Did you know that home mail delivery was a result of the Civil War? Or that during World War II mail carriers would actually run letters to soldiers in foxholes, putting themselves under fire to assure the boys they were still remembered back home?
That’s just a couple of the curious facts that’s part of “Mail Call,” a traveling Smothsonian exhibit showing at the Duffy Exhibit Gallery at Tryon Palace in New Bern through July 20.
The display covers service memebers’ mail and how they got it from the Revolutionary War through the war in Afghanistan.
“Letters are not left behind on a nightstand ... when soldiers go into battle,” a Smithsonian Institution website about the exhibit says, quoting Brig. Gen. Sean J. Byrne in 2003. “They are taken along and read over and over.”
Among the facts in the free exhibit is how, prior to the Civil War, everyone had to go their post office to collect their mail. However, during the Civil War, an Ohio postal employee felt sorry for the long lines of women in the bitter cold at the post office who were waiting to see if there were any letters from their sons and husbands at war. And so he organized the first free home delivery of mail. The practice grew across the Northern states and, after the war, many veterans were hired for door-to-door service.
The exhibit also describes the improvements of mail delivery during World War II when a letter traveled from home to a soldier’s hands in as little as three days. That same mail reached the scene of many island invasions within four days of Marines making their initial landings.
Photographs give life to the display while samples of letters give a hint of service members’ and their loved ones’ loneliness and lives.
In 1864, Rachel Walters wrote to her husband David: “I have got me a new cloak and hat at last. The cloak cost six dollars and seventy five cents and hat cost 2.80 cts I would not mind wearing them if you was here to see me wear them but as it is I do not feel right for the soldiers wives here have the name of spending all that their husbands send them for finery and I am determined that I will not do that.”
An Army nurse, in 1943, sent a letter home: “We’ve sung and resung all the old songs that we can remember the words to and the other songs we just hum the melody.” She then asks her sister to send along phonograph needles and the words to “Star Dust,” “Make Believe” and “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To.”
Craig Raimey, marketing and communications manager at Tryon Palace, said the display is especially important in the New Bern area.
“You’ve got to keep in mind that here we’ve got a very strong military presence … you have a lot of people that live here who have very strong ties to the military,” he said. “A lot of those people know what it’s like first hand to be deployed, to receive letters, mail, packages while they’re overseas. It gives those people a tactile connection to home.”
Hours at the Duffy Exhibit Hall are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays.
Bill Hand is a reporter and photographer for the Sun Journal.