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People In Your Neighborhood
by Alecia Eberhardt
Calling All Poets: Poetry Reading and Open Mic. Hudson Valley-based poet Robert Milby, along with Jim Eve and Mike Jurkovic, will host a poetry reading and open mic night. Featured poets are Jim Eve and Leslie Gerber. Cover is $5. Howland Cultural Center. 477 Main Street, Beacon. 845-831-0077. December 5. 8pm.
7th Annual Breakfast With Santa. At this popular annual event, Elf Tinsel and Little Santa will entertain families. Plus all children get a holiday coloring book and a Christmas ball craft. When Santa arrives, he will stop at each table to say hello, have his picture taken with all the children, and give them a special candy cane. A full breakfast buffet, prepared by Chef Kane and his staff, will be offered. Breakfast is $15 for adults and $10 for children; reservations are strongly recommended. Towne Crier Café. 379 Main Street, Beacon. 845-855-1300. townecrier.com. December 6. 10:30am.
Beacon Second Saturday. During this monthly celebration of the arts, galleries and shops stay open late to feature exhibition openings, artist receptions, music, food, wine, and other special events. Various locations throughout Beacon. beaconarts.org. December 13.
Holiday Craft Fair. The Hudson Valley Etsy Team presents the 5th Annual Holiday Craft Fair, featuring locally handmade items from housewares to accessories, bath and body products, jewelry, home décor, and much more. Howland Cultural Center. 477 Main Street, Beacon. beaconarts.org. December 13. 10am–5pm.
City of Beacon + BeaconArts Tree Lighting. The City of Beacon and BeaconArts put a different spin on the holidays with a Christmas tree made from recycled bicycle parts, designed by sculptor Ed Benavente. The tree lighting will be preceded by children’s crafts organized by the Wee Play Community Project, music and dance by the Beacon Music Factory and the Center for Creative Education, and the arrival of Santa by People’s Bicycle pedi-cab. Polhill Park and Beacon Visitors Center. Intersection of Main Street and Route 9D, Beacon. beaconarts.org. December 13. 3pm.
Holiday Cheers! Celebration. Following the official Beacon tree lighting, all are welcome to join BEAHIVE for their annual holiday bash. Music, food, and festive drinks will be accompanied by a variety of DIY workshops, from watercolor, floristry and cookie decorating to beer tasting, home brewing, and pumpkin carving—hosted by the team behind Nixie Sparrow, BEAHIVE’s new neighbors, who will be celebrating their grand opening. Suggested donation is $5; proceeds benefit BeaconArts. BEAHIVE. 291 Main Street, Beacon. December 13. 6pm–11pm.
Wreaths Across America Ceremony. To commemorate lives of the Revolutionary War soldiers buried at the former Fishkill Supply Depot encampment, the Friends of the Fishkill Supply Depot group will lay wreaths for each of the 85 Continental Patriots thus far identified. The public is welcome to join by donating a wreath (via the website) or by attending the wreath-laying ceremony at the cemetery. Van Wyck Homestead Museum. 504 Route 9, Fishkill. 845-896-9560. fishkillsupplydepot.org. December 13. 11:30am.
Hyde Park Brewing Company Live Music. No cover for any events. Hyde Park Brewing Company. 4076 Albany Post Road, Hyde Park. 845-229-8277. hydeparkbrewing.com. Open Mic with Petey Hop. December 3. 8:30pm. Reality Check. December 5. 9pm. Johnny Dell & the Nightlife. December 6. 8pm. Open Mic with Petey Hop. December 10. 8:30pm. Annual Christmas Party with Vito & 4 Guys and Santa. December 12. 6pm. Ryan Gordon, solo. December 13. 8pm. Open Mic with Petey Hop. December 17. 8:30pm. Petey Hop Trio. December 19. 9pm. Annie & the Attaboys. December 20. 9pm.
Holiday Open House at the Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site. The National Park Service is pleased to offer a day of free admission to the Vanderbilt Mansion. Visitors are invited to enjoy refreshments at the Visitor Center, discounts in the Museum Shop, and a tour of the mansion to learn about the Vanderbilt's holidays. The Mansion's Elliptical Hall Christmas tree is the perfect backdrop for holiday photos. Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site. 119 Vanderbilt Park Road, Hyde Park. 845-229-7770. nps.gov/vama. December 6. 9am–5pm.
