“Trailblazing: 100 Years of Our National Parks” opened today, June 9, at the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum. The exhibition, open through March 25, 2018, chronicles the intersections between the mail and the parks.
Visitors to the exhibition learn about a village at the bottom of the Grand Canyon that eats most of its mail and that one of America’s newest national park units was once so secret it used multiple undercover addresses. “Trailblazing: 100 Years of Our National Parks,” chronicles these and numerous other intersections between the mail and national parks.
“America’s national parks are treasured possessions,” said Allen Kane, museum director. “We are excited to celebrate their centennial through the unique lens of postal history and philately.”
Tourism to the active volcano at Kilauea on the island of Hawaii took off when it became a national park in 1916, just a few weeks before the National Park Service was created. A popular early tourist activity was walking out onto the hard crust of an active lava flow and using a stick to thrust their postcards into a fissure and scorch them before mailing.
Post offices in the national parks are not just for tourists sending picture postcards back home, however. Park rangers, seasonal employees and backpackers live deep inside many national parks and rely on a range of postal facilities for books, movies, magazines, medicines, hardware and other small articles.
Gen. Leslie Groves, physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer and more than 6,000 other personnel who developed the atomic bomb at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico once sent and received their mail from several undercover addresses, including P.O. Box 1663 in nearby Santa Fe. Los Alamos National Laboratory became part of Manhattan Project National Historical Park in 2015.
“This exhibition marks the centennial of the National Park Service by exploring how the parks and the mail are intertwined, sometimes in surprising and unusual ways,” said Daniel Piazza, chief curator of philately. “We’ve also managed to bring a little bit of the national park experience indoors through artifacts and photographs loaned by Grand Canyon, Sequoia, Petrified Forest and other national parks.”
In celebration of the exhibition opening, the museum will host “National Parks Family Day” Saturday, June 11. Visitors will learn about the long history between the National Park Service and U.S. Postal Service by engaging in fun activities for the entire family. Each family will receive an activity booklet to guide them through various stations and activities to achieve “Junior Trailblazer” status.
About the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum