You know that feeling when you’ve been offline for an unusual amount of time and your mind starts drifting to your Facebook and various neglected inboxes? Do you wake up, yawn, stretch your arms, and then check every social media account on your smart phone in bed? Human attraction to connectivity is universal, but it’s arguable that our predecessors were just as fanatical about physical mail as we are about our digital inboxes.
The photograph to your left shows Seaside residents in 1909 hovering around the Streibig Pharmacy on Broadway and queuing up to wait for the daily mail delivery (and yes, this was before the streets were paved). Before the official US Post Office came to town, Streibig’s was the go-to place for all your communication needs. The mail line was a place to mingle and gossip with your fellow citizens, where you could discuss the lumber trade or listen to bad jokes told by the local wisenheimer. But make no mistake, this wasn’t just a social call. In 1909, people waiting in line for the mail pretty much had one thing dominating their thoughts, which was of course, the mail. The curiosity, the concern, the financial and emotional investment in the daily post was a commanding hallmark of the pre-digital age. Before wide spread telephone use and high speed travel, a letter delivered to your small coastal town represented all the possibilities of love, heartbreak, fortune, and fear that the great wide world could drop on your doorstep.
Seen in this light, the poignancy of snail mail seems to dwarf some of our current online obsessions. Have you ever sat in front of your email account and hit refresh over and over, waiting for that long-awaited response from a loved one? I’ll bet this modern apprehensive feeling is directly descended from the agony and ecstasy of waiting for snail mail.
Editors Note: The old Streibig Pharmacy is no longer in business, but you can still spot the building in Seaside’s historic Gilbert District.