Holiday Open House at the Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt. The Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site will be decked out in holiday decorations, and the Presidential Library and Museum will offer a Holiday Open House and Children's Reading Festival featuring children's book authors, including the Hudson Valley's own Iza Trapani. Children can make holiday cards to send to our service men and women, and Santa Claus will be on hand to greet them and pose for photos! Admission is free. Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site. 4079 Albany Post Road, Hyde Park. 845-229-9115. nps.gov/hofr. December 13. 9am–5pm.
Hudson Valley Show Jumping Holiday Classic. The Hudson Valley Show Jumping Classics series has a two-fold mission: to provide high quality horse shows for the equestrian community and to give back to the larger community via charitable contributions. Proceeds from this best-in-class horse show experience will benefit Team SeriousFun, The Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse, and St. Francis Hospital's Panichi Center for Communication & Learning, among others. Crosswinds Equestrian Center. 17 Crosswinds Lane, Lagrangeville. 845-223-7433. crosswindsequestrian.com. December 20.
Homemade Holistic Health Workshop. These monthly workshops, taught by herbalist Claudia Abbott-Barish, focus on familiarizing the novice with the basics of herbal medicine. December’s class will focus on the emotion of fear. The class includes a balanced lunch and tea; all necessary supplies are included. Registration is $50. 917-992-9901. firstname.lastname@example.org. Milan. December 14. 10am–2pm.
Peter Muir and Friends Concert for New Year's Eve. Peter Muir and Friends ring in the New Year with jazz, ragtime, and blues. This concert presented as part of the Millbrook New Year’s Eve festivities, a family friendly, alcohol-free, village-wide celebration. Admission is free and all are welcome. Grace Church Parish House. 3328 Franklin Avenue, Millbrook. 845-677-5871. December 31. Shows at 4:30pm and 6pm.
Holiday House Hunt for Kids. On Sunday afternoons in December, children and their families are invited to step back in time and relive the romance of Christmas past. Enjoy glittering holiday decorations and learn more about the historic house while searching for animals hidden in the mansion’s outstanding art collection. Cookies, cider, and carols will be offered in the museum pavilion. Adult tickets are $10,; children’s tickets are $8; children under 4 admitted free. Locust Grove Estate. 2683 South Road, Poughkeepsie. 845-454-4500. lgny.org. December 7, 14, and 21. Mansion open 12pm–4pm; arrive by 3pm to complete the hunt. Carols performed at 1pm, 2pm, and 3pm.
Locust Grove Mansion Holiday Tours. The Locust Grove Mansion, an Italianate villa designed in 1851, will be decked out in spectacular holiday decorations. Each of the 25 rooms in the mansion will be decorated to fit the theme of a different Christmas carol. Guided tours, which take approximately an hour and 45 minutes, are available for $11 per person. Locust Grove Estate. 2683 South Road, Poughkeepsie. 845-454-4500. lgny.org. December 6–7, 13–14, 20–21, and 26–31. 10am–5pm; last tour at 3:15pm.
Saturdays on the Farm: Farmer for a Day. Open to boys and girls ages 10-13, who want to have fun working just as real farmers do! The day will be spent working in the barns and taking part in animal chores—anything from milking cows, to gathering eggs, to feeding goats, sheep, kids, chickens, or ducks. Children will be served a mid-afternoon snack and should wear warm clothes that will allow them to get dirty. Registration is $50 and pre-registration is required. Sprout Creek Farm. 4 Lauer Road, Poughkeepsie. 845-485-8438. sproutcreekfarm.com. December 13. 1:30–5:30pm.
The Nutcracker.The New Paltz Ballet Theatre returns for a 17th season to present this classic holiday event featuring principal dancers from the New York City Ballet. Dancers, designers, and technicians have all contributed to make this Nutcracker a visual delight. Come along with Marie as she dreams of a fierce battle between giant mice and toy soldiers followed by a magical journey through the Land of Snow to the Kingdom of Sweets. Adult tickets are $30; seniors, students, and children’s tickets are $25. Bardavon 1869 Opera House. 35 Market Street, Poughkeepsie. 845-473-2072. bardavon.org. December 13. 2pm.
