Memorabilia from old Indiana post office finds permanent home in Washington museum



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DENHAM, Indiana — For about 100 years until 1968, the residents of this small town in northern Pulaski County got their mail by visiting their local post office and looking through the glass pane in front of the rows and columns of post office boxes to see if their assigned slot contained any messages.

When they did, a post office employee would retrieve them and hand them through the slot behind the metal bars in the center of the large wooden structure that divided customers from staff.

Scott Stump of Waynesville, North Carolina, grew up helping out his postmaster grandfather at the former Denham Post Office.

"The way this post office worked is a lot different than what we see now," Stump told the Pharos-Tribune (http://bit.ly/1pWmQ75 ). "This was a full-service deal. We're just not used to that service in this day and age. Going to the post office was an event. It wasn't just to get your mail, it was to catch up. You never knew who you were going to see."

These post office boxes and several other items from the former post office in Denham were recently added to the inventory of the National Postal Museum in Washington, D.C. There, these pieces of a small local town will be preserved, celebrated and used to aid in research on and the teaching of the U.S. Postal Service's history.

Stump said his grandfather, Orvel "Mike" Podell, was postmaster of the Denham Post Office from 1933 until his retirement in 1973. A new post office was built in 1968, and the former one burned down after that, he said. The office built in 1968 is no longer in use. Podell passed away in 1992.

Stump had the post office boxes, several hand cancellation stamps and the metal sign that hung above the post office's entryway for about the past 20 years. He's spent the past few years looking into getting them somewhere "where people can enjoy them."

"I came to the conclusion that they were probably going to stay in my basement and that it was a shame a piece of history is just sitting there," Stump said.

Eventually, he ended up working with the National Postal Museum to take on the items.

Stump estimates the old metal sign is 70 to 80 years old and some of the hand cancellation stamps date from the 1940s.

These stamps represent some of Stump's fondest memories of helping out at the post office as a kid, as he enjoyed dipping them in ink and pressing them across postage stamps on envelopes and packages to certify they had been processed by the office.

Stump added he also enjoyed raising and taking down the flag outside the office and bringing in the burlap sack full of mail from the lot's blue metal bin.

One more positive memory was created about the post office last week at the National Postal Museum, where Stump and several of his family members attended a reception and received a tour of the items' new home.

"It's very humbling to know that something from the area is going to live on and they're really excited to get on with the educational aspects of this," Stump said of the museum. "So many of these kids can't relate to people getting their mail in that manner. This is something hands on they can see right there and it will really help aid in the educational process."

Stump proposed the trip to his mother and Orvel Podell's daughter, Barbara Podell Stump, as a family vacation to the nation's capital. For her, the visit to the museum began as any other visit to a museum would, until staff invited the family down to its vault to see its latest collection.

Barbara Stump said she recalled coming across a set of post office boxes that seemed familiar, but it wasn't until she saw a table holding the Denham post office's old metal sign that she realized what her son had done.

"I just couldn't believe what I was seeing," Barbara Stump said. "That was such a surprise."

Like her son, Barbara Stump also helped out at the post office and recalled it as a communal hub for the residents of the area.

"I can't believe something from a small town like Denham would have something in the Smithsonian," she said. "It was something I'll never forget. I'm sure my parents would be very happy it ended up where it is."


Information from: Pharos-Tribune, http://www.pharostribune.com

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