Pam Crooks: “Neither Snow nor Rain…” Bizarre Post Office Tales

Pam Sig

I don’t know about you, but I feel sorry for the United States Post Office.

They don’t have a chance against today’s technology, and they admit it.  In fact, they’ve lamented they don’t see any glimmer of hope on the horizon and that tpostagestampechnology will slowly and surely squeeze out the average consumer’s need to send correspondence the old-fashioned way. 

The proof is in the pudding.  Postmaster General John E. Potter recently reported to Congress that mail volume will drop an appalling 32 BILLION pieces in less than 2 years. 

Two years?  Yikes!

To battle the sharp declines, the post office is forced to raise rates.  A postage stamp will jump to 44 cents each on May 11th, and we’ll see price hikes every May from now on.  Which, of course, only keeps the cycle spinning – consumers won’t WANT to spend 44 cents and more on a letter, so mail volume will drop and keep dropping. 

We’ve become a society where corresponding  by email is as natural as breathing.  We pay our bills online.   We apply for jobs online.  Some of us even send Christmas cards online, and thank you notes, and birthday cards online . . .. 

Makes you wonder what those dedicated riders for the Pony Express would have to say about all this, don’t you?  After all, it wasn’t so long ago that America was completely dependent on the Post Office to courier its goods all over the country.  And some of those goods were mighty strange.

Here are some examples:

* A farmer shipped  1 and 1/2 tons of hay by parcel post from Oregon  to Idaho.

* Someone shipped a coconut from Miami to Detroit fourth class; postage and address was attached to the shell.

hope_diamond* It was fairly common to save on trucking costs by mailing sections of prefab housing to construction sites.

* Harry Winston was kind enough to donate the Hope Diamond to the Smithsonian in 1958.  He sent it wrapped in brown paper, first class registered mail.

Even more stranger:

Poisoned candy, loaded pistols, and assorted body parts in various stages of decomposition.

Of course, with bizarre things comes the risk of mishap – like when black widow spiders and poisonous snakes and even lady bugs escaped.blackwidowspider

But in 1916, the Postmaster General put his proverbial foot down when someone shipped AN ENTIRE BANK BUILDING from Salt Lake City to Vernal, Utah–80,000 bricks packaged in small bundles.  But an exception was made in 1941 to allow 9,000 tons of gold bricks to rumble from New York to Fort Knox, an endeavor that took an entire year and allowed the Post Office to collect an astounding $1,600,000 in postage, insurance and surcharges.

But my absolute favorite–or my most appalling, whichever you prefer–mayshipped goods was in 1914 when the parents of four-year-old May Pierstorff plunked 53 cents worth of postage on her suitcase (though some claim the stamp was glued to a tag on her coat) to pay for the 3 hour trip  by train to her grandmother’s house in Lewiston, Idaho.   They got away with it since it wasn’t technically against the law to ship a child.  Never mind that it WAS against the law to ship a pig–or smelly Limburger cheese.  But since the cost of a train ticket equated to a full day’s pay for May’s father, the local postmaster agreed on the basis that it was lawful to ship little chicks, of which he considered her such.

The story had a happy–and safe–ending.    The baggage clerk delivered her promptly from the train to the Lewiston post office, where Grandma waited to greet her–a happily delivered product of the United States Post Office.

And yes, this is little May.  How could her parents plunk a stamp on her and send her on her way, all by her lonesome?  

What was the strangest thing you’ve ever shipped by mail or otherwise?  What was the strangest thing you’ve ever received?

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Pam has written 30 romances, most of them historical westerns. Her newest sweet historical romance, HARRIETT, was the launch book for the popular Cupids & Cowboys series, More books are coming! Stay up on the latest at www.pamcrooks.com

39 thoughts on “Pam Crooks: “Neither Snow nor Rain…” Bizarre Post Office Tales”

  1. Hi Pam! What a wonderful post! I too mourn the post office’s predicament, but while I do send postcards when we travel, and actual Christmas cards, I must admit I correspond by e-mail, send e-vites to casual gatherings, and do our bills and banking online. It is sooo easy.