Saturdays on the Farm: All About Dairy. Sprout Creek's Seasonal Saturday Programs let to boys and girls ages 7-10 experience each season on the farm. Each program will involve animal care, cooking lessons, and environmental or garden education; December’s program will focus on cows, goats, the milking process, tasting and learning how to make cheese, and identifying winter plants and trees. Children should wear warm clothes that will allow them to get dirty. Registration is $50 and pre-registration is required. Sprout Creek Farm. 4 Lauer Road, Poughkeepsie. 845-485-8438. sproutcreekfarm.com. December 20.
Holiday House Tours at Wilderstein. Florists and designers transform the Wilderstein Mansion into a magical holiday wonderland, open for self-paced tours, with guides in each room to share information and answer questions. Adult admission, $10; students and seniors, $9; children under 12, free. Wilderstein Historic Site. 330 Morton Road, Rhinebeck. 845-876-7439. wilderstein.org. December 6–7, 13–14, 20–21, and 27–28. 1pm–4pm.
Sinterklaas Festival Day. As part of a community-wide series of events drawing on the Hudson Valley’s Dutch heritage, Sinterklaas—the Dutch Santa Claus—will lead a day-long, colorful celebration of dance, theatre and music all over the village. The day will end with a spectacular Children’s Starlight Parade featuring two-story tall, animated puppets carried by hundreds of volunteers. A non-denominational event, Sinterklaas joins residents and visitors alike, of all ages and backgrounds, in a memorable celebration of children, art, and the light of the winter season. Locations throughout the Village of Rhinebeck. sinterklaashudsonvalley.com. December 6. 12pm.
The Good Shepherd Church and The Reformed Church Spaghetti Dinner. The Good Shepherd Church and The Reformed Church will be hosting their first spaghetti dinner to follow the Sinterklaas festivities. Dinner is $12 for adults and $8 for children. The meal includes spaghetti with a choice of meatballs, marinara sauce or butter, bread and butter, salad, brownies with ice cream, coffee, tea, and cold beverages. Beer and wine available for $4 extra. Father Brogan Parish Center. 3 Mulberry Street, Rhinebeck. 845-876-2436. December 6. 4pm–8pm.
2014 Winter Holiday Concert. The Rhinebeck Choral Club presents their annual holiday concert, featuring guest artists the Hudson Valley Folk Artists and The Beckers & The Martuccis with Rich Keyes. Tickets are $8 for students and $10 for adults. 518-537-2884. rhinebeckchoralclub.org. Rhinebeck Reformed Church. 6368 Mill Street, Rhinebeck. December 13. 7:30pm. December 14. 3:00pm.
Tivoli Artists’ Gallery Holiday Show. The Tivoli Artists Gallery, a non-profit with roots as an artist cooperative, holds a holiday show annually to exhibit small items created by their members for holiday giving. Vintage jewelry, hand-blown glass, hand-painted ceramics, beautifully made baskets, stationery and holiday cards, and unique handmade holiday ornaments will be available for sale. Tivoli Artists' Gallery. 60 Broadway, Tivoli. 845-757-2667. tivoliartistsgallery.com. Show on display November 21–December 21. Friday, 5pm–9pm; Saturday, 1pm–9pm; Sunday, 1pm–5pm.
by Alecia Eberhardt
Commitment to Kids Toy Extravaganza and Winter Carnival. This event is a fundraiser and toy drive for the needy children (infant through age 14) of Ulster County. The event is sponsored by the Bloomington Fire Company Ladies Auxiliary and the Vietnam Veterans of America: Ulster County Chapter 60. All toys collected will be distributed within Ulster County. Bloomington Firehouse. 14 Taylor Street, Bloomington. 845-338-7393. December 7. 12–5pm.
Grahamville (Sullivan County)
Time and the Valleys Museum Shop Sale. Time and the Valleys Museum Shop offers a wide variety of books on local history, geology, environment, folklore and Native Americans, handmade gift items made by local artisans, historical toys, stationery, and even candy. The shop will be open for special sales. All profits support the Museum and its educational activities. Gift-wrapping and shipping services available. Time and the Valleys Museum Shop. 332 Main Street, Grahamsville. 845-985-7700. timeandthevalleysmuseum.org. December 6. 12–4pm.
