“Mail Call” was more than the trademark phrase uttered on the on the “Barney Miller” sitcom by Officer Carl Levitt, played by the late Ron Carey.
It’s the name of a traveling National Postal Museum exhibition coordinated by the Smithsonian Institution, through Jan. 19 upstairs in the Cape Fear Museum of History and Science, among five neat attractions to explore in Wilmington, N.C.
The exhibit, covering U.S. military mail and communication, shows why service personnel – whether in settings such as a desert, submarine or hostile territory – receiving a letter or package has always provided a vital link in bridging the gap with family far away. A panel highlights how mail “delivers emotions, connections, love and a touch of home.”
Other highlighted words include “Mail is morale,” quoting Col. Ben Magiera, a Marine Corps postal clerk from 2010 in Afghanistan.
Whether in war or peacetime, the mail has let service members not only send and receive correspondence, but execute other important functions including casting absentee ballots, relaying money orders and paying taxes.
The partnership with the U.S. Postal Service in moving the mail dates back to the American Revolution, when postmasters and couriers were exempt from service. Ever wonder about the abbreviations in addressing of an envelope or parcel? APO stands for Army or Air Force Post Office, and FPO Fleet Post Office, applying to the Navy, Marines and Coast Guard.
Civilian volunteers also have played a part in military mail, such as through visiting hospitals in World War I, to write letters taken from dictation by infirmed or patriots or those lacking the ability to read or write. The rise in literacy rates during the Civil War resulted in more volumes of mail, and the path to move it – especially between North and South – took many routes back and forth, with handling by the Postal Service and private couriers.
Name duplication reached the thousands in World War II, when at one point, more than 7,500 Robert Smiths were among the 7 million names in military files, Army Maj. Charity Adams had reported.
Innovations in exchanging and moving mail emerged long before the Internet was even anyone’s dream. Through “Victory Mail” in World War II, use of microfilm would compact 1,500 to 1,800 letters to a 95-foot-long roll of 16-millimeter film, lessening the cargo volume and weight, but not the heart and importance, of personal mail. So, one mailbag would carry 150,000 microfilmed letters.
Photos give a glimpse into the task of moving the mail, such as a 3-by-3-foot aerial enlargement from Christmas Eve 2004 of a mound of packages being transferred from an aircraft elevator to a hangar bay on the USS Harry Truman carrier.
Everyone visiting the exhibit is encouraged to write a postcard for military personnel, and children also may draw a pictorial greeting, for relay from a dropbox. The Cape Fear Museum’s spokeswoman, Amy Mangus, said earlier this month that a batch was readied for delivery to the Marine Corps’ Came Lejeune, up the coast toward the Outer Banks.
“Mail Call” includes some recordings of troops’ feelings and reactions to mail, such as PFC Frank A. Kowalczyk during the Vietnam War. He spoke of how his mother sending audiocassettes from a local TV newscast and updates on the weather, about how the snow was starting to melt, took him home, at least in his mind, and that after his discharge, he would not complain about getting “back into the world.”
The museum, based in a former armory opened in 1937 for the N.C. National Guard’s Cape Fear Artillery Battery, was expanded in 1990-92, Mangus said. The building is full of other chronicles of regional history, culture and wildlife, so leave at least another hour or two to peruse the other galleries.
Visitors upon entry also will receive a token for a jukebox of 45-rpm vinyl records, for which the return on the drop might result in the playing of songs such as the late Dan Fogelberg’s “Hard to Say,” from the early 1980s.
A whole glass wall case also reflects the roots of perhaps the greatest basketball player of all time, Michael Jordan, who growing up, lived from 1963 to ’81 in Wilmington, the state’s largest city from the 1830s to the start of the 20th century.
Check out a University of North Carolina Tar Heels uniform he sported on the court, a school notebook for English class, his badge for Team USA at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, and the stub from his first paycheck – net pay from 47 hours work in a restaurant in North Carolina’s Port City: $119.75.
Battleship open daily
Another local landmark, the Battleship North Carolina (BB-55), in service from 1941 to 1947, premiered as the first of 10 “fast battleships” commissioned for the Navy in World War II, to protect aircraft carriers. She opened as a museum in 1961, spared from plans for scrapping in 1958.
When | 8 a.m.-5 p.m. daily
Where | At U.S. routes 17, 74, 76 and 421, in Wilmington, N.C., on south side of Cape Fear River
How much | $12 ages 12 and older; $10 ages 65 and older, and active duty or retired military with ID; $6 ages 6-11; and free ages 5 and younger
Information | 910-251-5797 or www.battleshipnc.com
Special events | In 2014, with respective fees for the public and active military, otherwise free with admission:
• “Hidden Battleship” behind-the-scenes tours, for ages 16 and older, 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. or 1:30-5:30 p.m. Jan. 11 and Oct. 11; $50/$45 active military, with registration due Jan. 9
• “Firepower!” in-depth look all the weaponry and compartments, for ages 16 and older, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Feb. 15; $95/$85, including a box lunch, with registration due Feb. 13.