    But I love getting packages in the mail. That can’t be done any other way but in person. I think the weirdest thing I ever got was some pointsettias. Not that they were weird, they came in a giant box, all potted and everything.

    I remember having an actual pen pal when I was little. She lived in Minnesota and we had the same birthday. It was so fun to get those letters. Now it’s all myspace and facebook, I guess.

    I can’t wait to read your new book. Congrats!

    oxoxoxox

  2. Hi Pam! My favorite post office story involves a letter one friend of mine sent to another friend. He didn’t have the address, so he wrote: “This letter goes to a house in Sepulveda, north of the corner of Minnehaha Street and San Jose Ave. The house is on the right side of the street, four down from the corner. It’s made of white stucco and has brick planters.”

    The letter arrived. Back then the postage was probably 20 cents are so! Talk about service!

    More recently I saw an elderly lady mailing a Christmas gift. No box. No brown paper. Just Santa on the gift wrapping, a bow and an address label. She was quite elderly and probably confused. Bless the postal clerk. He did his best to explain, but she just didn’t get it. He finally wrapped it in a mile of tape to protect it and off it went.

  3. Good morning, Tanya! You’re my early bird this morning. 🙂

    I LOVED having a pen pal! There just wasn’t anything more exciting than finding a letter waiting for me from a country so far away. I was always enthralled.

    It was so common back to have pen pals when we were kids, wasn’t it? Do school children even do them anymore?

  4. Oh, great story, Vicki! I wonder if that letter would have made it today. Everything is automated. I guess it’d depend on the mail carrier and how well he knew his route, eh?

    I remember when stamps were only 20 cents. Does that date me? 🙂

  5. I forgot to mention one of the strangest things I received in the mail. It was from a new author around Halloween – and she’d sent me some penny candy. It was a thank you for something–can’t remember for what–but the candy arrived broken and powdery. It would have cost her far more money to send it to me than what the candy was worth.

  6. My parents put me on a train at that age, but never tried to send via US Mail LOL!

    Haven’t had any strange shipments – in or out. Have had packages and cards LOST even when sent to 2 children @ the SAME address mailed at the SAME time from the SAME post office – never to be found.

    I doubt the post office will ever be completely out of business – people still need to send packages and other delivery services UPS/FedEx, etc don’t send to PO Boxes – also there are still rural areas that have no house-to-house delivery.

    My home town of Iowa, LA is one that didn’t until a couple of years ago, but many close by still don’t.

    Very interesting post!
    PamT

  7. Hi Pam, I’m ba-a-a-a-ack 🙂 I dunno about pen pals. I couldn’t get my own kids interested in it. But it was such fun. My pen pal Ruth lived on a farm. To a suburban girl, that was like Nirvana.

    I remembered a funny post office thing. I “adopt” donkeys at a refuge in Israel, and bought their Christmas cards to send out a couple of years ago. I didn’t realize the square shape would require extra postage! Only one person had to pay more postage to get the card. I guess the P.O. was full of Christmas spirit that year.

  8. Pam, this was only about a year ago. I had this big round cake board, used in my daughter’s wedding cake, left by the cake decorator with instructions to return it. A town not too far from mine but I decided to mail it instead of driving over there.
    I took it into the post office with my mailing labels printed out and asked how to wrap it, what would it cost, did they have a shipping container large enough?
    The postmaster stared at it a few minutes, just a flat circle of plywood after all, then he took my mailing label off the sheep, slapped it on the piece of wood and said, “This’ll go through fine.” He weighed it, stuck stamps right on the thing, and dropped it in a bag. I assume it arrived.

  9. Here’s one that irritated me. I received something, clothing, ordered from a catalogue, in this white plastic bag. I needed to mail something so I took that white plastic bag, turned it inside out, stuck my own mailing labels on it and took it to the post office. They said, “We can’t ship a bag like that.”
    I said, “I just got it from you guys, this exact bag. Two days ago.”
    The only answer? “Sorry.”

