Not All Dogs Chase Mail Carriers

Tavish at the National Postal Museum

Intrepid Pup Tavish made a treasure-filled visit to the Smithsonian National Postal Museum to encounter a peripatetic, 19th-century celebri-dog named Owney and also to learn a bit of postal history—from the days of Benjamin Franklin to the onset of airmail! Tavish even donned his Doggles® and cultivated an aviator look for posing with the Stinson Reliant and deHaviland DH-4 (on loan to the Postal Museum from the National Air and Space Museum).

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stayed Intrepid Pup Tavish from the swift completion of his appointed rounds at the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum. Housed in Washington, DC’s historic City Post Office building, this bastion of all things philatelic and related to postal service history welcomes approximately 400,000 people annually. It’s safe to say that dogs are very much not among the standard visiting public. But, with the goal of viewing and sharing the story of another intrepid pup from the annals of post offices past, Team Tavish was granted special permission to visit. How exciting! So, on a recent Friday morning, we timed our arrival for well before the museum would fill with schoolchildren and tour groups. Tavish was on his best behavior and seemed to know that even though he sees a lot of historical sites, it’s a rare treat to be allowed inside. We were met at a special entrance by a friendly and extremely knowledgeable member of the museum’s staff, processed through security, and ushered into the galleries.

Tavish with Owney

Time Warp: 21st-century Intrepid Pup Tavish meets 19th-century intrepid postal pup Owney.

It was here that we took in one of the highlights of National Postal Museum’s collections: Owney, mascot of the Railway Mail Service (see photo at left). Owney was a mixed breed dog whose escapades began in an Albany, New York, post office around 1888; he was clearly a dog that bucked the caricature of not liking mail carriers! It’s believed that Owney originally belonged to one of the mail clerks, but the dog’s adventurous spirit compelled him to explore first the mail wagons and then the mail trains, and before you knew it, he had logged a lot of miles throughout the United States and Canada. The novelty of Owney happily riding the rails caused a media sensation. Indeed, Owney could be considered one of America’s earliest celebri-dogs. His travels were well-chronicled by journalists of the day, likely fueled by the fact that Owney seemed to be a bit of a good luck talisman in that no Railway Post Office train he rode ever wrecked while he was on board. In 1895 Owney further broadened his horizons with a 132-day, round-the-world trip from Tacoma, Washington. He took mail steamers to the Orient, through the Suez Canal and on to New York City. The final cross-country leg back to Washington state was via train.

Now while Intrepid Pup Tavish has his very own virtual passport denoting his travels, Owney’s “passport” was a tangible (and very heavy!) one in the form of folks attaching to his collar commemorative tags and trade checks (tokens that could be used much like coupons). Owney’s collar quickly got so unwieldy that U.S. Postmaster General John Wanamaker presented Owney with a custom leather harness to better accommodate all his hardware. Even so, postal workers would periodically lighten Owney’s load and send some of his tags back to Albany. The National Postal Museum estimates that Owney collected as many as 1,000 tags during his lifetime!

When Owney died in Toledo, Ohio, in 1897 he was eulogized in many newspapers. At the urging of mail clerks throughout the country, Owney was preserved by taxidermy and presented to the Postal Department headquarters. Even posthumously, Owney continued to travel the country for various exhibitions, including the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. He was eventually donated to the Smithsonian Institution in 1911. A century later, the U.S. Postal Service issued a “Forever” stamp memorializing Owney and several of his tags. As part of the museum’s outreach surrounding Owney, the National Postal Museum has developed a whole suite of online materials, including a free e-book, a map of his travels, an activity guide and educational lesson plans.

It’s hard not to be impressed by Owney’s power to captivate the imagination as well as convey so much about how mail moved about the country in the late 1800s. Tavish then turned his attentions to the rest of the atrium where he was wowed by the Concord-style Mail Coach and the three airmail-related planes overhead. There’s so much more to see at the National Postal Museum: stamp art, philatelic rarities, changing exhibitions. . . you owe it to yourself to pay a visit and get fresh insight on the stamps and mail service you’ve probably always taken for granted. Tell them the Intrepid Pup sent you!

