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National Postal Museum

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National Postal Museum
Tania Anderson

Anyone who’s interested in stamp collecting or the history of the U.S. postal system will enjoy a visit to the National Postal Museum in Washington. It’s small but there’s a lot to see and do, including interactive displays, movies, story time for children and arts and crafts projects.

WHAT YOU SEE: Ever heard of the Pony Express? This was the central route in 1860 to carry mail from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California on horseback. The museum has a Pony Express exhibit that shows the route and also artifacts such as a saddlebag that messengers used on their horses for mail.

An exhibit on postal inspectors shows the history of these “special agents” and their role in ensuring that the mail moves securely and swiftly throughout the country. They investigate crimes against the mail as well as post office robberies and employee assaults. You’ll learn about the Anthrax attacks and letter bombs. On display are a Tommy Gun carried by inspectors in the 1920s, a Gooseneck Crime Scope to identify altered documents and evidence from fibers to fingerprints. There’s also a Hazmat suit used during the Anthrax investigation on display. One of the more interesting aspects of the exhibit is a mail bomb mock-up of a cigar box bomb mailed in 1936. The exhibit also features the handcuffs used in Ted Kaczynski’s (the Unabomber) arrest. There’s also a section on how inspectors examine bomb materials.

The museum is full of interactive displays, including one on how to match fingerprints with a magnifying glass and the challenge of matching photos to “wanted” posters. You can even try to forge a signature with a mag pen and gel board.

There’s also an extensive exhibit on the history of stamps with thousands of interesting and artistic stamps on display.

You’ll also notice phone numbers on small displays near the exhibits and artifacts. You can call these numbers on your mobile phone to hear more info on what you’re looking at.

GOOD FOR KIDS: The National Postal Museum is great for kids. Owney the dog, which was the postal service mascot in the 1800s, is on display and kids will love seeing all his medals. There’s a big rig where kids can sit and pretend to drive. There’s also story times and arts and crafts projects on the weekends. The kids will also get a kick out of the interactive displays even if they don’t fully understand them.

GIFT SHOP: The National Postal Museum has a small gift shop where you can buy books like the “100 Greatest American Stamps,” a mystery stamp bag full of 500 unsorted, unpicked stamps and stamp collecting albums. And of course you can buy stamps at the small post office next to the gift shop.

WHERE: The National Postal Museum is at 2 Massachusetts Ave., NE. , near Union Station and the Senate side of the U.S. Capitol building.

HOURS OF OPERATION: The museum is open seven days a week, except Dec. 25, from 10 AM to 5:30 PM.

COST: Free.

PARKING: Metered street parking is available near the museum and garage parking is available at Union Station.

PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION: The closest Metro stop is Union Station on the red line. Follow signs for the Massachusetts Avenue exit.

WEBSITE/TELEPHONE NUMBER: National Postal Museum website; 202-633-5555

TOURS: The museum offers docent-led tours daily at 11 AM and 1 PM. Tours meet at the information desk but are based on docent availability.

UPCOMING CHANGES: William H. Gross, the founder of PIMCO, donated $10 million to the museum to create a 12,000 square foot gallery. Set to open in 2013, the gallery will house philatelic rarities.

WHAT’S CLOSE BY: Union Station and the U.S. Capitol building.

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