000: the Ultimate Post Office Photo Collection Keeps Growing

Three years ago I introduced readers of this blog to the Post Mark Collectors Club (PMCC)'s Online Post Office Photo Project. The Post Mark Collectors Club operates the National Postmark Museum in Bellevue, Ohio, and among its unparalleled collections is a catalogued cabinet with 60,000 printed post office photographs. The images span all 50 states, and even all U.S. counties.

As I detailed in this thorough write-up three years ago, the PMCC's digital collection of post office photographs has been expanding at an unprecedented clip. With 30,000 catalogued photos, there is no comparable collection anywhere in the world. No other institution—neither the U.S. Postal Service, National Postal Museum, Library of Congress, National Archives, nor Smithsonian Institution, manages anything like it. As of this writing images in our collection have garnered more than 3.7 million hits.

All 50 states are represented by more than 100 post office photographs; 21 states feature at least 500 photos; and five states (NY, IL, PA, TX, CA) boast more than 1,000 images. Additionally, each of the 55 darkest green counties on this heat map is represented by at least 50 photos.

Post office photograph heat map

Photo #30,000 was this photo of the Community Post Office in Nanwalek, Alaska. I was fortunate to visit all the post offices on the Kenai Peninsula back in 2016, and wrote about the adventures on this blog in this four-part series.

Nanwalek, AK Community Post Office

Please refer to this post for FAR more additional information about the project, as well as contributing new images.

Viewing the Collection
The PMCC Online Post Office Photo Collection homepage is:

Here is the link to our primary Flickr page, at which you can view all our uploads chronologically, starting with the most recent:

Note: © All rights reserved. We are pleased to present these photos online, but most of these images are under copyright and may not be re-used without the respective photographers' consent. Commercial usage is prohibited without the purchase of an image license. Contact me (email address in left sidebar) and I can help sort things out for you if you're interested.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Postal Tour: Champaign–Urbana, IL

Champaign–Urbana, a.k.a. Urbana–Champaign, a.k.a. Chambana, in eastern Illinois, is a twin city with a population of roughly 140,000, 125 miles from downtown Chicago. The first question that comes to mind: which came first—the Champaign or the Urbana? It was, in fact, the latter: first settled in 1822, the Urbana post office was established in 1836. It likely would have remained the only city in the area, but you can blame the railroad:

Wikipedia: "Urbana suffered a setback when the Chicago branch of the Illinois Central Railroad, which had been expected to pass through town, was instead laid down two miles west, where the land was flatter. The town of West Urbana grew up around the train depot built there in 1854, and in 1861 its name was changed to Champaign. The competition between the two cities provoked Urbana to tear down the ten-year-old County Courthouse and replace it with a much larger and fancier structure, to ensure that the county seat would remain in Urbana."

ChampaignIL.gov: "Champaign was founded in 1855, when the Illinois Central Railroad placed its tracks two miles west of downtown Urbana. Originally called “West Urbana”, it was renamed “Champaign” when it acquired a city charter in 1860. Both the city and county name were derived from Champaign County, Ohio."

The Champaign post office was established in 1860. Okay, now that we've got the basics, we can get a look at the landscape of the cities, which mutually support the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign.

Champaign-Urbana postal map

Postally speaking, the cities are still divided: Champaign to the west, Urbana to the east. We'll start with Champaign, which has a General Mail Facility that is still used for mail processing, two stations around the city center, and a Contract Postal Unit (CPU) in the form of a Meijer. Next we'll move on to Urbana, which also has two stations around the city center and a Meijer CPU. Each also city has a beautiful old post office building from the early 20th century, and a main post office for each city has moved away from the urban core toward the extreme side of the area... which reminds me of the metaphase and anaphase stages of mitosis (cell division), wherein the cellular spindle pulls the genetic material away from the center in advance of the final division of the cells (visuals here); but I digress.


