Those Plucky Posties

This female postal delivery person is walking her route in the war torn London of 1940. Notice the bomb-damaged building on the left and what looks like a pile of rubble, or perhaps gravel for fixing the road, on the right. A wheel barrow is propped neatly against the wall in the background.

Beginning September 7, 1940, London was bombed during 56 of the next 57 days and nights, a rain of fire known as the Blitz. With a stiff upper lip, the British populace carried on, remarking on the bombardment as one would on the weather, saying whether or not a day was “very blitzy.”

While the post office did not welcome many women employees prior to World War II, the loss of male staffers to the armed forces opened many positions to women.

The advent of WWII also caused the U.S. Post Service to adjust its thinking about women delivering the mail. In 1944, Jeannette Lee became Chicago’s first female letter carrier, leading to today’s post office where women comprise 40% of the work force.

A Very English Christmas


Since Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol nearly 175 years ago, the British have occupied a special corner of the market when it comes to yuletide cheer. Just check out these amazing Wallace and Gromit postage stamps.

I don’t really like plum pudding, but I want to serve that gigantic holly-bedecked cannonball for dessert. And note the paper crowns worn in the first and third stamps, the type of tissue paper hats found inside Christmas crackers. I am such an anglophile that I have been foisting that custom on my American family for the past 20 years.crackers

Finally, even the British postman’s red bag seems more seasonally apt. So, here’s wishing us all a holly-filled, paper-crown topped season of joy. Happy Christmas, one and all!postmen-in-the-uk

Operation Santa

Have a yen to send a letter to Santa, or even play Santa’s helper and help fulfill the wishes in one? The post office wants to help!

KPCC reports that “Operation Santa, the US Postal Service’s holiday charity program, is celebrating its 104th year of answering hopeful letters addressed to Santa Claus.”

Volunteers can visit a designated U.S. Postal Service Branch to adopt a letter and purchase the requested gifts, which the post office will deliver by Christmas.

The big red guy would definitely approve.

The Game’s Afoot!


Imagine a world where mail at Christmas — and any other time of the year — was so ubiquitous, you could devise a game around it. I know nothing about this Victorian board game entitled Christmas Mail except that it was once sold to and played by families more than a century ago.

What might have been the objective — to deliver more letters than anyone else, to receive more cards, or perhaps to maneuver past obstacles like snowed in mountain passes or spooky forests to place children’s Christmas wish lists into the hands of the big guy in red?

Whatever that game’s original goals, my own game of Christmas Mail has but two: send out Christmas cards in time for friends and family to open them by December 25th (a date I don’t always meet), and maybe collect a few from my mailbox in return.

A Christmas Homecoming

Christmas 1919 Washington DCLike many a holiday card, I begin this post with an apology that I have been such a poor correspondent for the past few months. My job ended, I joined the ranks of the unemployed, but was eventually fortunate enough to begin a new job in the fall.

Now that life is once again more settled, I have returned to Post Whistle and hope that you will return with me.

As I did last year, I plan to celebrate the holidays by filling your mailbox over the coming weeks with Christmas cards and Christmas tales — a little holiday cheer to end the year.

I hope your local postman fills your home mailbox as well because it’s hard to line up emails on the mantelpiece. We may have to visit the post office rather than have it come to us as this mobile unit of 1919, but it’s worth it to gift your friends and families with cards for the holidays.

Happy December, everyone!

Postmen of Old New York

Mailmen.jpg.CROP.original-originalAccording to Slate, “Early in Martin Elkort’s career, the New York photographer would walk out of his home and adjust his camera settings to prepare for a day of street photography, with the comparable success rate of an amateur meteorologist lifting a finger to test the weather.”

One such day Elkhort caught three mailmen sorting through mail in 1947. From their peaked caps and short ties to their leather mailbags, the three exemplify a vanished era.