• N.C. QSO Azalea Coast Amateur Ham Radio Club events: Feb. 23 (part of ham radio club party across North Carolina), June 7-8 (during museum ship’s weekend) and Dec. 7 (for Pearl Harbor remembrance) – more details at 910-791-1566.
• “Power Plant,” covering the ship’s engineering, for ages 16 and older, noon-5:30 p.m. March 15; $65/$60, due March 13.
• Easter Egg Hunt Carnival, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. April 18; $5 ages 3 and older, otherwise free.
• “Showboat – Systems & Design” exploration, 1-4 pm. May 17, for adults. $40/$35, with registration due May 15.
• 49th annual Memorial Day Observance, 5:45 p.m. May 26; free for all.
• “Battleship Alive!” a “Living History” program, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. May 31 and Sept. 27
• “Battleship 101,” 10 a.m.-3 p.m. June 14, July 12 and Aug. 9
• “Legacy Series: Under the Sea” series, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. on second Saturdays: “Armored Cruiser North Carolina and the Great War” on June 14, “Submarine USS North Carolina” July 12, “Blue & Gray North Carolinas” Aug. 9
• “Batty Battleship’s Halloween Bash,” trick-or-treating, 5:30-8 p.m. Oct. 28, for $5 ages 3 and older, otherwise free.
• “Torpedo Headed for You: Damage Control Aboard North Carolina,” 1-5 p.m., for ages 16 and older; $55/$50, with registration due Nov. 6.
Closest ice rink to Myrtle Beach
Think that watching figure skating or speed skating, or ice hockey, televised from the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, spur the itch to lace up boots and blades? Visit the closest ice skating rink to Myrtle Beach and glide for an hour or two, at the Wilmington Ice House.
Where | 7201 Ogden Business Lane, east of the city, north of Market Street – turn left at the corner with the little white church, and veer right toward the rink, on the left
When | Public skating sessions:
• December | 1:30-5:30 p.m. Dec. 26 and 7-10 p.m. Dec. 26 and 28; 1:30-4 p.m. Dec. 27 and 30, and 7:30-10 p.m. Dec. 27; 1-5:30 p.m. Dec. 28; 1-4 p.m. Dec. 29, 6-8:30 p.m. Dec. 30; and 1:30-4:30 p.m. Dec. 31
• January | 1-4 p.m. Jan. 1, and Sundays (but open 1:15 p.m. Jan. 29); 7-9 p.m. Jan. 2; 1:30-5:30 p.m. Jan. 2, 3, and Wednesdays, Jan. 15-29; 7-10 p.m. Jan. 3; 1:30-3:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays; 1:45-3:45 p.m. Thursdays, Jan. 9-30; 2-4:30 p.m. Fridays, Jan. 10-31 ($6 on Jan. 24); 1-3:45 p.m. Saturdays (until 4 p.m. Jan. 18); 8:30-11:30 p.m. Jan. 10; 7:30-9:30 p.m. Jan. 17; 7:30-10 p.m. Saturdays (Open 7 p.m. Jan. 25), and Fridays, Jan. 24 and 31
How much |
• “Holiday rates” through Jan. 4 and admission for Friday nights through Sundays– each for $7 ages 6 and older, plus $3 skate rental, and $5 ages 5 and younger, including skate rental
• Regular admission: Monday-Fridays mornings and afternoons, $7 ages 6 and older, plus $1 skate rental, and $5 ages 5 and younger, including skate rental
Information | 910-686-1987 or www.wilmingtonice.com
Railing for yesteryear
At the Wilmington Railroad Museum, step back into the early 1800s, when stagecoach and one’s own feet provided the main means of getting around before rail revolutionized transportation and industry.
Everyone might feel like a child again when stepping into either of two rooms full of model train layouts, with buttons to press for such accessories as lights and accessories. Outside the building, walk into a real-life locomotive, box car and caboose retired decades ago from service, but not from soothing anyone’s curiosity about their respective mammoth size and roles.
When | 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays
Where | 505 Nutt St., next to Wilmington Convention Center
How much | $8.50 ages 13 and older, $7.50 seniors and military, $4.50 ages 2-12, otherwise free
Information | 910-763-2634 or www.wrrm.org
A walk through the Bellamy Mansion Museum of History & Design Arts shows more than an estate built by free and enslaved artisans just before the Civil War. This antebellum site also offers insight into Union troops’ use of the house in 1865 for headquarters during the occupation of Wilmington, and red brick, urban slave quarters that have been preserved and restored to further enhance educational efforts on U.S. history.
When | 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays and 1-5 p.m. Sundays
Where | 503 Market St.
How much | $10 ages 13 and older, $4 ages 5-12
• Guided tours given on the hour, with final tour at 4 p.m., and self-guided audio tours available until 4 p.m.
• With “Passport Ticket,” for $24, visit Bellamy mansion and two other historic homes within a week: the Latimer (Victorian) House, 126 S. Third St. – open 10 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Mondays-Fridays and noon-5 p.m. Saturdays – and Burgwin-Wright House and Gardens, 224 Market St., in a 1770 setting – open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays.
Information | 910-251-3700 or bellamymansion.org
Contact STEVE PALISIN at 444-1764.