Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Owney, the Railroad Mail Dog

    Philately is another one of my interests. I would like to tell you and show you how I have used that interest to help youth become more interested in stamp collecting as a hobby.  I have prepared a presentation for the youth members of the ATA (American Topical Association) Chapter 5 at a monthly meeting. Recently the US Post Office released a stamp honoring Owney, a dog who lived in the late 1800s and became a mascot of the US Rail Mail Service. He was a Scotch Terrier mix stray who wondered into the Mail Service office, began to sleep on the mail bags, and was adopted by the mail clerks there in Albany, NY. He became so comfortable with the mail bags as his bed, perhaps attracted somehow to their scent, that he began to travel all over the United States on the mail cars with the bags. A mail bag once fell off the mail wagon and Owney jumped off, and sat on the mailbag until the wagon driver came back to get it.

     At that time railway accidents were very common. There were a lot of injuries and even deaths in the US railway mail departments. It soon became obvious that the trains on which Owney took passage had no accidents. He became a sign of good luck and was well taken care of , no matter where he went. He road the rails for about 9 years, traveling all over the United States. There is documentation of two visits to Milwaukee, and one to Lancaster, Wisconsin. He also took ship on mail boats that went around the world on at least one occasion. Owney became known to postmasters and to the mailmen who sorted mail on the railroad cars. They began to attach mail tags and other metal buttons to his collar. Then someone made him a jacket and these tags were attached to that piece of apparel. Soon he had so many tags, that the mailmen had to ship them separately back to his home office in Albany, NY.
The above two photos are provided courtesy of the US Smithsonian Institute.
More information about Owney including some videos about him, can be
found at the following URL: http://postalmuseumblog.si.edu/owney/

     Now the US Post Office is honoring Owney with his own Forever stamp. It should be available in your local post offices right now.

     The Smithsonian sells a stuffed little dog whose name is Owney patterned after the real mascot. My husband and I took the Smithsonian stuffed little dog with us to Southeast Asia last November and to Turkey and Israel in April. Similar to Flat Stanley, I forced my reluctant husband to take photos of Owney at various tourist sites, in front of post offices, on mail boxes, and with mailmen and postmasters in these locations. Then I used these photos to make cachets (special envelopes to be used with certain stamps and postal cancellations) to be used with the First Day of Issue cancellation at a special ceremony held at the Wisconsin Humane Center on July 27, 2011 in Milwaukee. The First Day of Issue cachets that I made are shown at the end of this post. At the ceremony, I was asked to read a Milwaukee Journal article from May 11, 1896 which nicely tells Owney's story. Here is that article quoted from that time:

The Milwaukee Journal - May 11, 1895, Page 6

The Globe Trotter

Railway Mail Service Animal Visits Milwaukee

-Fame of a Scotch Terrier

While in Milwaukee “Owney” was the guest of Chief Clerk Frank Smith – He Came Near Being an Elbe Victim.

A wanderer upon the face of the globe, if there ever was one, appeared in the office of Chief Clerk Frank P. Smith of the railway mail service this morning.

A veritable globe-trotter is he – one who is as persistent and constant a traveler as that restless but distinguished playwright, Mr. Bronson Howard, and one which can “do” a city in a style which discounts the swiftest accomplishments of a G. Washington Phipps. The visitor was none other than the widely talked about “Postoffice Owney.”

“Postoffice Owney” is a dog, but he is no ordinary dog. He s is the property of 7,000 railway clerks, who think a sight more of their property than they would of a pension amounting too half their salary should your Uncle Sam be disposed to be so generous with his gold dollars. Owney came to town at at 5:155 o’clock last evening, in the company with Railway Postal Clerk Dugard of the Milwaukee and Rock Island division. Last evening he was the guest of the clerk and today, previous to hiss departure for Rock Island at 12:20 o’clock, he called to pay hiss respects to the chief clerk. It was there that a reporter for thee Journal made his acquaintance.

A famous dog is Owney and one known by every postal c clerk in the railway service from St. Augustine to Seattle and from Santa Cruz to Bangor, for he has traveled ever since he s has been able to tell the difference between a porterhouse steak and a ham bone.

He travels exclusively in mail cars and always finds contentment and repose on top of a mail bag in sight of the clerks who are his constant companions. His journeys have extended across the waters, too, and he came near meeting hiss doom in the Elbe disaster, after making a trip to Germany. He a s was due to leave on the Elbe, Clerk Dugard explained today, b but did not embark, taking the next steamer.

He is a Scotch terrier, somewhat larger than the ordinary specimen of that kind of dog. He has had many a knock in his time and he looks it. One eye has ceased to serve its original purpose of discovering large, juicy bones, and the other looks as though it also would fail. A huge collar, from which dangled a half-hundred or more tags from almost every conceivable corner of the country, indicating that the possessor is entitled to almost everything from a chance in a raffle for an upright piano to a free lunch and a glass of beer, is fixed firmly about his neck. These tags collect so rapidly that it becomes necessary to remove them at times and the clerks along the line take them off and send them on to “Owney Albany, N.Y”, where they are carefully stored away in a room provided for the purpose in the Albany post office.

It was in Albany, more than a dozen years ago, that Owney went into the service of the government. He began as a tramp dog and after his first trip liked the business so well that he remained.

When Mr. Wanamaker was postmaster-general, he had a very handsome set of harness made for Owney and had his picture taken in a dozen different attitudes. Owney will go to Rock Island and then to Savannah, Ga, and away to the southwest. The clerks keep close tab upon him. He was once stolen in Toronto, Can, and was found again with great difficulty.

     Also while traveling with Owney as our mascot, I purchased postcards from the various countries, wrote on them as though Owney were describing his travels, and franked them with local stamps, of course. There is now a nice collection for the youth members. Also I put together stamps from those countries and photos we took while traveling, maps of the countries and our itineraries. All of these will be distributed to the youth members so that they can put together a nice Owney travel scrapbook. This project will also be an ongoing one. It allows stamps and Owney's example to help the children learn about other countries and cultures.

     Here are my First Day of Sale cachets, using my husbands photos, and a brief discription of our itinerary on each cachet.

     Here are also a couple of the postcards that Owney sent back to the United States. If you are at all involved in stamps or stamp collecting and wish to interest young collectors, these ideas will work very well.

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