Tree Lighting Event. The High Falls Civic Association hosts the annual Tree Lighting Event. Bring your friends and family and join in the holiday spirit to celebrate one of our most anticipated and exciting annual events. This is a free event for all attendees. Hot food will be served and great holiday music will be shared. Santa will even make a special appearance! Following the event, the Community Church of High Falls also welcomes you for hot chocolate and cookies. Center of Town, High Falls. December 6. 5:30pm.
Farm to Frame to Table. Chef John Novi will offer a “farm to fork” dinner menu at the Depuy Canal House in celebration of the opening of a new gallery at the restaurant that will focus on food, farming, and sustainability. The first exhibit features work from photographer Francesco Mastalia’s highly praised book Organic: Farmers and Chefs of the Hudson Valley. Mastalia will do a Q&A and book signing; complimentary bites will be served. A prix-fixe dinner ($35 per person) will follow; reservations highly recommended. Depuy Canal House. 1315 Route 213, High Falls. 845-687-7777. depuycanalhouse.com. Reception and dinner: December 7. 3pm. For exhibit hours visit website.
4th Annual Holiday Craft Fair of Vintage and Handmade Items. Beautiful vintage and handmade items along with one of a kind gifts will be available at this event, including jewelry, handbags, ornaments, art, ceramics, paper goods, hair accessories, clothing, baked goods, and more. There will also be live music and a kid’s hour. Cornell Street Studio. 168 Cornell Street, Kingston. 845-679-8348. cornellstreetstudios.com. December 5. 5–10pm.
Ulster Ballet Performs A Christmas Carol. A Christmas Carol has been adapted for the dance company, featuring expressive choreography and the verbal storytelling of an unseen narrator. The Ulster Ballet is now in their 20th season of performing this holiday classic. Suitable for all ages. Adult tickets are $22; seniors and members are $18; children 12 and under are $15. Ulster Performing Arts Center. 601 Broadway, Kingston. 845-339-6088. bardavon.org. or ulsterballet.org. December 5–6. 7:30pm. December 7. 2pm.
The Polar Express Train Ride. Set to the sounds of the motion picture soundtrack, pajama-clad passengers will relive the magic of the story and see their favorite characters come to life as they are whisked away aboard The Polar Express on a magical round trip to the North Pole. During the journey, the conductor will punch tickets and chefs will serve hot chocolate. Passengers will also enjoy a singalong and a special reading of the Van Allsburg classic. At the North Pole, Santa will board the train to greet the children and will give a special sleigh bell to all those who believe. Catskill Mountain Railroad. Westbrook Lane and Kingston Plaza, Kingston. catskillmtrailroad.com. December 5, 7, 12, 19, 26, 27, 28. See website for schedule.
Live at The Falcon. The Falcon. 1348 Route 9W, Marlborough. 845-236-7970. liveatthefalcon.com. Upstate with Guillermo Klein, Rebecca Martin, and Larry Grenadier. December 1. 7pm. Wil Blades. December 3. 7pm. Ray Spiegel Ensemble. December 4. 7pm. The Wiyos. December 5. 8pm. CKA! A Blues, Soul, and Rock Super Group; opener Stephen Clair and the Millionaires. December 6. 8pm. Sunday Brunch with Gustafer Yellowgold. December 7. 10am. Tim Ries Project. December 7. 7pm. Guillermo Klein Special Workshop Concert: Rhythmic Illusions and Symmetrical Harmonies. December 8. 7pm. Rhett Tyler & Early Warning; opener Kurt Henry Band. December 11. 7pm. Marshall Crenshaw; opener Carla Springer. December 12. 7pm. Beat Music with Mark Guiliana; opener Skeye. December 13 7pm. Sunday Brunch with Willa McCarthy Band. December 14. 10am. Michael T Band. December 14. 7pm. Upstate with Guillermo Klein, Rebecca Martin, and Larry Grenadier. December 15. 7pm. Concert and square dance featuring Mike + Ruthy and Kristin Andreasson. December 18. 7pm. Alexis P. Suter Band; opener Roland Mousaa with Princess WOW & Friends. December 19. 7pm. Ed Palermo Big Band. December 20. 7pm. Sunday Brunch with the Marc Black Trio. December 21. 10am. Hector Morales & The Afro-Peruvian Percussion Ensemble. December 21. 7pm. Upstate with Guillermo Klein, Rebecca Martin, and Larry Grenadier. December 22. 7pm. Rebecca Martin. December 26. 7pm. Frank Vignola. December 27. 7pm. All-star Jazz ‘n’ Blues Brunch. December 28. 10am. It’s a New Year with The Big Takeover. December 31. 9pm.
