Obscura Society DC: The Afterlife of Mail - Atlas Obscura

Washington, D.C.

Obscura Society DC: The Afterlife of Mail

Join the Obscura Society D.C. for an exclusive Halloween look into where mail goes to die - The Dead Letter Office

During the early 20th century, 30,000 letters died every day.

Letters died for a variety of reasons-- sometimes senders neglected to include a complete address, sometimes the letters carried insufficient postage, and sometimes “reckless and thoughtless persons” intentionally skirted postal regulations. Rattlesnakes, bombs, and firearms all ended up at the DLO.

These dead letters arrived in Washington, DC where the industrious clerks of the Dead Letter Office (including Melville's fictional “Bartleby the Scrivener”) attempted to reroute letters and parcels to their rightful owner. Occasionally, an item would pique their interest and enter the Dead Letter Office Museum.

Our adventure happens at the National Postal Museum. We’ll begin with a brief presentation on the Dead Letter Office (DLO) and the DLO Museum from a Postal Museum volunteer and Obscura Society D.C. field agent: Ashley Bowen-Murphy. Then, we’ll have the chance to view some objects not normally on display, including items that came into the Postal Museum’s collections when the Dead Letter Office Museum closed in 1911. Curators will be on hand to discuss these objects and answer any questions that you might have about the Dead Letter Office then and now. 

Notes for this adventure:

- We will meet in the museum lobby, so you'll be required to go through security. Please plan to arrive a few minutes early.

- Cameras are allowed and flash photography is allowed in some sections of the museum.

- All ages welcome!

- The National Postal Museum is located next to Union Station and Metro’s Red Line. Visit WMATA’s website for directions. 

- We will not sell tickets on-site. You must purchase tickets in advance to join us on this adventure.

- A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Smithsonian Postal Museum’s Education Fund.

Any questions, please do not hesitate to contact Ashley Bowen-Murphy at ashley.bowen-murphy@atlasobscura.com or Matt Blitz at matt@atlasobscura.com.