Wednesday, November 28, 2012

How To Pouch A Pooch



In the late nineteenth century, there was a dog that achieved great fame nationwide for riding the rails on mail trains. Owney was a small terrier mutt that accompanied an Albany postal clerk to work and quickly found his bliss among the canvas mail sacks. So fond was the mutt of reclining on the sacks of mail that he began following them on their trips across the country. At every destination he acquired a new metal tag for his collar, until the postmaster, noting that he could barely lift his head for the weight, designed him a jacket to distribute the tags more evenly. He was greeted with great affection at every town he jingled into. By nineteenth-century standards, he'd gone viral.

It is not surprising that he found the mail sacks so comfortable. Everyone does. The standard canvas mail sack was designed for maximum durability and squishiness when filled with an optimum number of bundled-up letters--enough to be bunchy, but not turgid. Once filled to this level, the sack is employed in the back of the mail truck where the carrier can use it as a pillow while he sleeps off his morning whiskey. The canvas itself is thin enough to be flexible but thick enough to thwart paper cuts on the tushy. The mail sacks are later distributed to relay boxes all over town, where foot-carriers can rendezvous with them too. The relay boxes are large enough that your smaller carriers can fit entirely inside them, butt to bunion, and smoke cigarettes until the rain stops, which, here, is usually in mid-June. As an added feature, the canvas does not catch fire easily.

Boomer
Owney looked a lot like our old terrier mutt, Boomer. Small terriers live long enough to become crotchety, and such was also the case with the famous postal dog. By 1897, he was encouraged to retire, and was sent home with the postal clerk, but he wasn't happy. This is often the case with postal workers, whose usual life trajectory finds them griping their way through their careers till retirement and then discovering that they have developed no interests at all outside of postal work, and within a half year, have signed on as security guards where they get to wear a uniform and make fun of postal employees again, which is what they have trained all their lives to do.

Owney was allowed to go back to the post office, and friendly postal workers snuck him back on the trains. He settled into the nearest bunch of mail sacks with great satisfaction, but during a stop in Toledo, a clerk came up to admire his tags; and, perhaps sensing that the employee was about to saddle him with one more weight, he bit him on the hand. Someone, probably a supervisor, deemed it wise to call in the local constabulary, a representative of which came to the post office, sized up the situation, and shot the tiny dog to death. One doesn't like to second-guess the motives of our men in blue, but this struck everybody as over the top.

Grieving postal employees refused to bury their dog and instead took up a collection to have him spruced up at the local taxidermist, and that is why today, over a hundred years later, we still have a dead-fur-and-sawdust sculpture of Owney the Postal Dog to admire in the Smithsonian's Postal Museum. He has weathered the century fairly well, which is amazing in itself. But not as amazing as the fact that someone once managed to hound a crew of postal workers for enough donations to do the deed. Generally speaking, if you're not running a football pool, it's a tight-ass bunch.

58 comments:

  1. I'm curious about the hound's name, Owney. Own-ey, as in the only-est one? Ow-ney, as in the son-of-a-bitch bit me? Or perhaps, Owne-y, which makes no sense at all and, now that I think about it, seems apropos to the Postal Service.

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    1. Originally it was Tony. I guess after the supervisor said "damn 'at Tony" a few times it got re-heard.

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  2. What a fascinating story. Love, to all those loyal dogs that stand by us unpredictable humans.

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    1. And we love back. They used to have parades for Owney when he'd show up in some towns.

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  3. So that's the story behind the postage stamp. Owney will be remembered forever by philatelists.

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  4. Where did the postal employees get those metal tags? Did the tags identify the location?

    A friend in Australia stayed in the hospital and noticed, as her sheets were being changed, that her pillow had writing on it. Evidently, this particular pillow was being tracked. each time it was sent in to be cleaned, they wrote the department name on it. Her pillow had been to the morgue three times.

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    1. AH HA HA HA HA! Yes, the tags were the same that got attached to the mail sacks and identified the locations.

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    2. I'm an Australian, going to hospital next week. Now I'll have to examine my pillow case.

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    3. BE careful! And now that I think about it, what do they need a pillow in the morgue for? Same reason a mailman needs a mail sack?

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  5. By the way, apropos of napping, my brother used to say, "What's green and sleeps one? A Forest Service truck." But they don't paint them green anymore.

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    1. So it's not as funny now. Hm. What to do?

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    2. "What's white and sleeps one?" It's just not quite as funny. But the front seat of a Forest Service truck often harbors a napping slacker.

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  6. that is an incredibly fascinating story!

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    1. Can you imagine the uproar now if someone shot a famous dog? Or even spoke harshly to it?

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  7. I don't know whether to laugh or be creeped out by the stuffed dog. But it's a great story. :-)

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    1. I've imagined sending pets to the taxidermist. It would be months before I noticed the cats weren't napping.

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    2. My Man used to stuff animals (worked in the museum years ago) and he's done one or two birds whose owners couldn't bear to bury their favourite feathers.
      But we always buried the cats.

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    3. So what DO they use to stuff them with? My cat Larry would have wanted to be stuffed with ice cream.