Owney's Tags, Images courtesy of the National Postal Museum

Just a few of the custom tags bestowed upon Owney during nearly a decade of traveling with the mail. Approximately 90 tags can be seen on Owney’s harness. Images courtesy of the National Postal Museum.

Dogging the Details

Click to see what a "1" on the Wag-a-meter means

38°53′51.24″ N,  77°0′29.39″ W
National Postal Museum
, Washington, DC

A stamp of approval and a “1” on the Intrepid Pup wag-a-meter—the National Postal Museum really delivers! It’s relatively easy to get to by multiple means of transportation. It’s Metro-accessible, plus (unlike its sister Smithsonian museums on the National Mall), nearby street parking and all-day paid garage parking at Union Station next door are ample and convenient. The museum is open 364 days a year and has free admission. While entering the museum with your dog is not an option (unless it’s a service animal), this museum has lots to offer in a space where it’s manageable to see it all without having museum fatigue set in.

Should you wish to extend your postal-themed adventures and bring a dog with you, here are a couple options:

 

Tavish at Air Mail Marker

38° 52′ 53.11″N, 77° 2′ 36.40″ W
Airmail marker, Washington, DC

If you’re up for a walk in the park and specifically Washington, DC’s National Mall and Memorial Parks, check out this little-known marker on Ohio Drive in West Potomac Park, bordering the Potomac River. Across from the present-day ball field is the spot where on May 15, 1918, the world’s first airplane mail started as a continuously scheduled public service. The 230-mile route accommodated transportation of 150 pounds of mail from Washington, DC to New York City via Philadelphia aboard a Curtiss JN 4-H airplane in approximately three hours.

 

Tavish with Ben Franklin

“B. Free”! Tavish channels postal history giant Benjamin Franklin in both Washington, DC (above) and Philadelphia (at right).

Franklin Court

39° 57′ 0.15″N, 75° 8′ 47.67″ W
B. Free Franklin Post Office
and the Franklin Court Complex, Philadephia, Pennsylvania

As Intrepid Pup Tavish was departing from his specially-arranged visit to Washington, DC’s  National Postal Museum, he spied a statue (see photo at left) of Benjamin Franklin in the lower level foyer. Franklin is essentially the “patron saint” of the postal service in America. He started out as the British Crown Post-appointed postmaster in Philadelphia in 1737 with responsibility for surveying post offices and post roads. In 1775, the Continental Congress made Franklin the first Postmaster General with oversight over all post offices from Massachusetts to Georgia.

To be “frank,” seeing Franklin jogged Team Tavish’s memory about visiting the B. Free Franklin Post Office in Philadelphia a few years ago, and you can visit it, too (see photo at right)! This fully operational U.S. Post Office branch is open Monday through Saturday and is within the National Park Service’s Franklin Court Complex (part of Independence National Historical Park) that includes the Franklin Museum, a museum shop, and the Franklin Court Printing Office and Bindery. The B. Free branch is a colonially-themed post office and the only one in the United States that doesn’t fly a U.S. flag—because there was no United States yet when Franklin was serving as its postmaster. You can still get your letters stamped here with “B Free Franklin,” which was Franklin’s not-so-subtle way of signing a letter in support of American independence from England.

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Intrepid Pup Bracketology: 2017 Edition

Intrepid Pup Tavish

The swami in repose: Intrepid Pup Tavish after a vigorous session of divining his brackets.

For the sixth year running, Intrepid Pup Tavish has brought his sixth sense to making his NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament picks. If you’ve followed along in previous years, you know the drill: Tavish works his way through the brackets, indicating his preferences by snarfing treats ascribed to each of the teams. Past Intrepid Pup bracketologies have been fueled by kibble, bits of MilkBone™ or kernels of popcorn. This year Team Tavish went with a new find: PureBites® Freeze Dried Bison Liver Treats. Single ingredient, made in the USA…what’s not to love, right? That’s what Tavish thought, too (*YUM*), and we compiled the 2017 edition over the course of three evenings. While you may not agree with some of Tavish’s choices, you can’t fault the process. He wields lightning-quick verdicts on some match-ups and then really mulls over others, so you know something is going on in his head.

