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.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Tavish: Faster than a Speeding Airplane?

FASTER

Faster than a flying Orville? Why, yes! Tavish covered the famous “first flight” distance of 120 feet in about half the time it took Orville Wright to fly it — without even breaking into a pant.

In this post we’re seeing if Intrepid Pup Tavish is faster than an airplane. Well, not just any airplane. More specifically: whether he’s faster than the first airplane. And to do that, we head to Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, where brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright first achieved powered, controlled, and sustained human flight on December 17, 1903 at 10:35 AM.

The site was a relatively remote coastal area when the Wrights were here more than a century ago, and they’d specifically chosen it because they could experiment without a lot of distractions and—presumably—prying eyes. The dune environment also afforded fairly consistent breezes and sandy landings to boot. After all, laying claim to being the first in flight was very much a risky venture!

Today Kill Devil Hills is a big draw for beach-goers to the Outer Banks, and the Wrights’ humble proving ground is now managed by the National Park Service as the Wright Brothers National Memorial.

A short distance from the Visitor Center is a large granite boulder commemorating the spot where Orville took flight. A pathway extends from it, and four markers along the way show the ever-increasing distances the Wrights successfully flew that momentous morning. To better Orville’s historic first flight, Tavish would have to cover 120 feet in less than 12 seconds. Complicating matters was that 1) park regulations dictated that Tavish needed to remain on a leash, and 2) a preponderance of prickly pear cacti in the field meant he also had to stay on the straight and narrow! In fact, Tavish had already managed to step on a prickly pear earlier in his visit, so he wasn’t eager for a repeat.

With one member of Team Tavish holding the leash and the other standing at the 120-foot mark with the stopwatch app primed on a smartphone (my, how far technology has come!), Tavish was literally straining to get going. But could he do it? In a word? Yes. Handily. The Intrepid Pup didn’t exactly break the sound barrier that pilot Chuck Yeager would end up doing a mere 44 years after Orville severed the bonds of earth…but, boy, did Tavish hustle! Final time? 5.89 seconds. And Park Ranger Shafer even handed us a little card to record the achievement (see above). Mission accomplished. Actually, seeing Tavish sprint across aviation’s sacred ground really put things in perspective: only a handful of generations ago, powered flight was inconceivable and now we don’t even think twice about boarding an airplane and jet-setting around the globe.

WrightBrothersFlyer

Tavish gets an Orville-eye-view of Kill Devil Hills from Stephen Smith’s life-size sculpture, December 17, 1903.

In March of 1917—more than 13 years after his first flight and just five after his brother Wilbur’s untimely demise from typhoid, Orville got a dog: a St. Bernard named Scipio. (We always knew Orville was a cool guy). Fortunately the Library of Congress has 13 marvelous photographs of Scipio, and it leaves us to wonder:  Did Scipio ever sense his owner’s lofty achievements? And could he, too, run faster than a flying Orville?

 

 

 

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

36° 0′ 51.20″ N,  75° 40′ 4.40″ W
Wright Brothers National Memorial
, Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina (milepost 7.5)

A visit to the Wright Brothers National Memorial scores a “1” on the Intrepid Pup wag-a-meter for providing a fun, outdoor experience on a very historic site. There’s a nominal park entrance fee, but there’s waaaay more to do than just test whether you can outrun the first airplane. Take in everything the park has to offer, and you’ll easily cover approximately 1.5 miles with your dog.

Wright Brothers hangar

A reconstructed replica of the Wrights’ hangar provides some welcome shade for the Intrepid Pup.

If you’re going in the summer months—as we did—be aware that the grounds are exposed and can get very hot. Bring along water for your pup; there are restrooms and drinking fountains onsite for a refill. Shade is hard to come by, but Tavish found some in the replica of the Wrights’ hangar. Be sure to trek up Big Kill Devil Hill to get a panorama of the park but also a view to the sea. This promontory was where the Wrights logged thousands of glider flights testing their theories on how best to control pitch and yaw. It’s topped by an impressive 60-foot granite shaft erected by Congress and dedicated in 1932. By the time we got to the monument, it was high noon and pretty toasty, so Tavish’s Ruffwear Swamp Cooler ™ Vest  provided him extra comfort.

Wright Brothers monument

Crowning Big Kill Devil Hill is a monument to the Wright brothers’ crowning achievement, “the conquest of the air.”

Before turning back to further explore the Visitor Center or catch a ranger program, head downhill beyond the memorial. At the apex of the loop road  is a five-ton bronze and stainless steel sculpture group by Stephen Smith entitled, December 17, 1903. It captures that exact instant of first flight preserved in a photograph known the world over. In fact, it makes for a pretty great backdrop for taking some photos of your own (see below).

Finally, there are even more places to explore with your pup within easy distance of the Wright Brothers National Memorial. Check out the Intrepid Pup’s earlier post, “Summer Fun: 5 Dog-Friendly OBX Destinations” for a few suggestions!

