At 24, Evan Kalish 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 their doors or being studied for closure to save money. They stretch from the Bronx to Recluse, Wyoming.
Kalish grew up in Queens and started visiting post offices following his graduation 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’d been, and help his father, a middle school science teacher, add to his 40-year collection of postmarks. Kalish stopped at a post office, took photographs with his Canon Powershot S 5, 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 angry and sad he got when he learned that so many post offices wouldn’t be there for long. “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 receptionist) Kalish started racking up visits. There have been post offices in general stores, post offices with cast-iron lions and marble arches 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 his targets based on corners of the country he’d like to visit, but more and more, on endangered post offices (Though he doesn’t limit himself to ones on the chopping block). He’s flown to Hawaii and traipsed through New York City. (“I should have finished the city about two-and-a half years ago.”)
He always talks to the clerks and the postmaster about the history of the community. He’s almost always well-received, except by authorities at the main post office in Newark, N.J., 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 says he has “thousands” of photographs he doesn’t have room to publish online; he’s saving them for exhibit in the Post Mark Collectors Club Museum in Bellevue, Ohio..(He’s the club’s official webmaster)
Kalish moved to Philadelphia this fall to start work on his masters degree in geographic data analysis. Pennsylvania has a lot of post offices; he has circled every town with a threatened one for a visit.
Here is a map of post offices in the D.C. area that could be closed.
View Post Offices on the Chopping Block in a larger map