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  8. I've been to the Smithsonian many times until about 45 years ago. I just can't remember seeing Owney. Maybe he was taking a nap on the mummies.

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    1. Postal Museum. It's in a separate location on Capitol Hill, I think.

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    2. Yep, it's across the street from Union Station in the former central DC post office, which looks more like a cathedral than a place to mail letters.

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    3. Oh man. I do remember going to the central DC post office on a field trip in fourth grade. All those letters going into their own little cubbyholes! I was smitten. Twelve more years of education and I could have that job for my own.

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  9. If I was forced to walk around with a whole heap of metal attached to me, I think I might well be disgruntled enough to bite someone. Either that, or I'd pee all over them.

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    1. He would have fit right in with Youth Of Today, though.

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  10. Linda Hamilton SierenNovember 28, 2012 at 1:59 PM

    Oh Murr, now our Postal nap secrets are no longer secret. Next thing, you will be giving away the secret handshake. Thank you for the memory trip back to the ol' PO. Loved it - don't miss it!

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    1. Evidently the whiskey secrets are blown, too. I will say that that really subsided over the years. But my first day, I started at six a.m. and my trainer and I were knocking back bloody Marys with the boss by 8:30.

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  11. Have you ever wondered why we can't stuff our favourite humans and keep them in the den? Why is it any better to keep a pet that way?

    I'm only curious, not cranky, which is how that reads when I go back to look at it ...

    Great story. I keep learnin' stuff here :)

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    1. No, as you recall, I wanted to be stuffed and placed upright behind a faux wall that the new owners of my house would want to demolish.

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    2. Now that you mention it, I do recall it. Now that would be entertaining!

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  12. I don't think I ever saw Owney at any of the Smithsonian museums I've visited. Is their postal museum a separate building?

    Personally, I don't think the pup looks all that happy about being laden down with metal tags.

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    1. It is a separate building off the Mall. And I've never visited it, even when I lived in Arlington, I'm sorry to say. But I didn't know about Owney.

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  13. Did you notice in comparing the pic of Owney at the top to the pic of Owney as a stuffed parrot that the dark spot under his right eye is gone?

    QED - Am I looking at a faux Owney?

    XO
    WWW

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    1. Huh. So when they stuff me they can take that mole off my eyebrow?

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  14. I've read about Owney but had forgotten the story. Thanks for bringing it to mind. Take care.

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    1. Owney was new to me, I'm ashamed to say. I have given dogs a ride in a postal truck, though. I once trucked a dog all the way from my route to the address on his tag, only to find out that those people had just moved. Guess where.

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  15. Well, here we are in 2012, and I sing praises to my mail person, who never delivers anything but my mail, and is so overworked that I intend to break down and write a note for the holidays and bake him some banana bread or something.

    I don't think these postal clerks have the life they did way back when. Sorry I'm sounding defensive, but these are different times.
    But getting shot for just doing what crotchety doggies do— that does seem a little excessive—was that the first "going postal?"

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    1. Here would be a good place to mention that although the media dutifully report every year that mail carriers cannot accept tips, I have never met one who didn't. And I mean cash.

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    2. Banana Bread doesn't do it? Well, tip I shall.

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  16. I love the word "turgid". That's all!

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    1. For the last week, I HAVE BEEN the word turgid.

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    2. Don't forget "turbid." That's another very good word.

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  17. What a great story--except for the ending. Poor old Owney, the original littlest hobo. Just wanted to ride the trains and smell all the different smells.

    I really like our postie. He honks the horn at the mailbox if a parcel of quilting material won't fit in, rather than making me drive into town for it and he doesn't laugh when I'm in my bathrobe at 11 a.m. because I've been writing. For my part, I give him iced tea in the summer when he has to have his window open all the time, and bake a big platter of goodies at Christmas.

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    1. Where the heck are you that the carrier wouldn't go up to your door with the package first anyway? I would've. Especially if there were goodies.

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    2. Rural. Mailbox way at the end of the drive. He drives his route.

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    3. We totally brought packages up to the door on "mounted" routes.

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    4. I think they have Rules up here. I have to confess that sometimes he breaks them and comes in the drive..hope no one from Cda Post reads this. No delivery on Saturday either.

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  18. Such a sweet story and I am sure many wanted to shot the man who shot the dog. What a horrible thing to do!! Made me sad.

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    1. These days you can probably get into more trouble shooting a dog than a person. Depending on the person.

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  19. Postal service, completely gone to the dog. And I though the standard rule was "Dogs vs. Posties."

    Live and learn, eh?

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    1. So, "posties." Is this a Canadian/Australian thing?

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  20. Hello - I'm the Scottish person with the Ikea cushion. Thanks for your comment. I'm sure I'm not the only person to tell you that you're very amusing! I shall return.

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  21. I note that the taxidermist ensured that Owney's mouth was shut. And yes, dogs are not the only ones to get a tad crabby as the years wheel by...

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  22. Great story; sad ending. So taxidermy was what they were referring to all these years when people told me to get stuffed.

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