Sculpture by Stephen Smith

The hand of “Wilbur Wright” holds the leash that includes the Intrepid Pup in this now-famous scene. Sensing that they’d be successful on December 17, 1903, the Wrights wanted to photograph the instant the flyer left the ground. They set up a tripod, and Orville asked bystander John Daniels if he’d man the camera. (No pressure, there, right?) The rest is history. Better yet? It was the first time Daniels had ever used a camera!

Summer Fun: 5 Dog-Friendly OBX Destinations

Tavish on the beach by Jennette's Pier

OBX:  three little letters stand for North Carolina’s Outer Banks and a summer full of fun for dogs and people alike. Many locations along the Outer Banks are denoted simply by their milepost number along U.S. Highway 158.  At Whalebone Junction, the road becomes a decidedly less-congested N.C. Route 12 and is the gateway to Cape Hatteras, designated the country’s first national seashore in 1953. Beaches are dog-friendly, with regulations varying by town and season. Here are the Intrepid Pup’s picks for the top five scenic and sandy spots at this east coast playground:

Bodie Island Light Station

After wandering the grounds, be sure to follow the 1/8-mile boardwalk through the marsh for a picture-perfect view.

35° 49′ 5.30″ N,  75° 33′ 51.53″ W
Bodie Island Light Station
, Bodie Island, Cape Hatteras National Seashore, North Carolina
Open March – December

Throughout the centuries, the storms and shoals defining this stretch of coastline have wrecked more than 600 ships. Were it not for the area’s lighthouses and lifesaving services, this Graveyard of the Atlantic would have claimed even more. Don’t miss Bodie Island Light Station, the 164.4-foot black and white striped beacon whose light is visible from 19 miles at sea. Constructed in 1872, it’s actually the third light station to occupy that approximate location. Since 2000, it’s been maintained by the National Park Service, and you can even take a ranger-led tour up the tower.  While dogs aren’t currently allowed inside the light station, that wasn’t always the case. A Chesapeake Bay Retriever named Chess used to climb the tower every day, accompanying his master Vernon Gaskill who served as Bodie Island’s last civilian-era keeper (1919-1939).  According to Elinor De Wire’s book, The Lightkeepers’ Menagerie—on sale in the light station’s gift shopChess had no problem with the heights but apparently drew the line at entering the lantern room, because he didn’t like the odor of kerosene!

Tavish at the Lost Colony

The emptiness here adds to the mystery and kind of proves a point. After all, it is the Lost Colony.

35° 56′ 9.79″ N,  75° 42′ 35.35″ W
Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, Roanoke Island, North Carolina
Open year-round

A newly renovated visitor center at this National Park Service site interprets the history of Roanoke Island, from Algonquian homeland in the 1500s to a refuge for runaway slaves during the Civil War. But the spot is perhaps best known for what it wasn’t, namely a successful English colony. In fact, no one knows for certain what became of the English settlers who’d arrived in 1587.  When Governor John White returned to check on his transplants to the New World three years later, the 117 colonists plus White’s ill-fated granddaughter Virginia Dare (the first Christian baby born in Virginia) seemed to have vanished into thin air.  An abandoned fort and the word “CROATOAN” carved into a post are the scant clues in this unsolved mystery.

You, too, can explore the grounds of the lost colony. Pass a reconstructed version of the original earthen fort and join up with the Hariot Nature Trail for what amounts to about a 20-minute walk. We came upon a flock of ibises unhurriedly picking their way through the clearing. The wooded trail is slightly overgrown in spots and is punctuated by markers identifying types of trees and habitats. Sprinkled in are quotes drawn from accounts in Old English affirming the myriad challenges that the colonists faced. The trail provides a  picturesque view of Albemarle Sound before circling back to the Visitor Center.  Let us know if you happen to make the separate 2.5-mile round-trip hike on the Freedom Trail out to Croatan Sound—we were unfortunately thwarted in our attempt by a severe thunderstorm!

NagsHeadBeach

The Intrepid Pup officially “off duty” on the beaches of Nags Head.

35° 54′ 36.32″ N,  75° 35′ 43.77″ W
Nags Head Beaches & Jennette’s Pier, Nags Head, North Carolina (milepost 16.5)

Cape Hatteras National Seashore and the towns of Duck, Kill Devil Hills, Kitty Hawk, Nags Head, and Southern Shores all permit dogs on their beaches with varying degrees of seasonal access and leash laws. Team Tavish and the Intrepid Pup particularly like the beaches in Nags Head, because dogs are allowed on the beach year-round and at any time of day so long as they are on a maximum 10-ft leash and owners clean up.

Jennette's Pier

A bronze sea turtle stands watch by the pier house on Jeannette’s Pier.

While Tavish loves the water, he isn’t big on swimming, and that’s actually just fine here, because one does have to be mindful of the dangerous rip currents that can lurk offshore. But the beaches are clean and wide…perfect for an Intrepid Pup to snuffle the sand, poke at shells, crabs and seaweed, and skitter through the foamy surf. Walk the beach at sunrise and you’re sure to catch glimpses of skimming pelicans and playful porpoises offshore. Hard to miss at the heart of the beach’s Whalebone District is Jennette’s Pier (see photo at top). It’s been at this location since 1939, and  its current iteration is all concrete and extends 1,000 feet  into the Atlantic Ocean. Dogs aren’t permitted in or beyond the pier house, but you can get as far as the oversize bronze sculpture of a sea turtle. From that vantage point you can watch all the anglers heading out onto the pier to catch bluefish, cobia, skate, pigfish, mackerel, sea mullet, and more.

