Chronicling the lives and deaths of U.S. post offices

November 16, 2011

With thousands of post offices on the chopping block nationwide, fans of the U.S. Postal Service are entering a new era of nostalgia.

Evan Kalish, 24, may be the kind of person who’s helping make old-fashioned mail obsolete in the Internet age. But he’s harnessing new technology to preserve history as it’s unfolding, post office by post office.

Kalish, a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania, belongs to a small group of mail buffs who visit, photograph and document the lives — and now, deaths — of the nation’s post offices. He’s on Number 2,571 in 43 states and counting.

“Now it’s just a race against time to collect as many stories as I can before they cease to exist,” he said.

His blog, Going Postal: A Photo Journal of Post Offices and Places, is an ode to post offices in thousands of communities that are closing or being studied for closure to save money. They stretch from the Bronx to Recluse, Wyo.


Evan Kalish at the post office in Redcrest, Calif. Kalish, a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania, belongs to a small group of mail buffs who visit, photograph and document the lives — and now, deaths — of the nation’s post offices. (Courtesy of Evan Kalish/COURTESY OF EVAN KALISH)

Kalish grew up in Queens and started visiting post offices after graduating from Brown University in 2008. At the time, he had another agenda: “I realized I hadn’t seen the country and how people live.”

The post office stops were a way to mark where he had been and help his father, a middle school science teacher, add to the postmarks he had been collecting for 40 years. Kalish stopped at a post office, took photographs, chatted with the locals and the postal staff, and got back in his car. He had two large stacks of postcards with postmarks for his dad.

Then he realized how sad he became when he learned that so many post offices wouldn’t be there much longer.

“I got political,” he said. “I realized how [angry] I was that no one is doing enough to stop these things from closing.” The mission broadened.

In his free time (he had jobs as a tutor and a receptionist), Kalish started racking up visits. There have been post offices in general stores, post offices with cast-iron lions inside, post offices with elegant arches and a post office in a bagel shop, among many other identities.

“Some of them are so cute I wish I could adopt them,” Kalish said.

He chooses the locations based on corners of the country he’d like to visit, but more and more, on endangered post offices.

He has flown to Hawaii and traipsed through New York City (“I should have finished the city about 21/2 years ago,” he said).

He always talks to the clerks and the postmaster about the history of the community. He’s almost always well-received, but not at the main post office in Newark, where he was denied permission to take photographs from public space outside the building.

He made a fuss, and higher postal authorities weighed in. The decision was reversed.

Kalish said he has thousands of photographs he doesn’t have room to publish online; he’s saving them for an exhibit at the Post Mark Collectors Club Museum in Bellevue, Ohio. (He’s the club’s webmaster.)

Kalish moved to Philadelphia this fall to start working on his master’s degree in geographic data analysis. Pennsylvania has a lot of post offices; he has circled every town with a threatened one.

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