  10. And, I have been predicting the end of the post office for years. It’s just about obsolete I’d say. A huge old dinosaur that barely has a need except to ship junk mail. When is the last time you received a personal letter … exclude Christmas and birthdays and THEN when is the last time?
    I mail a lot of books, for drawing for blog contests and things like that–so I use the post office more than most people, I think, but UPS could do that just fine.

  11. What a fun post! My happiest package was a huge, hand-crafted hobby horse sent by a fan. It was huge and adorable and totally unexpected. One day I came home and here was this hobby horse, via US mail. That was nearly twenty years ago and it still occupies the place of honor in my home. I still love the mail, particularly when a check comes, but I sadly see the writing on the wall, and I will grief when it cuts back to five days a week, then four, then . . .

  12. Hi, PamT! Your parents must have been very brave and trusting to let you go on a train so young. You, too!

    I agree with you that the PO will probably always be around in some form. People depend on their PO boxes, et al, but I do think in time the PO will be a shadow of its former self. Isn’t that sad? It’s such an American icon.

  13. Good morning, Paty! I’m glad you enjoyed the blog and maybe learned some fun facts, too.

    I’m glad you came back to us this morning, Tanya. Okay – you adopt donkeys? I’ve never heard of such a thing. 🙂

  14. Mary, I’m glad you’re back in the swing of things after your big book tour. We missed your stories!

    Regarding the cake board, it actually makes sense to just plunk the postage and label on it. It’s sturdier than a box–and how easy for you!

  15. I’m blown over by the strange things you dug up that were shipped by mail. Oh my gosh! The Hope diamond? And that poor little girl! That’s the strangest thing I’ve ever heard. I haven’t received or sent anything weird. Sorry. Guess I lead too normal a life. LOL

    Thanks for the neat post! I enjoyed it.

  16. Patricia, we really appreciate how you’ve become such a good friend here on P & P!

    I completely agree how hard it will be to see the PO cut back to five days a week. The savings will be substantial, but what an adjustment we’ll all have to make. I schedule my days around my mailman. LOL.

  17. Hi, Linda! Someone wrote a book about little May’s trip. It’s called “Mailing May.” Obviously, someone else was as fascinated by her story as we are.

    I’m going to look for it at the library. 🙂

  18. I believe hatcheries used to send baby chicks by parcel post to rural areas. Can you imagine driving a mail route with a box of peeping chicks?

    When my Grandmother had her 80th birthday, her sister in Sweden sent her a “Spitcaka”. Not sure of the spelling, but I guess it was a Swedish birthday cake.

  19. I can’t remember sending out anything strange in the US mail, but Honey had a incident occur some
    years back. He had a pistol (unloaded) which he was sending to the manufacturer for repair. He received a letter and a telephone call from the Postmaster. From the severity of the messages,
    he thought he was going to go to jail or something! It was solved by Honey sending them the fee needed to send the package by UPS to the manufacturer! Things I have received by mail: my medications, my shredding scissors, my prize package from an Alaskan author including Polar
    Bear Smooches (candy) and book “thongs”, and an
    author package containing my highly-prized Cowboy
    Fan from Petticoats & Pistols !!!

    Pat Cochran

  20. Hi Pam! I can’t believe all these true stories. I’ve never gotten anything weird. I’d never think of mailing anything heavy, especially a building, LOL. Very entertaining blog today!:-) Lots of raw material for fiction!

  21. Sue, hatcheries did indeed ship little chicks by parcel post. What a burden for the carriers to have to take care of them so that they arrived alive and healthy!

    In fact, it was because of those chickies that little May’s parents ‘mailed’ her. 🙂

  22. I’ve received a couple of saplings in tubes that arrived safely. I also won a prize of books and a package of creams and lotions etc. Thank goodness the creams were in a separate box inside a large box because somehow the spout had been pushed down and the entire full container had emptied out – it was sent from overseas so by the time I got it, it had dried all gooey over everything.

  23. I remember getting baby chicks in the mail when I was a kid. Are you sure they don’t still do that?
    Very weird. I don’t think they had to care for them…like feed them. I think they were just expected to live in that box for a few days and survive. I remember there were always a few dead ones. Pretty sad to a kid helping unload the baby chicks. But farm life makes you tough.

  24. Hi Pam,
    I’m amazed at little May’s story. Who would have thunk? And that Harry Winston sent the Hope diamond by mail? That’s trust in our mail service!

    I haven’t received anything weird in the mail, thank goodness! The stories were fascinating to read about.

  25. I have no idea if they still ship chicks, Mary, but why wouldn’t they? Still, *someone* would have to keep an eye on them so they wouldn’t get too hot or too cold.

    Quite a responsibility!

  26. Glad you enjoyed the stories, Charlene. They were a fun find. Regarding the Hope diamond, I suppose they didn’t have Overnight options like we do today. Although 1958 wasn’t THAT long ago.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  27. Years ago, when I was a child, we took a trip to Newport, Rhode Island. Since my grandparents lived in Newport, Washington, on the other side of the U.S., my mother sent them a post card from there. Well, they never got it. We chalked one up to dead letter rooms or whatever. Well, guess what showed up in their mailbox 10 years later! Right, that silly postcard. Can you imagine?! I don’t know why it even went through since the postage obviously had to have changed, don’t you think?

  28. LuAnn, this is a great story! Maybe the post card slipped in between some sorting machines or something. Wouldn’t you just love to know where it’d been all those years?

    But really, the cost of the postage is moot. It was their fault for not delivering – they should have given your mom a refund for slow service. 🙂

  29. Oh wow I couldn’t believe that someone would mail their own child. I love your little post office stories. The strangest thing that happened with the post office for me is that I got a book in the mail that was post mark 3 months before I got it to the day. So this book had laid around somewhere in a post office for 3 months before they decided to deliver it to me. Very strange.

  30. Great post today. The strangest thing I ever received in the mail was 11 years ago a friend of mine had some baby tarantulas that hatched out and I said I would love 1 well she sent me 45 tiny baby curly hair tarantulas, They all came inside little deli cups inside a big box all were just fine as they got bigger I gave a bunch away and kept some for my kids who loves them too. The last one died just over a year ago she was 6 1/2 inches,
    Penney

  31. Yes they do still mail chicks, ducklings and roosters. Both my husband and daughter are postal clerks. They get chicks in all the time. My daughter actually ordered her own last summer. They have handled queen bees and complete hives. Usually they call the individuals and they come in to pick them up. It is a medium sized rural office and they have gotten to know most of the patrons. They have received packages of cremated remains. People are still shipping gold and silver. As far as UPS taking over parcel delivery, that probably won’t happen. UPS and FEDEX don’t deliver to all addresses like the post office must. Many companies charge their customers a mixed fee. UPS and FEDEX deliver the packages to the post office who then delivers to the customer. My husband is a pretty nice guy and I know he has gone out of his way to help customers get their packages wrapped and sent. The most unusual item I got in the mail was a sugar cream pie my grandmother sent to me my first Christmas in the Philippines (I was in the Peace Corps).
    The American postal system is really a good deal, even with the prices going up. Anyone who has dealt with the postal system in many other countries can appreciate it.

  32. Yes, 3 months to get a book, Quilt Lady, does make you curious, doesn’t it? We just have to shake our heads over it. And yet, for all the millions and millions of pieces of mail they process, a delay now and then isn’t so bad, eh?

  33. Hi Pam!! Oh I believe it, especially with email now, that mail has really gone down. When I was home for the summer from college, my hubby, then boyfriend, wrote me EVERY DAY! I’d be made at the mailman if he didn’t have my letter each day! Now I do forget to make sure I check mail!

    I’ve gotten mail and we saved each one, where they forget to put the ‘T’ in Morton, my last name. Was embarrassing, now we laugh.

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