Out of much excited barking and dizzying darting about our kitchen, what we’re left with is a soupçon of inspiration mixed in with a hearty dose of cray cray.

So, without any further adieu, may we humbly present Tavish’s picks:

Intrepid Pup Bracketology 2017

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Tavish for President

intrepidpupforpresident_72dpi

Decision 2016: Tavish for President! Left? Right? Something in between? Intrepid Pup is a new breed of candidate to make America sane again. What do you think of his qualifications? Vote November 8, 2016.

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Bracket Full of Dreams: Intrepid Pup Bracketology – 2016 Edition

Tavish making his prognostications

Tavish making his 2016 prognostications with the help of kernels of Quinn popcorn.

Ok, folks, Intrepid Pup Tavish has completed his picks for the much-vaunted March Madness. For readers who’ve loyally followed through the years, it should come as no surprise that he’s once again made some surprising predictions.

Never has a #16 seed beaten a #1 seed in the first round. But wait no longer, because Tavish is here to tell you that oh, it’s gonna happen. Not just once, but three times in this tourney. And it all starts now!

Team Tavish once again acted as the enabler for Tavish’s singular “bracketology.” Tavish’s key motivator for making wacky picks anything is food. Click here for a throwback to Tavish’s first-ever descent into March Madness and see how we keep the process as unbiased as possible. As a quick recap, every year we switch up the “treat” for variety’s sake. This year, colleges’ hoop dreams were embodied by kernels of organic Quinn popcorn (butter & sea salt, to be precise). Yummy! And it meant we got to eat some, too.

Tavish in bracketology action

Tavish in action mode: Intrepid Pup Bracketology requires zen-like concentration!

We orchestrated the picks over the course of two nights to minimize the binge factor. Tavish plants himself into a concentrated “sit” while we show him two kernels of popcorn that we’ve verbally ascribed to two teams in the matchup. We place them evenly in front of him and say, “Okay, pick!” And he does! Usually it’s with a swift and decisive swipe of the tongue. Then we do it 66 more times to complete the bracket. This year he seemed to show a bit more circumspection. In the conundrum of #15 Weber State vs. #2 Xavier, for instance, he gazed long and hard at each kernel—a good 10 seconds apiece! (*forehead slap* – should’ve taken a video)—before committing to Xavier. We’re glad to see he’s taking this whole thing seriously! Honestly, we don’t know what he’s thinking, but this year he seemed to have little crushes on Gonzaga and Yale and took them fairly deep into the tourney . . . could it be because they have bulldogs as mascots? Another departure from the norm was that our 19-year-old cat Hobbes showed unprecedented interest in this year’s proceedings. Usually an impartial observer from afar, Hobbes warmed up and took on a considerably more visible role as an enforcer of quality control. In fact, as Tavish was mulling over his Holy Cross/Yale decision, Hobbes snuck in and tried to exert undue influence by batting around the “Holy Cross” kernel. Tavish picked “Yale”. Maybe because of the bulldog thing or maybe just to be contrary. We’ll never know, and he’s not telling.

So, it’s a mad, mad, mad, mad world. And—if you believe Intrepid Pup Tavish—here’s how it’s all going down:

Tavish's 2016 Brackets

While we’re not suggesting you bet the farm on these picks, we do guarantee you’ll enjoy ’em. Click on the bracket above for a larger, printable PDF version of Intrepid Pup’s March Random(ad)ness.

Down a Garden Path

Tavish in the garden

A public garden for every season!  Top left:  Spring’s peak azalea bloom at the National Arboretum in Washington, DC. Top right: Summertime Lily Fest at Kenilworth Aquatic Park & Gardens in Washington, DC. Bottom left: Autumn splendor in the Prairie at the Nichols Arboretum in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Bottom right: Winter at the Orland E. White State Arboretum of Virginia in Boyce.

