10 Craziest Post Offices on Earth (and Beyond)
By Kristine Alexander, Toptenz, 22 May 2017.
By Kristine Alexander, Toptenz, 22 May 2017.
Going to the post office can be one of the most mundane - and dreaded - items on your to-do list. But if you’ve ever had the chance to visit any of the outposts below, you know that not all post offices are boring. Here are 10 crazy post offices that make mail delivery seem exciting…
10. Peach Springs and Supai, Arizona, USA
The post office in Peach Springs, Arizona isn’t much to look at - just a squat yellow brick building that seems about the right size for a town with a population of just over 1,000 residents. The physical facility is unremarkable, except for one unusual feature - the only walk-in freezer found in a post office in the continental US. Why does it need this? The Peach Springs post office has a very unusual mission - delivering mail to the bottom of the Grand Canyon - and that cargo includes a lot of perishable groceries. The tiny town of Supai, populated by a few hundred members of the Havasupai tribal nation, sits at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Supai has its own tiny post office, and residents and tourists are relying on the USPS to deliver all the provisions that aren’t otherwise available at the bottom of the canyon.
So, after the mail makes the 70-mile trip to the canyon rim from Peach Springs, how does it get down to Supai? Helicopter transport is expensive and unreliable, as choppers can’t fly during periods of high winds. Enter the “mule train,” a caravan of up to 50 horses and mules, guided by intrepid riders, carrying up to 200 pounds each of mail and packages that make the 8-mile trek down to the base of the canyon and then eventually back up, carrying outgoing mail and trash. At least 2 mule trains are operating at any given time, so the mules, horses, and riders are able to rest overnight in the village before making the return trip back up the next day. Mail sent from Supai bears a special postmark, indicating that it traveled by mule train to reach its destination. Despite the inherent difficulty of the journey and the extreme conditions faced by riders and mules, scheduled mail delivery has only been skipped twice since 1999.
9. Inside the Eiffel Tower
The Eiffel Tower holds a lot of history within its iconic frame, which was originally constructed for the entrance to the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris. It also holds shops, restaurants, a champagne bar, a conference room, a replica of Gustave Eiffel’s original office at the top of the tower, and one more surprising facility: a post office, which is found on the first floor of the Eiffel Tower’s south pillar.
While this post office may seem to be a present-day concession to tourists, the Eiffel Tower has had a post office since it has been open to the public (it was, after all, built for an exposition designed to attract visitors from around the world). The original post office was situated at the top of the tower, where, after riding an elevator, fairgoers could mail postcards from more than 900 feet above ground. Postmarks from the original post office read “Sommet de la Tour Eiffel” (Summit of the Eiffel Tower), or, for less intrepid tourists, after the ground floor post office was added, “1er Etage de la Tour Eiffel” (First floor of the Eiffel Tower) while the contemporary Eiffel Tower post office offers a more generic postmark, which doesn’t specify its less exalted present-day location within the tower.
8. Mount Everest Base Camp, Nepal
With post offices closing by the hundreds across the globe - including in the US, the UK, South Africa, and Germany - you may find yourself complaining about the inconvenient “trek” to a more distant post office or having to contend with more-limited operating hours in your local branch. However, one post office can put issues of accessibility and availability in perspective - the China Post office located in the Mount Everest Base Camp.
The post office, which is actually more of a post tent, has been present (seasonally) at the Everest Base Camp since 2008. Sitting at 5,300 meters, it’s purported to be the world’s highest post office. However, because of the extreme weather conditions at this altitude, the post office has a rather short operating window - from late April to August each year, when conditions permit a temporary road to open up from base camp to the town of Tingri. This remote outpost operates from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. during those months, not including a noontime break for the post office’s three workers (apparently, there is no altitude at which postal workers will not adhere to their break schedules). There is a markup on the usual postcard rate to compensate for the challenges in transporting mail from the top of the world to its destination - as of 2016, the post office charged about US$1.45 to mail a postcard to the UK, whereas elsewhere in Nepal, mailing a postcard would cost about US$0.30.
7. Underwater (in Vanuatu)
Vanuatu, an island nation in the South Pacific, faces a potentially grim future as the result of climate change, with some experts suggesting much of the archipelago could eventually be submerged because of rising sea levels. However, there is one facility in Vanuatu that is already (deliberately) submerged beneath the tides - the world’s only underwater post office, located within Vanuatu’s Hideaway Marine Sanctuary.
The post office sits about 10 feet below the surface on the ocean floor. Opening hours are posted on a nearby beach and a special flag is hoisted to float on the surface when the postal workers (wearing scuba equipment) are staffing the post office. The post office has been open since 2003 and several Vanuatu Post staff members received open water dive training to be able to man the location. Divers or snorklers are able to mail special waterproof postcards at the underwater outpost (if snorklers can’t dive down to the post office, staff members will help get the postcard down to the ocean floor). Because the postcards can’t be cancelled using traditional ink, Vanuatu Post developed a special embossing device to cancel the postcards.
6. Aogashima Island, Japan (…on an active volcano)
Why would you put a post office on an active volcano? Even Vanuatu Post (yes, Vanuatu is apparently at the epicenter of postal innovation), only put a postal box on the crater of Mt. Yasur, where visitors can mail letters steps away from molten magma spewing into the air. However, on Japan’s Aogashima Island, there’s really nowhere else to put a post office - the island is a volcano (actually 4 overlapping calderas).