Tavish at Jockey's Ridge

The dunes at this state park are very cool…just be mindful of your dog’s paws, because the sand can get hot, hot, HOT!

35° 57′ 50.37″ N,  75° 37′ 59.38″ W
Jockey’s Ridge State Park
, Nags Head, North Carolina (milepost 12)
Open year-round

Did you know that this 420-acre state park represents the eastern United States’ largest natural dune system? It’s open to the public year-round, though park hours vary by season. Parking and general access are free. Dogs are allowed, so long as they remain on 6-foot leashes. From the visitor center, you can stroll a 360-foot boardwalk to a dune overlook, set out on the 1.5-mile “Tracks in the Sand” interpretive trail, take a mile-long walk on the “Soundside” nature trail…or simply scale the dunes. The shifting sands create a ridge that varies in height from 80 to 100 feet, providing spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean and Roanoke Sound. With fairly steady prevailing winds, Jockey’s Ridge is a favorite destination for kiteboarders and sandboarders. On the morning of our visit, hang gliding lessons were just getting underway, and the park was also gearing up for a big kite festival. We’d been forewarned that the sand at Jockey’s Ridge can get anywhere from 10 to 30 degrees hotter than the air temperature, so Tavish came prepared wearing his Ruffwear Swamp Cooler™ vest (a real godsend that made all the difference in his comfort in the dry heat), and he had his protective paw booties at the ready.  A word to the wise:  try taking off your shoes. If it’s too hot to walk on the dunes barefoot, it’ll definitely be too hot for your pup!  When we reached the ridge, the radio announcer for the kite festival approached us to pet  Tavish. Taking stock of all of our water bottles and gear, he remarked, “Wow, I can’t tell you how many people I see come up here with no water for themselves, let alone for their dogs. Big mistake.”

Tavish Wright Brothers National Memorial

The sky’s the limit at the Wright Brothers National Memorial!

36° 0′ 51.20″ N,  75° 40′ 4.40″ W
Wright Brothers National Memorial
, Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina (milepost 7.5)
Open year-round

Modern aviation is indebted to two Ohio brothers who journeyed to what at the turn-of-the 20th century was a remote patch of dunes. Carefully chosen for the winds, lack of distractions, and sandy landings, Kill Devil Hills was where Orville and Wilbur Wright first achieved powered, controlled, and sustained human flight on December 17, 1903.  You can follow in the brothers’ flight path with a visit to this National Park Service memorial. With Tavish in tow, we covered a total of approximately 1.5 miles walking the grounds. A pathway with stone markers traces the trajectories and landings of the Wrights’ first four powered flights. Trek uphill to get a panorama of the site, topped by a 60-foot granite memorial; it’s the same promontory from which the Wrights had earlier experimented with glider flights. Before turning back to further explore the informative Visitor Center, head downhill beyond the memorial. At the apex of the trail loop is a bronze and stainless steel sculpture group entitled, December 17, 1903. It captures the same instant of first flight as the iconic photograph and makes for a pretty nifty photo opp all its own!

Dogging the Details

Click to see what 2 on the Wag-A-Meter meansYou see a lot of dogs on the Outer Banks enjoying outdoor activities a-plenty. So at first we were puzzled by the fact that dog-friendly lodging and dining weren’t as abundant. It turns out that many dog-owning OBX vacationers rent beach houses by the week (Sunday to Saturday) so they’re not needing as many hotels and always have the option of cooking in.  That being said, there are approximately a dozen pet-friendly overnight accommodations. We stayed at the Dolphin Oceanfront Motel (milepost 16.5), finding it to be minimalist but functional, with its key attribute being that it had a primo location right on the beach. By no means inexpensive, it was still comparatively less pricey than the pet-friendly rooms at the national hotel chains and some of the local B&Bs.

Tavish at the Front Porch Cafe

Chillaxing at the Front Porch Cafe

Foodwise, we stopped at a couple places with patio dining only to discover that dogs weren’t allowed.  We hit the jackpot, though, in finding the Front Porch Cafe for breakfast. We ate at their locations in Nags Head (milepost 10.5) and Kill Devil Hills (milepost 6). In addition to making a good cup o’ joe, they have a wide assortment of muffins, pastries, and breakfast sandwiches. We sat outside in roomy Adirondack chairs, and the staff was quick to offer Tavish dog biscuits and a bowl of water.  Pigman’s Bar-B-Que was our other find. We took our order out to their picnic tables, and Tavish happily sampled our Carolina-style Que, hush puppies, fries, slaw, baked beans, and cornbread. OBX ranks a “2” on the Intrepid Pup’s wag-a-meter for providing enough canine fun in the sun, sand and surf to blow Tavish’s ears back! Grab a leash and go!