We Used to be Able to Send Children in the Mail

Location: 1913, rural Ohio.
Him: A humble mail carrier by the name of Vernon O. Lytle, age 43.
Them: Some totally unreasonable new parents by the name of Jesse and Mathilda Beagle.

Scene:

Lytle: Well, good morning, perfectly normal-seeming couple. Here! Have some mail I am delivering to you because the Parcel Post service has literally just been invented, and I am a postal pioneer.

Beagles: Why thank you very much, kind postman. While you're here, would you mind taking a parcel for us?

Lytle: Why, of course! For that is my job!

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Beagles: Here is the parcel we just told you about.

Lytle: This is a baby.

Beagles: Yes, his name is James, and we have wrapped him up appropriately and put the required 15 cent postage on him.

Lytle: But this is a baby.

Beagles: Yes, but he is 10 and three-quarter pounds, which is within the current 11 pound weight limit.

Lytle: Aren't you worried about leaving an 8-month-old child with a complete stranger?

Beagles: Yes, but we've insured him for $50, which totally seems like enough. Byeeeeee!

Mr. Lytle, being the dedicated postal carrier that he was, and probably seeing no other option, took the Beagles' infant, plopped him into a mail bag (probably), and delivered him safely to the boy's grandmother, Lois, about a mile away. (One has to assume that the Beagles were either monumentally lazy, or just really, really hated hanging out with Lois.)

According to a news report from the time, Lytle was "the first man to accept and deliver under parcel post conditions a live baby" -- but, remarkably, he wasn't the last.

Charlotte May Pierstorff

The most famous case of a child getting posted (thanks to a 1997 children's book named Mailing May) was when 4-year-old Charlotte May Pierstorff was sent to her grandmother in Lewiston, Idaho, 73 miles away from her cheap-ass parents in Grangeville, who didn't want to fork out for an actual train ticket. Charlotte cost 53 cents to post, and traveled the entire journey in a train's mail compartment, which doesn't sound at all traumatizing!

Think that's bad? In 1914, a two-year-old boy (TWO!) was mailed over 200 miles by his grandmother in Stratford, Oklahoma, to his aunt in Wellington, Kansas. (Where, oh where, were this kid's parents?) He wore the 18 cent postage around his neck and was transported by a number of insanely patient mail carriers.

By 1915, postal service workers had very wisely started refusing to carry kids, though one -- an absolute trooper by the name of J. T. Sebastian -- found himself with no other choice. Sebastian reported to the postmaster of Jackson, Kentucky, that he had been forced to deliver a 30 pound three-year-old named Maude Smith for 30 miles, from Caney. “I doubt the legality of the sending,” Sebastian wrote, “but it was put on train and I must deliver and report.”

One newspaper reported that: “The child was seated on a pack of mail sacks between the mail carriers’s knees and was busily eating away at some candy it carried in a bag. In the other hand it carried a big red apple… The child wore a pink dress to which was sewed a shipping tag." Despite Sebastian's reluctance to carry the person-parcel, neither the sender, R. K. Madden, nor receiver, Celina Smith, got in any trouble.

Official restrictions on "baby mail" were announced in 1914, and enforced in 1915, but apparently enough people continued to try and post their offspring that, in June 1920, First Assistant Postmaster General Koons felt the need to announce that “children clearly did not come within the classification of harmless live animals which do not require food or water while in transit.”

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