 

“In the marvelous month of May when all the buds were bursting,
then in my heart did love arise . . . .” — Heinrich Heine

 

Tavish at River Farm

Tavish at River Farm, home to the American Horticultural Society and–you guessed it–some pretty spiffy gardens!

April showers bring May flowers, and what better time to head into the garden? If not your own, then how about one of the hundreds of botanical gardens and arboreta throughout the country? Truth be told, public gardens are there for you year-round providing a feast for the senses, a tonic for the soul . . . and a great place to go for a long walk with your intrepid pup!

To celebrate public gardens, we’re providing a stroll down a virtual garden path, starting with a horticultural grande dame and then continuing on to a public garden for each of the four seasons, “hand-picked” from Intrepid Pup’s travels over the past year.

Our first stop is River Farm in Alexandria, Virginia. The grounds were once among George Washington’s extensive land holdings, later given to his wife’s niece as a wedding present. Although the property has changed hands many times over the centuries, since 1973 the historic and picturesque 25 acres along the banks of the Potomac River have been the national headquarters for the American Horticultural Society. Leashed dogs are welcome, and during our visit to River Farm, Intrepid Pup Tavish strolled through the same gates as did 28 U.S. presidents! The circa 1819 northeast ceremonial gates to the White House were relocated here in the late 1930s after a renovation project. Tavish explored the meadow and gazed out over the river. He also sized up the largest Osage-orange tree in the United States; at nearly 200 years of age, the famous tree is believed to be a gift from Thomas Jefferson to George Washington. Finally, while we will neither confirm nor deny, it’s highly probable that Tavish photo-bombed some newlyweds’ formal pictures—the Estate House on the grounds is a popular wedding venue.

Onward to our seasonal picks . . .

Dogging the Details

Click to see what a "1" on the Wag-a-meter means

These excursions register as a “1” on the Intrepid Pup wag-a-meter, because they’re as easy as a walk in the park!

Just get up and go.

 

 

Tavish at the U.S. National Arboretum

U.S. National Arboretum: Tavish stands sentinel in the Grove of State Trees (top) with the closest one being Vermont’s sugar maple. (Below) Giving a “stump speech” along the azalea walk.

SPRING
38°54′30.65″ N,  76°58′18.95″ W
U. S. National Arboretum, Washington, DC
Free admission; leash required

Go for the azaleas, but stay (and plan your return trips) for everything else. Intrepid Pup has previously chronicled the National Arboretum’s iconic azalea bloom—a riot of color which traditionally reaches peak in late April/early May—but spring is many-splendored here. There are bulbs and flowering cherries. Dogwoods and lilacs. Herbs and bonsai trees.

Intrepid Pup Tavish is particularly a sucker for the 30-acre expanse that is the National Grove of State Trees. Because of the District of Columbia’s relatively temperate climes, almost all the official state trees thrive here, even though they were acquired directly from their representative states. Seemingly no trip to the arboretum is complete for Tavish without rolling around in the grove’s long, cool grass.

On our most recent visit, a section of the arboretum was temporarily cordoned off but for the best of reasons:  for the first time in nearly 70 years, a pair of bald eagles had built a nest! There were bird watchers galore craning to get a glimpse so instead we headed up onto the hillside paths that meander through the azalea collection. We took lots of photos, and Tavish’s aptitude for posing drew lots of bemused smiles and questions, not to mention people taking pictures of us taking pictures!

Tavish at Lilyfest

Like stepping into a real-life Monet canvas: Tavish at Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens’ annual Lily Fest

SUMMER
38°54′45.50″N,  76°56′31.24″W
Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens
, Washington, DC
Free admission; leash required

Tell folks you’re heading into these sultry gardens in the middle of a humid Washington, DC summer, and people are bound to think you’re already suffering from heatstroke. But . . . the rewards are the magnificent lotus flowers and water lilies. Kenilworth is the only National Park Service site devoted to the cultivation of aquatic plants—you’ll want to read our earlier post about the site’s unique history.

