National Postal Museum Display | Southern Museum

National Postal Museum Display Items at the Southern Museum

Southern Museum to Display Unique Items from the National Postal Museum

The Southern Museum will be displaying unique and fascinating items from National Postal Museum (NPM) in Washington D.C., a Smithsonian Institution, open to the public beginning October 11, 2017.

As an affiliate of the Smithsonian, our loan with the National Postal Museum includes materials from both the Civil War and the Railway Mail Service after the war. Specially selected items from the NPM augment our current Civil War and Railroad collections and exhibits.

National Postal Museum Displays

Items on loan from the NPM include:

  • Two Owney Tags that pertain to the Atlanta and Nashville areas
  • Two Railway Mail Service (RMS) Badges
  • Railway Mail Sack
  • Railway Mail-on-the-Fly Pouch
  • Four Civil War Envelopes (also known as “covers”)

These items along with photographs and interpretive panels are designed to supplement our Railroads: Lifelines of the Civil War and Glover Machine Works: Casting a New South galleries. The National Postal Museum display serves to demonstrate the importance of mail to a changing America and the vital role that railroads played in providing these mail services.

Setting Up the Postal Museum Display

The National Postal Museum Display was made possible by the generous contributions of Lake City, Acworth, and Bartow Animal Hospitals, Sons of The American Legion/American Legion, The Kennesaw Museum Foundation, and the City of Kennesaw.

OWNEY – The Postal Clerk’s Dog

Owney On Rug With Tags

Owney On Rug With Tags

Owney, a stray dog and unofficial mascot of the Railway Mail Service from 1888 to 1897, is a fascinating story for all ages. During his life, Owney rode the railways traveling all across America, and even around the world.

It is not an unusual thing for a dog to drift in unannounced, attach himself to some place or person, and remain a perfectly satisfied although uninvited guest. A few have made their homes in post offices and there became favorites and mascots with post office clerks.

Such a dog was Owney, a Scotch-Irish cur, which was adopted by the clerks in the Albany, New York post office in 1888. Owney, however, took a liking to railway mail cars, and after once making a trip in a mail car, became a traveling post office dog, a great pet of railway postal clerks and an inveterate traveler.

A Sampling of the Many Dog Tags Collected for Owney

A Sampling of the Many Dog Tags Collected for Owney

The Albany clerks had attached a collar to the traveling dog inscribed, “Owney, Albany Post Office, Albany, N.Y.,” and to it were attached checks, medals, inscriptions, verses, and postmarks by postal men in nearly every state in the Union, as well as a dollar from Old Mexico.

Postmaster-General Wanamaker took pity on Owney and had a harness made on which to carry the tags, medals, etc., that were attached to him. At one time, Owney carried a little memorandum book in which verses were written. A Detroit Clerk wrote:

“Owney is a tramp,
As you can plainly see,
Only treat him kindly,
And take him ‘long wid ye.”

Hardacre, Minnesota, wrote:

“Any on Owney,
And this is he.
The dog is aloney,
So let him be.”

The tags, etc., attached to the dog became so heavy that a clerk in the Boston post office out of pity for him took off the whole outfit and sent it to Albany, where the souvenirs were placed in a glass case, along with a picture of the traveling postal dog. Once in Montreal, Canada, Owney was shut up, and the Albany clerks were sent a bill for board which was sent at once and the dog returned to the States.

Owney, the Globe Trotter

Owney’s travels were not to be confined to Uncle Sam’s domain, domain, for after returning from Alaska in 1895, he trotted up the gangway of the N.P. Co.’s “Victoria” and sailed for Japan, August 19th. When he arrived at Yokohama, October 3rd, he attracted much attention among the “Japs,” who were much interested in his tags, etc. At Kobe, he received a medal from the Emperor.

From here Owney found passage to Shanghai and Foochow, where he received more medals and returned to Kobe. Here, Captain Grant of the Port Philip, took him on board. He was taken ashore at Singapore and sailed from Port Said on November 30th, making the return trip via the Suez Canal and the Azores.

After a few hours in New York, the globetrotter started for Tacoma, where he arrived in five days, completing the trip around the world in 132 days. At the end of this trip the famous dog with the two hundred tags, medals, etc., which he had accumulated, was placed in a public hall and seen by thousands of people.

At a Dog Show in San Francisco, Owney was given a silver medal, not for beauty, but for being the “Greatest Dog Traveler in the World.”

As seen from the drawing, Owney was not a pretty dog; in fact he was very ordinary looking. He was very intelligent though, and showed almost human knowledge of train connections.

Owney's Keen Sense of Direction

Owney with Railway Mail Service Clerks

Owney with Railway Mail Service Clerks

On one occasion, the postal dog wanted to accompany a clerk from Albany to Boston, but the clerk was so busy that he put him out of the car. Owney promptly took a local train to Troy, where he caught the Boston & Troy, arriving at Boston in time to greet the clerk as he was getting out of his car. One common trick of his was to crawl into his harness when someone would take it off.

He seemed almost afraid of losing it. Owney was once lost for a while, and it was learned that he was tied up in a lumber camp on the New York Central road. The president of the road was written to and he ordered a freight crew to stop and find the dog. A brakeman went to the camp, found him and set him free. To the great delight of all the clerks, as well as of his “Dogship.”

Occurrence at the San Francisco Convention of 1897

Either by instinct or by the help of clerks, Owney managed to attend all the Postal Clerks’ conventions, where he was right in his element. The San Francisco convention of March 1897, might have been taken as a sort of triumph for this famous dog rather than a meeting to discuss postal clerk’s affairs.

As the meeting was being called to order, in came Owney, wagging his stump tail in delight, and ran down the aisle amid the cheers of the audience. He mounted the stage and in apparent great glee looked about as if to say, “Now, you can proceed. I’m here.”

Perhaps few speakers ever received such applause as followed. The stump-tailed, shaggy dog, Owney, appealed to the sentimental nature of every mail slinger in the convention, and it was fully fifteen minutes before order was restored.

Epilog of Owney

This was Owney’s last triumph, however, for in the following August, a postmaster at Toledo, Ohio, not knowing the identity of the dog, ordered him shot. A taxidermist mounted the body and it, with all the medals, tags, harness, etc., was sent to the museum at Washington, where it still attracts much attention. Old clerks like to tell of the tricks of this canine, and it is doubtful if any other ever received better treatment from his admirers than did Owney, the Postal Clerks’ Dog.

Dennis, William J., “Owney: The Postal Clerk’s Dog,” in The Traveling Post Office: History and Incidents of the Railway Mail Service, Des Moines, Iowa, 1916, Part II Incidents, p. 118-120.

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