A Campaign Recalls Postal Workers' Deaths
Monday, October 22, 2007
For six years, he has been trying to mark the day.
In 2002, he designed a logo, and, in his off-hours, had it printed on watches and alarm clocks. Since then, he has resketched and embellished it, and the watches and clocks have multiplied, joined by T-shirts, caps, buttons and aprons. But only this year, the sixth anniversary, did he finally finagle a mailing list and spread the word in 25,000 fliers posted nationwide: "Remember Brentwood Postal Workers Day, 6th Anniversary, October 21, 2007."
James H. Pickett Jr., 50, a 30-year U.S. Postal Service employee, is a one-man army who manufactured and sold an array of memorabilia to jolt the memory of his co-workers on yesterday's anniversary of the anthrax mailings that led to the shuttering of Washington's central mail-processing facility and the deaths of two of his colleagues there.
His mission is simple: to establish a day of remembrance. Plaques and ad hoc anniversaries aren't enough, Pickett said. Without a more formalized day, the memory will fade, and it could all happen again.
"This year, have you seen anything? No. It shouldn't be that way," he said. "The Pentagon, the World Trade Center -- people gear up to remember two or three weeks ahead."
The mailings to two Senate offices and several media organizations killed five people, including Joseph P. Curseen Jr., 47, and Thomas L. Morris Jr., 55, who worked at the plant on Brentwood Road NE. Seventeen others were sickened, and the incidents set off a new wave of public anxiety following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
An FBI investigation has not uncovered any conclusive evidence about who sent the mailings.
The plant, renamed the Joseph Curseen Jr. and Thomas Morris Jr. Processing and Distribution Center, reopened in December 2003 after decontamination and the installation of a fumigation system -- and a small plaque commemorating the two workers. Last year, the postal service support group Brentwood Exposed held a memorial for them at Israel Baptist Church.
Pickett is an idea man, a part-time inventor who speaks so fast that his ideas appear to trip themselves up or head off in new directions. He holds three patents: Footballbot, a coin-bank doubling as a stereo of sorts, 4 Way Checkers, featuring football-helmeted pieces, and Personality Lights, lamps with stands designed to reflect the preferences of each customer. He presented one with a plaque to Rosa Parks on her birthday in 1990.
An autodidact who was always fond of taking apart and rebuilding toy cars, Pickett said he often wakes in the middle of the night to sketch the contents of a dream. His latest gizmo, still unpatented, is an energy-saving device for vehicles.
He has a Web site that sells his gadgets and his remembrance trinkets. "It is a business," he said, but the proceeds will help fund next year's effort. Ten to 15 companies helped make his anthrax memorabilia, he said. About 200 people have ordered T-shirts, caps or posters.
"I wanted to do this because if you have a button or something to hold in your hand, you can't sweep the memory under the rug," he said, wearing the navy T-shirt, cap and button that bear a logo he copyrighted in 2002.
Inside a truck with two wheels colored red to represent the blood of Pickett's two co-workers, the logo reads: "Remember Brentwood Postal Workers Day 6th Anniversary October 21, 2007; ¿Pickett Creations.Com."
Of this year's anniversary, he is, in a sense, copyrighter-in-chief. Only this year, he said, did he manage to get hold of a mailing list for postal facilities and local unions nationwide from friends who work with him in the postal union. He promptly sent off 25,000 fliers, paying postage out of pocket to proffer his merchandise -- from $20 for a T-shirt to $3 for a button.
He knew Morris as a co-worker who would often inquire after his latest invention.
Of Curseen, he recalls only that they both worked at automation station No. 17, one of 41 numbered machines that mail processors use to sort piles of 2,000 to 3,000 envelopes at a time according to Zip code. The machine was destroyed in the wake of the crisis, and a No. 17 remains curiously absent from the 1-41 lineup.
Pickett's hope is to make sure the unseen is remembered at least once a year.