Page 3 of 4   <       >

D.C.'s Identity Lost in the Mail

Cang Nguyen dumps mail into a processor at a Gaithersburg facility, where most mail that originates in Washington is sent for sorting.
Cang Nguyen dumps mail into a processor at a Gaithersburg facility, where most mail that originates in Washington is sent for sorting. (Ricky Carioti - The Washington Post)

"We figure," Yackley says, "our customers are more interested in speed than they are in seeing a certain name on the postmark So we go that route."

Those set on a postmark attesting that they mailed something from the capital can go to any D.C. post office and have it handstamped.

Otherwise, Yackley said, it helps to be a VIP like U.S. Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), whose outgoing Christmas mail gets flagged to ensure that, when it heads for cancellation in Gaithersburg, the postmark says Washington, D.C.

Even a certain George W. Bush, said Robert Spagnolia, manager of maintenance operations at the Gaithersburg center, has been known to obsess about postmarks. Spagnolia just moved to the area from Austin, where "Mr. Bush wants all his holiday Christmas cards [to get] a Crawford postmark" -- a mark that even those dropping mail at the Crawford post office cannot obtain. Crawford "is not a mail-canceling facility," meaning that pieces are shipped out to be postmarked, just as in the District.

"The president," Spagnolia said, "wants to be associated with Crawford, Texas. Not Washington, D.C."

"Or Suburban Maryland," Yackley added.

Some envelopes in The Post's experiment did have a happy ending.

A letter dropped into a blue box at 14th and U streets arrived with a Washington, D.C., postmark. As did pieces sent from mailboxes in front of the Environmental Protection Agency, Metro's Farragut West stop and 1st and Q streets SW.

There were cases of serendipity.

Two envelopes were mailed at the same time from the same box at 2nd Street and Maryland Avenue NE. One envelope got a Washington, D.C., postmark; the other was stamped with the suburban Maryland marker.

In another instance, the male half of one couple dropped a letter into a blue box outside their Connecticut Avenue apartment building. His envelope was stamped SUBURBAN MD. The female half mailed from inside the building. Her piece got a D.C. postmark.

"I had no idea about this," said Eleanor Holmes Norton, the city's nonvoting congresswoman. "We don't like being wiped off the map, unless there's a very good reason."


<          3        >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company