Historic Gingerbread House Display. This old-fashioned holiday celebration, sponsored by the Ulster County Historical Society, features a unique exhibition of gingerbread houses created to resemble Ulster County landmark buildings. The event also features gingerbread cookie decorating, a model train exhibit, and a holiday gift raffle. Admission is $10 for adults, $7 for seniors, and $5 for children. Bevier House Museum. 2682 Route 209, Marbletown. 845-702-9206. ulstercountyhs.org. December 13–14. 12pm–5pm.
Downtown New Paltz Unwrapped. Join Santa and Mrs. Claus for a village stroll to the holiday tent to enjoy holiday treats. Water Street Market. Water Street, New Paltz. facebook.com/NewPaltzDowntownUnwrapped. December 5. 6pm–8pm.
Poetry Reading and Open Mic. Hudson Valley-based poet Robert Milby hosts a monthly poetry reading and open mic night. December’s reading features poet Ron Whiteurs. A donation of $2 is requested for admission. Mudd Puddle Café (inside Water Street Market). 10 Main Street, New Paltz. 845-255-3436. December 20. 7pm.
Parents Night Out. Parents give yourselves a night out, with childcare for kids ages 3 and up at the Creative Co-op. Art and creative play activities, music, and more, followed by quiet time. $15 per child $5 additional for pizza dinner. Creative Co-op, behind the Big Cheese. creativeco-oprosendale.com. 845-527-5672. December 5, 20. 6-10pm.
Rosendale Winter Farmers’ Market. The Rosendale Farmers’ Market will hold a monthly indoor event over the winter season. In addition to fresh organic produce, apples, cheese spreads, sweet treats, fresh-baked bread, pickles, mushrooms, pretzel rolls, croissants, wine, herbal remedies, salves, soaps, honey, maple syrup, locally sourced lamb, and grass fed beef, the market will offer complimentary coffee and tea, children’s activities, educational information and samples from the Cornell Cooperative, and live music from the Hudson Valley Bluegrass Boys. Rosendale Recreation Center. 1055 New York Route 32, Rosendale. 845-527-5672. December 7. 10am–2pm.
Christmas Lightbox Concert.A crowd of friends and neighbors has gathered in the living room on one of the longest nights of the year. All is warm and cozy inside, while the cold winter wind blows just outside the door. The clatter of wine glasses and mugs filled to the brim with hot cider gives way to silence. And from that radiant silence emerges a song. Hot beverages and treats provided.This show is suitable for all ages. $10 suggested donation. No one turned away. Creative Co-op, behind the Big Cheese. creativeco-oprosendale.com. 845-527-5672. December 12. 5:30pm supper, 7pm show.
Frozendale Daze. This day-long winter and holiday festival includes events for the whole family, including story hour and a “booktique” at the library, free morning yoga, a meeting of the Nowist Society, a traditional hand puppet show, a free sing-along screening of Oliver, a wreath show, a silent auction, a live theatrical performance of It’s a Wonderful Life, afternoon hayrides, visits with Santa Claus, a winter gift sale, a ‘zine gallery exhibit, a children’s art show, cookie decorating, crafts, a mac ’n cheese bake-off, hot cocoa and warm cider, happy hour, live music, and more! Various locations in Rosendale. facebook.com/pages/Frozendale-in-Rosendale-121314/854340541275188. December 13. 12–6pm.