Back then, my parents lived on one of those same New York streets, and mailed and received letters that might have been delivered by one of those very postmen. Mail tied my mom to her sister and father in Baltimore, and my dad to his cousin and sister in the midwest. They provided a link to hometowns that moved at a different pace of life than the hurly burly bustle of madcap NYC.

The photo has such a sense of immediacy that I feel as if somewhere there should exist a “pause” button I could click off, allowing life on that 1947 corner to resume humming. Wouldn’t you love to step into that photo, cross the cobblestone street and see what’s around the corner?

Take a look at the article in Slate for a few more views of post World War II New York.

Post Office: Standing Tall

post_officeThe 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon transformed America. No one who watched those events unfold will forget that day or the fear and sense of vulnerability that descended.

However, not everyone remembers the other attacks launched just a week later when someone mailed anthrax-laced letters to two U.S. Senators and members of the news media. The spores contaminated other letters in the mailbox in which they had been posted, sickening many and killing five people.

The world was out of kilter. Life as we knew it would never be the same. Even something as innocuous as the mail became suspect.

In December 2001 the U.S. Post Office ran a remarkable ad. It transformed the men and women who sorted and delivered the mail from ordinary people to heroic individuals who persevered no matter what. They had been delivering American mail for more than 200 years, and no one was was going to stop them.

That one-minute commercial made me feel part of a greater whole, and I stood a little taller. Do you remember it?

(Here’s the link if your browser does not display the embedded ad.)

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.



unnamedIf I had a Star Trek transporter at my disposal, I would beam to England every other day. Barring that, I read the blog Spitalfields Life to immerse myself in London, old and new.

This photo, part of a recent post there called The Inescapable Melancholy Of Phone Boxes, struck me because both the red telephone booth (or “box”) and post box speak of another age. Just as people rarely sit down to write letters any more, they no longer need to anchor themselves in one place to contact their friends and families by phone.

People walk and text, shop and talk, answer emails on the fly, and wander oblivious through the world, eyes firmly fixed on the small screen in one hand.

I grew up in a era where it was common to communicate by both letters and phone. None of us wrote to anyone who lived nearby. We called. But calling long distance was expensive. However, technology evolves; email is faster than letters, and cell phone plans count minutes instead of miles, at least within the same country.

Will mailboxes start disappearing next? I mailed a card just three days ago, but I can’t remember the last time I opened the door of a phone booth — perhaps when I last visited London.

All Aboard the Mail Trolley

Mail TrolleyI’ve seen photos of postal vans, wagons and carts; mail coaches, mail trains and one or two mail planes; letter carrier bicycles and wheeled pouches; and even mail boats — but this is the first time that I’ve seen a United States Mail Trolley.

Maybe we need to revise the trolley song from Meet Me in St. Louis: “Clang, clang, clang went the mailman…”

Harvard Square, Cambridge, circa 1900.

When Postmen Whistled

postman whistleThe name of my blog, Post Whistle, derives from an era when postmen blew a blast on a whistle to signal mail deliveries. On rural routes where houses might be located a distance from the road, it sped up delivery to announce the letter carrier’s arrival by a loud tweet. That way each recipient could make the trip down his/her drive if there was mail, as opposed to the postman making trips up and down numerous drives to drop off letters.

whistling postmanMailmen used to whistle in town as well, but residents began complaining that the noise woke up their babies (or themselves if they slept late). In addition, the advent of advertising circulars, junk mail and bills meant most people received mail on a daily basis so whistling to signal its arrival seemed less necessary.

Of course, some postmen simply whistled or sang tunes along their routes, the sound traveling up the block like the arrival of an ice cream truck. Musical mailmen were common enough that composers wrote jigs and sheet music about them.

But like many other customs (door-to-door encyclopedia salesmen or the Helms Bakery truck from my own California childhood), the postman’s whistle is only a memory. Unless your letter carrier still whistles a jaunty tune?

I’ll finish with a charming British short — complete with talking chairs — entitled Ever Hear a Postman Whistle? While it was created around the theme of sustainability, I like how it references the good old days as a time when postmen still whistled coming up the walk.