Old Champaign Post Office:
I'll let Wiki have the honors: "The U.S. Post Office, now known as the Springer Cultural Center, is a historic government building located at Randolph and Church Streets in Champaign, Illinois. Built in 1905, the building originally served as Champaign's post office. The office of Supervising Architect James Knox Taylor designed the Beaux-Arts building. The brick building features extensive limestone and terra cotta ornamentation. The front facade has four pairs of Ionic pilasters separating the entrance and two sets of windows. A frieze reading "UNITED STATES POST OFFICE" and a dentillated cornice run above the pilasters. A balustrade runs along the front edge of the roof; a large scrolled cartouche marks the center of the balustrade."

The building received additions in 1929 (that was razed seven years later; a larger addition was built in 1936), and was converted into a what was known as the Springer Federal Building in 1966. Listed to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976 [nomination form / even more history here], the building was deeded to the Champaign Park District in 1991.

Springer Cultural Center (Old Post Office), 2017:
Springer Cultural Center (Old Post Office), Champaign, IL

You can find amazing images of the building at various points in its history at ChampaignHistory.com, here.

Neil Street Station:
The post office on Neil Street, located near the Springer Cultural Center, opened in 1966 (replacing the old federal building); I believe this acted as the main post office until the opening of the General Mail Facility in 1991. The Postal Service owns both properties.

Neil Street Station post office, Champaign, IL

General Mail Facility:
This 191,000-square-foot facility, located in the far northwest of Champaign near I-74, opened in 1991. It continues to process outgoing mail.

As seen in (a) 2008 and (b) 2017:
Champaign General Mail Facility
Champaign General Mail Facility

Station A:
The Postal Service also owns this 4,000-square-foot operation, located on the east side of Champaign, in 'Campustown' near Urbana. The building, which opened in 2000, bears a design common to USPS-owned facilities built at the time.

Station A post office, Champaign, IL

Meijer CPU:
Meijer #146, Champaign, IL

Meijer #146 is found on Prospect Avenue, north of I-74. Like other Meijer stores, it has a Contract Postal Unit (CPU).


Downtown Station / Old Main Post Office:
Downtown post office, Urbana, IL

Built in 1914-5 with an addition dating to 1935, the old post office was constructed in downtown Urbana, right by the Champaign County Courthouse. The building bears a 1914 cornerstone. It housed Urbana's primary postal services until the main office relocated in 1998.

Downtown Urbana, IL post office cornerstone

Articles seem to suggest that the building was vacant for some time before IMC, an "independent media group," "closed on the building on Thursday in a deal with the federal government for $218,320." News-Gazette reporting continues:

"The 1914 structure just north of Lincoln Square was replaced by a new facility near the corner of U.S. 150 and Illinois 130 in east Urbana. A decade earlier, in 1986, it had undergone a $1 million renovation. The solid, brick edifice has three floors, each more than 9,000 square feet, as well as a 6,000-square-foot lobby."

As part of the sale arrangement, the Postal Service is allowed to retain a presence in the building, leasing back 3,000 square feet for Downtown Station for $1 a year. (The building houses several other tenants as well, not for that cost.) The post office is located to the right when entering by the building's main entrance. It has a P.O. Box Section external to the retail lobby, and features a display of old images from the time of the building's original construction and 1935 extension. Here is an image of the outer lobby, and one of the historic images:

Downtown Urbana, IL post office

Downtown Urbana, IL post office construction, 1935

University Station:
Aside from finding parking, this was an enjoyable visit. Urbana's University Station post office is located on the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign campus, on the first floor at historic Altgeld Hall, south of W. Green Street. The post office is located inside the south entrance to the building that faces S. Wright Street. The inside is not much to look at, but the Richardsonian Romanesque-style building, which dates to 1897, certainly is!

Altgeld Hall, from the SW (postal entrance behind the bikes): Altgeld Hall

University Station post office, Altgeld Hall: University Station post office in Altgeld Hall, Urbana, IL

Main Post Office:
Located at the eastern extreme of developed Urbana, this 27,544-square-foot USPS-owned facility opened in 1998. Its design is par for its vintage.

Urbana, IL main post office

Meijer CPU:
Meijer #247, Urbana, IL

Meijer #247 is off Philo Road in the southeast part of the city. Like other Meijer stores, it has a Contract Postal Unit (CPU).

Hope you enjoyed this thorough accounting of this corner of the country. 'Til next time,