Depredators of the Mail!

Secret Service annotatedWhen my grandfather was a child, someone named E.S. Harding gave him a copy of The Secret Service of the Post Office Department. (Or, on the book’s spine, the Post Oiffice Department—nothing like an extra i to add symmetry.)

At 583 pages, the tome is chock full of “the wonderful exploits of special agents or inspectors in the detection, pursuit and capture of depredators upon the mails.”

I love this book, from the cover’s crossed mailbags rampant to the 162 engravings of stage coaches and wily depredators with captions like, “With guilt pictured upon every lineament, he answered, ‘I have not got the letter.'”

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is still active, of course. One of  America’s most venerable law enforcement agencies, 2000 postal inspectors pursue criminals who tamper with our mail.

If you live near Washington, D.C. you might still catch the special exhibit “Postal Inspectors: The Silent Service” at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum before it ends April 8, 2014. Or visit online to read about Public Enemy #1 or to try your hand at solving a case.

The Secret Service of the Post Office Department was already decades old when Harding gave it to Grampa. Perhaps it was a favorite book or perhaps he thought the tales of derring-do just the thing for a young boy. Harding chose well because that book became one of the few possessions my grandfather brought with him when he moved from Maryland to California.

So it’s high time I finally read it. Look for the occasional future post about the “complicated contrivances of the wily and unscrupulous to defraud the public.” I promise that the stories will be both hair-raising and condensed. In other words, I’ll read the book so you don’t have to!

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