Dance Film Sundays: Dancing Dreams. Presented as part of the Dance Film Sundays series, this filmdocuments acclaimed choreographer Pina Bausch as she leads 40 German teenagers from audition through rehearsals to their performance of Kontakthof in Bausch’s signature dance-theater style. Dancing Dreams marks Bausch’s last filmed appearance. As a tribute to Bausch, Ulster County’s Barefoot Dance will open the program with a short overture performance. Tickets are $10 for adults and $6 for children. Rosendale Theatre. 408 Main Street, Rosendale. 845-658-8989. rosendaletheatre.org. December 14. 3pm.
Local Artisan and Farm Shop. Local farmers, crafters, and other artisans offer their products in these holiday themed shopping events. Creative Co-op, behind the Big Cheese. creativeco-oprosendale.com. 845-527-5672. December 14, 21. 11am-4pm.
Healthy Happy Hour. Local health and wellness practitioners and vendors offer their good and services in this warm, friendly atmosphere. Followed by Wellness Connections Circle. Creative Co-op, behind the Big Cheese. creativeco-oprosendale.com. 845-527-5672. December 19. 6-8pm.
Festive Fridays. During the month of December, shops in Saugerties will offer extended hours and special deals to entice holiday shoppers to shop locally. Various locations throughout the Village of Saugerties. facebook.com/saugertiesfirstfriday. December 5, 12 and 19. 5pm–10pm.
Holiday in the Village. During this precursor to the lighting of Seamon Park, Saugerties Village shops will be open and offering great deals. The event also offers free children's activities, a holiday raffle, live entertainment, caroling, a decked-out Kiersted House, free old-fashioned hayrides, a reading of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, and an opportunity to visit with Santa. Various locations throughout the Village of Saugerties. discoversaugerties.com. December 7. 12pm–6pm.
Death Café. As part of a global movement to “increase the awareness of death to help people make the most of their finite lives,” Death Cafés, sponsored by Circle of Friends for the Dying, provide a safe and relaxed environment for conversation about dying and death-related issues. Coffee, tea, and cake will be served. New World Home Cooking. 411 Route 212, Saugerties. cfdhv.org. December 13. 10:15am–12pm.
Village of Saugerties New Year’s Eve Ball Drop. The motto for this event is “stay local, stay safe.” Hot cocoa, coffee, and donuts will be offered, restaurants and bars will be open with specials and celebrations. The night will end with a ball drop in the street of Saugerties. Various locations throughout the Village of Saugerties. village.saugerties.ny.us. December 31. 10pm.
Saugerties Community Band Holiday Concert. The 24th Annual Christmas Concert will be played by the Saugerties Community Band. You’ll hear all your seasonal favorites, from “Let It Snow” to “White Christmas”, and so many in between. Admission is free, donations are accepted. 845-247-9658. Reformed Church. At the corner of Main Street and John Street. December 14. 3pm.
Community Holistic Healthcare Day. A wide array of healing modalities, including acupuncture, massage, qigong, nutritional counseling, and homeopathic medicine, will be available to try at this free monthly event. Patients are accommodated on a first-come, first-served basis. Donations and community service pledges will be accepted. Marbletown Community Center. 3564 Main Street, Stone Ridge. rvhhc.org. December 16. 4pm–8pm.
Holistic Self-Care Class: Your Homeopathic Constitutional for the Year. This course, presented free of charge by the Roundout Valley Holistic Health Community, will be taught by Nancy Eos MD and will focus on exploring participants’ constitutional “personalities” to determine the best remedies. Family Traditions. 3853 Main Street, Stone Ridge. rvhhc.org. December 18. 7pm–8:30pm.
Olive Free Library History Exhibit Open and Holiday Fair. The Olive Free Library will hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony for its new museum room history exhibit, a collaboration between the library and the Ulster County Archives that features photographs and other artifacts illustrating the history of the Town of Olive before construction of the Ashokan Reservoir. The exhibit opening coincides with the Olive Free Library’s annual holiday fair, a major community gathering that includes a hot lunch, a craft fair, and activities such as holiday card making and a ukulele sing-along. Olive Free Library. 4033 Route 28A, West Shoken. 845-657-2482. olivefreelibrary.org. December 6. 11am.