The freshwater plants bloom in late June and July, and when they do, it’s like being immersed in a Claude Monet painting with sun-dappled greens and bursts of white and pale pink. But a word to the wise: go before the heat of the day, because as soon as the temperatures hit the high 80s/low 90s, the delicate blossoms shut until the next morning. Be sure to bring along plenty of water for you and your pup so you both don’t wilt!

We timed our visit with the park’s annual Lily Fest cultural event in mid July. As bands played, we wandered the boardwalks. The lotus flowers towered over us, and dragonflies zoomed by in their herky-jerky version of floral connect-the-dots. A pretty surreal way to enjoy this urban oasis!

 

Nichols Arboretum

(Top) At the Arb’s Washington Heights entrance with the Urban Environmental Education Center in the background. (Bottom) A warm autumn afternoon along the Huron River.

AUTUMN
42°16’50.07″N,  83°43’36.55″W
Nichols Arboretum, Ann Arbor, Michigan
Free admission; leash required

Affectionately known as “the Arb,” Nichols Arboretum is managed by the University of Michigan, its undeniable main draw since 1927 being its world-famous peonies. When they peak in late May/early June, there can be as many as 10,000 flowers in 270 varieties—the largest collection in North America. Sadly, we missed this spectacle by about five months, but we discovered that the Arb is beautiful in October, too. We visited on a weekday afternoon when university classes were in session and didn’t have too much difficulty finding free parking near the Washington Heights entrance. Team Tavish had been on the road and visiting with relatives for a couple of days, so this stopover was a chance for Tavish to really stretch his legs and burn off some energy. We passed the dormant peony beds and a whimsical Faerie Garden, heading gently downhill. The trail entered woodland and then skirted the Huron River. Tavish dipped his paws in and was fixated on a large crayfish chilling out in the shallows. Reluctantly Tavish left the river’s edge only to be equally fascinated by the open Prairie section that followed. The tall grasses had turned golden with autumn, and it was hard to believe we were so close to a bustling college campus. We circled back through the shaded Hawthorn Valley, ultimately covering about three miles.

Tavish at Virginia State Arboretum

Tavish exploring the State Arboretum of Virginia.

WINTER
39° 3’51.72″N,  78° 3’51.67″W
Orland E. White State Arboretum of Virginia, Boyce, Virginia
Free admission; leash required within 200 yards of parking areas and/or any of the public buildings

The University of Virginia manages this 172-acre arboretum as part of the larger, 712-acre Blandy Experimental Farm. Located in the northern Shenandoah Valley, the arboretum is only 60 miles west of the nation’s capital but feels a world away for as little as it resembles metro Washington’s urban sprawl. The gardens originated in 1927 but weren’t dubbed the State Arboretum until 1986.

Four walking loop trails originate from the main parking lot and range in length from 0.75 to 2 miles. Longer still is a 7.5-mile bridle trail that winds throughout Blandy. Unlike many public gardens, dogs are allowed off leash throughout most of the site, provided that they don’t disrupt wildlife or the plantings. Additional caveats are that your dog must be under immediate voice control and be put on a leash when within 200 yards of the parking areas or any of the public buildings. As a dog-friendly locale, pet waste stations are provided.

We visited on a sunny February afternoon just ahead of a stormy cold front. Nothing was in bloom, but the vast grounds still exuded a stark and vaguely haunting beauty. We encountered a few other hearty walkers and dogs as we made our way around. Birds scrabbled over winter berries, and evidence of deer was in abundance. In addition to manicured landscapes were test plots where various studies were underway, including research to create a more disease-resistant chestnut tree. The highlight for Tavish was the open landscape flanking the Wilkins Lane Loop Drive. The scrub grasses—bleached and brittle from winter—put Tavish on high alert, and he bounded in, picking up on scents of upland game that only his nose could.