The population of the isolated island, less than 200 people, are served by a tiny post office which transmits mail to and from mainland Japan (Tokyo is about 200 miles to the south of the island). Life on the island can be described as “sleepy,” with residents (mainly farmers and fishermen) enjoying the slow pace of island life, the beauty, and volcanic hot springs that comprise the island. However, the volcano is still considered active. The last time the volcano erupted (in 1785), about half the island’s inhabitants perished, though modern-day inhabitants have the benefit of a volcano alert system that has been operated by the Japan Meteorological Agency since 2007. As of 2017, no alerts have been issued for the island, meaning that Aogoshima’s population, and its tiny post office, have had no cause to consider moving away from their volcanic outpost.
5. Ny-Alesund, Norway
Ny-Alesund is the world’s northernmost civilian settlement - an unincorporated town on a peninsula, home to more than 10 scientific research stations that draw scientists from around the world, 30 year-round residents, and as many 120 residents during the summer. It is also the site of the world’s northernmost post office. Whereas the town’s origins are related to mining and expeditions to the North Pole, today, the town’s activity is largely driven by research and tourism. Given that the town now enjoys fiber optic internet connections to the rest of the world, Ny-Alesund’s tiny post office exists largely to serve tourists, who arrive at the town via cruise ship.
Ny-Alesund has long served as a base for expeditions to the North Pole and, given that it is the most proximate post office to Santa Claus’ North Pole workshop, you might expect that the post office is busy processing letters to Santa from children across the globe. However, Santa’s mail does not pass through Ny-Alesund. Instead, that flood of Christmas correspondence is handled by the United States Post Office in North Pole, Alaska.
4. J.W. Westcott II, Marine Post Office
Even as the US Postal Service makes cutbacks, at least one US post office has found a way to stay afloat…literally. The J.W. Westcott II, a 45-foot mail boat that serves freighters traversing the Detroit River, is the nation’s (and likely the world’s) only floating post office.
The J.W. Westcott Company of Detroit has been conveying messages between merchant sailors, who are often aboard ship for months at a time, and their loved ones since 1874. Mail delivery began in 1895 and the boat has been a registered post office since 1948. The company motto is “mail in the pail,” which literally described how the mail, even today, is often hoisted aboard freighters using a rope and a bucket. The J.W. Westcott II even has its own zip code - 48222 - and mail delivered to the freighters is to be addressed:
Marine Post Office
Detroit, MI 48222
Like many post offices, the J.W. Westcott has seen a decline in mail volume, as email enables families and friends to stay in touch more immediately, even aboard ship. However, the company, which also delivers for UPS and FedEx, reports that it has seen an increase in package delivery. The company’s contract with the USPS runs to 2021, and the company’s owner sees a long future for his floating post office, pointing out that he has diversified into personnel transportation and that drone technology may never be cost-effective enough to compete in the delivery of low-value bulky goods like paper towels.
3. The Washington Park and Zoo Railway at the Portland Zoo, USA
Today, the idea of a post office on a train may seem like a quirky novelty, and it doesn’t help that the only railway left in the US that offers mail service and its own authorized postal cancellation, was originally planned as a “kiddy train” at the zoo and was sited to serve Oregon’s 1959 Centennial Celebration. But while “mail by rail” now seems like an anachronism, it was once the gold standard for express mail delivery in the United States.
From 1862 to 1977, the Railway Post Office (RPO) operated postal cars, which offered mail sorting and cancellation on trains that crisscrossed the country, operating on 794 routes at its peak. However, as mail sorting became an automated task, it was increasingly moved to and from large regional processing centers by truck. While the Washington Park and Zoo Railway offers the only postal car operating in the US on a regular basis, another mail car recently rolled again. The 40th anniversary of the last RPO rail train was celebrated on May 6, 2017 (which is National Train Day, in case you didn’t mark your calendar), with the Northern Pacific #1102, its RPO car (one of only two known to still be in working order) and postmark coming out of retirement for a one-day commemorative mail run.
2. Penguin Post Office, Antarctica
One continent’s most popular tourist attraction is its post office. If you guessed Antarctica, which, despite its abundance of natural beauty, has few other tourist facilities to compete with its tiny post office, you’re right! The so-called “Penguin Post Office” is located on the Antarctic Penninsula at Port Lockroy, Antarctica, making it the world’s most southerly post office.
The post office, which is operated by the UK Heritage Trust on behalf of the government, is open for less than 5 months a year (during the Antarctic summer from November to May). Who uses the post office? While Port Lockroy has thousands of residents, most of them are penguins, so the 70,000 post cards that are sent annually from the office come mostly from the 18,000 or so tourists who arrive every year via cruise ship.
Manning a post office at the bottom of the world, a role that pays $1,700 a month, and involves, as one member of the four-person team staffing the post office put it, “being confined to an island the size of a football pitch,” may not seem like everyone’s cup of tea. Nonetheless, hundreds of applicants have vied for a spot in recent years, perhaps inspired by documentaries on the Penguin Post Office that aired on the BBC and PBS.
1. China Post Space Office aboard the Shenzhou-8 spacecraft, 213 miles above Earth
The final post office on our list is out of this world - literally. Established in 2011, the “China Post Space Office,” has two outposts - one on the ground of mission control at the Beijing Aerospace Command and one more than 200 miles above the Earth in the Shenzhou-8 spacecraft. The post office even has its own zipcode - 901001 - and a special postmark that reads “Beijing” and “Space” in simplified Chinese.
Mail will be processed through the terrestrial branch, but emails can be routed through a computer aboard the unmanned spacecraft before returning to Earth to be printed out for commemorative mail. While this roundabout virtual space mail may be exciting only to true space aficionados, officials have indicated that future iterations will allow the public to send letters to astronauts and/or allow physical mail to be transported to space before returning to Earth for delivery.
Top image: Penguin Post Office at Port Lockroy, Antarctica. Credit: Christopher Michel/Flickr.
[Source: Toptenz. Top image added.]