Babes in Toyland. This quirky holiday tale, complete with small town carnival setting, will come to life with beloved emerging professional actors and actresses. A charming classic, set in the worlds of Mother Goose Land and Toyland, Babes in Toyland is sure to delight your entire family. Woodstock Playhouse. 103 Mill Hill Road, Woodstock. 845-679-6900. woodstockplayhouse.org. December 5 and December 6. 7:30pm. December 7. 2pm.
15th Annual Catskill Fiber Celebration at the Woodstock Firehouse. This celebration of local artisans will offer juried sale of fiber art and fiber technique demonstrations. Free admission. Woodstock Firehouse. 443 Zena Road, Woodstock. 845-246-2203. December 5. 3–7pm. December 6. 10am–6pm. December 7. 10am–5pm.
by Anne Pyburn Craig
It’s the age of digital natives, and the US Post Office is busily coming up with ideas that can help direct-mail marketing stay relevant. A new report from the Office of the Inspector General highlights 10 techy tactics, ranging from 3D mailers and scannable QR codes that lead users to websites via mobile devices, to mailers with built in USB drives and functional screens. All these ideas are aimed at enticing mass-mailers to step up their snail mail game. For individuals, they’ve developed an app that lets you buy holiday stamps and schedule package deliveries from your smart phone or tablet.
Meanwhile, when was the last time you wrote a letter? A personally addressed envelope containing handwritten, or even typed, words has an anachronistic, old-world charm about it these days. After all, with email we can all do the kinds of things that the mail-marketers are being sold on—embed photos and videos, or link recipients to more information. But when you really need to move a piece of paper or a physical object from Point A to Point B inexpensively and reliably, who ya gonna call? That’s right.
In an era of pervasive electronic communication and the creeping privatization of everything, the postal service is under intense pressure to keep up. Few people know, however, that this still-vital-when-you-need-it service would be solvent if it were not for a law passed in 2006 that requires the postal service, unlike any other government sector, to pre-fund employee health benefits 75 years into the future at a cost of $5.5 billion a year.
The USPS is the nation’s largest employer after Walmart, meaning it is the largest employer that pays a living wage and benefits that actually make it possible to maintain a home, a car, and a family for some 600,000 people. And when you need what they offer, nothing else comes close. On November 14, postal workers in the mid-Hudson area pulled off a protest-on-wheels action at a dozen local offices, including the Newburgh mail processing plant that is currently on the list for closure—a move that employees contend will eliminate the possibility of next-day service for local mail.
How’d We Get Here?
You’ve probably heard the famous quote that’s inscribed on New York City’s James Farley Post Office. “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” Most of us grew up thinking of it as the mail carrier’s motto. But did you know that it is actually a quote from the ancient Greek Herodotus? Herodotus was admiring not the Grecian postal system, but the one that existed in Persia in around 500 BCE. Egyptian Pharaohs had the first courier system some 2,000 years before that. It’s always been important for the powers-that-be to be able to move information around.
To that end, a lot of creative means have been employed. Besides couriers on horseback, Persians used carrier pigeons starting in around 1150 BCE, as did the Mongols. Genghis Kahn used carrier pigeons to keep the home folks informed of the progress of his conquest, and the original founder of Reuters, Paul Reuter, used them to get stock prices from one European telegraph outpost to the next in 1860. Pigeons brought the news of Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo to England.
Pigeons, brilliant as they are, can’t carry much and at best can only take mail back and forth between set points. In areas inhospitable to horses, early mail delivery has been accomplished by camel (Australia) and by reindeer and dogsled (Alaska, as you might expect.) There is a native village deep in the Grand Canyon that still receives mail by mule train.
Mail service to most of the world, however, was accomplished throughout most of history by horses in the service of kings and emperors, or by boat where necessary. From the 15th century through the mid-17th, postal service was strictly for royals and their ilk. Louis XI established a Royal Postal Service for the French crown in 1477; Henry VIII appointed the first British “Master of Posts” in 1516, but it would be over 100 years before it became legal for these services to carry private mail. Competition was also illegal.
