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Franklin Post Office Stamped for History

It is the only post office in the nation that does not fly an American flag, the only one that does not have a ZIP code.

The B. Free Franklin Post Office also is the only one named after a signature and with clerks who wear Colonial-style clothing. No ballpoint pens are allowed. Use a quill in an inkwell.

Philatelists from around the globe come to Philadelphia to have envelopes hand-canceled with the B. Free Franklin postmark.

“In Benjamin Franklin’s day there were no stamps,” clerk Susan Livesay explained. “People wrote their names in the top corners of envelopes. Those receiving mail--not the senders--paid the postage.” Franklin signed his envelopes B. Free Franklin as a protest against British rule.

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The namesake facility occupies a three-story row house in the heart of Philadelphia that was owned by Franklin, the city’s postmaster from 1737 to 1753. Franklin next became deputy postmaster in charge of the Northern colonies and later, in 1775, was named the first American postmaster general.

The post office, founded in 1975, commemorates Franklin’s enormous contribution to the postal service during the Colonial years before America became a nation. For this reason, it does not fly the flag and the clerks wear period costumes.

No carriers distribute letters and packages from this facility, nor are registered or certified mail sent from here. Indeed, there is more than enough work for the four clerks--longtime postal employees Livesay, 38; Leroy Hammond, 40; Terry Jones, 40, and Linda Henderson, 36--as they hand-cancel stacks of letters brought in or mailed here by stamp collectors and others.

“It’s a great honor to work here,” manager Steve Garramone, 35, said. “B. Free Franklin is a one of a kind.”

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Because of its unique status, B. Free Franklin is filled with postal artifacts. On display are 16 hand-carved, two-foot-high wooden figures dressed in postal uniforms of the past two centuries. The mailman of 1775, for example, is shown carrying a gun. At other times mail carriers wore police-style helmets and “Smokey Bear” hats. One figure represents the nation’s first female carriers, hired in 1917 to replace men who had entered the military service during World War I.

In other exhibits, photos show mail being delivered by dog sled, by Pony Express and in horse-drawn mail trucks.

Hammond, wearing his red-and-white Colonial costume and a tricornered hat, opened a visitor’s book filled with signatures of postmasters from every state and several foreign countries.

“We get an awful lot of postmasters coming through here,” Hammond said. “They all know about it and want to see it because it’s so different from any other post office.”

Indeed, B. Free Franklin is so different that clerks say most people who walk in off the street ask: “Is this post office for real, or is a movie or television show being filmed here?”


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