The postal system was, like a lot of things, different in North America. Many private individuals had an entire ocean between themselves and their loved ones and business connections. In most colonies, mail began with each household dispatching a member to the harbor when a ship came in, to go on-board and see if there might be a letter. In Boston, one man—Richard Fairbanks—was appointed to receive all mail at his home and get it either aboard ship or to its colonial destination. Fairbanks was paid one cent per letter, and was held personally responsible for any screw-ups.
Aside from Fairbanks and his probably numerous headaches, mail service evolved organically rather than systematically for a century or so. Letters that went unclaimed aboard ship were brought to the designated portside tavern, where individuals would come and scoop up their own letters and those for people in their immediate neighborhoods. To get a letter out into the countryside with any reliability, you had to hire your own horse and rider.
A loose system evolved, under which the Crown appointed part-time postmasters—innkeepers, storekeepers, clergymen. But the Brits and their agents had seen the necessity of connecting major cities. The Albany Post Road, connecting the upstate urban center to New York City, was built on former native trails starting in 1669. Most is now Route 9.
In 1737, Benjamin Franklin began reforming the postal service as postmaster of Philadelphia, becoming postmaster of all British colonies by 1753. Franklin established the Dead Letter Office and arranged for faster ships to bear overseas mail. He was fired by the Crown in 1774 for being one of those damn radical types, and promptly rehired to run the newborn Constitutional Post in 1775.
Steam and internal combustion engines revolutionized the delivery of mail, although there were some complaints. A New York Times story in 1884 describes West Shore rail-based mail service as slow and understaffed, and suggests that the horses and carriages or riders had done a far better job. The physical restrictions of railroad tracks meant only one delivery and one pickup a day.
In the city, congested traffic gave rise to one of the more creative interludes in mail service history. For the first half of the 20th century, mail traveled around Manhattan in a system of pneumatic tubes. At its peak, the pneumatic tubes whooshed through the underground at a speed of 60 miles-per-hour, each shipment carrying 500 letters. The operators of the mechanisms were called “rocketeers.”
Actual rocket mail has also been attempted, but has been a big fat fail, despite a much-heralded 1959 experiment in which “missile mail” was shot from Virginia to Florida from a Navy destroyer, arriving in 22 minutes. The Postmaster General at the time, one Arthur E. Summerfield, proclaimed that “before man reaches the moon, mail will be delivered within hours from New York to California, to Britain, to India or Australia by guided missiles. We stand on the threshold of rocket mail.”
Meanwhile in the Hudson Valley, post office consolidation was already a concern. “Hudson Valley business leaders were displeased today because of the experimental reduction of the postmarks of Tarrytown, Irvington, Dobbs Ferry and Ardsley-On-Hudson. Instead, this mail is being postmarked Yonkers,” reported the New York Times.
The Postal Present
The US Postal Service has long been a study in contrasts. Postal workers became labor heroes when their successful wildcat strike in 1970 resulted in unionization, leading to the aforementioned reasonably good jobs. Simultaneously, the phrase “gone postal” rose into common usage as a euphemism for being driven to the point of violence by one’s maddening workplace. Saturday delivery was threatened in early 2014 and rescued by Congress, but Sunday package delivery—in collaboration with shipping giants like Amazon—has begun this holiday season.
A recent poll showed that of all Federal bureaucracies, the postal service is most loved, with over 70 percent of respondents saying it does a “good or excellent” job, and yet it’s constantly under threat. Besides the Newburgh processing plant, 81 others are on the chopping block. The USPS has recently begun contracting with private companies—most notably Staples—to outsource some “official” counter and retail functions. This means that the work of unionized, sworn professionals is replaced with $9-an-hour counter help, raising some security issues. At Staples, your mail is tossed into unlocked bins and not considered “actual” US mail, with all the regulations and protections that entails, till the Post Office collects it.
If privatization continues, the mail may soon look very different. And no private company is likely to do endeavor anything similar—even UPS and Fed-Ex rely on the USPS to get packages those crucial last few miles to your doorstep.
Postal workers see a ray of hope in the resignation of Patrick Donahoe, who will be replaced in early 2015 by the nation’s first female Postmaster General, Megan Brennan.
To learn more about postal workers’ concerns, check in with the local at midhudsonarealocal.org.