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New Kensington post office seal's origin remains a mystery

Emily Balser
| Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014, 1:16 a.m.
The eagle seal on the New Kensington Post Office along Eleventh Street in New Kensington on Wednesday, July 30, 2014.
Jason Bridge | Trib Total Media
The eagle seal on the New Kensington Post Office along Eleventh Street in New Kensington on Wednesday, July 30, 2014.
A patron enters the New Kensington Post Office along Eleventh Street in New Kensington under a seal depicting an eagle on Wednesday, July 30, 2014.
Jason Bridge | Trib Total Media
A patron enters the New Kensington Post Office along Eleventh Street in New Kensington under a seal depicting an eagle on Wednesday, July 30, 2014.

If you've ever wondered exactly what the eagle depiction on the front of the New Kensington post office represents, you aren't alone.

It seems, though, there may not be an easy answer.

The post office at 501 11th St. has a depiction of an eagle with three arrows in each talon, which doesn't match any other seal or emblem for the United States or the Postal Service.

Some have wondered whether it's an incorrect depiction of the Great Seal of the United States, in which an eagle holds 13 arrows in one talon and an olive branch in the other. Some believe it's an Art Deco piece — a form of art often known for its rich colors and geometric patterns.

It first came to the attention of former Postmaster Rich Rome in the early 1990s. He served as postmaster in New Kensington from 1988 to 1991.

“A customer came and knocked on my door there in the lobby and said, ‘I'd like to point out something to you,' ” Rome said.

What he pointed out was that he thought the post office was showing an incorrect depiction of the Great Seal of the United States.

While he noted the similarities, Rome never looked any further into it and eventually moved up the postal ranks and out of the area. He still visits New Kensington once a year and recently noticed that the eagle remains the same.

“I've never seen another one,” he said. “I think it's a unique story.”

The post office was built in 1932. Blueprints for the building list Nicholas Co. as the contractor, ARL Hogner as the architect and Basil J. Scott as the engineer. Neither the blueprints nor the contract for the building provide an explanation for the eagle.

Current Postmaster David Sharick said he's not sure where the eagle depiction came from or why it's there. He said he's never had anybody ask about it, either. There's only one thing he knows for sure about it.

“It's definitely aluminum,” he said.

Several parts of the building are made from aluminum, a booming industry in New Kensington in the 1930s, Rome said.

Tad Kelley, spokesman with the Postal Service, said it might just be part of the post office's history.

“I've not seen this seal before,” Kelley said.

Kelley said it could be a decoration done at the discretion of the contractor and architect, who were local.

“Somebody could have put their own touches (on the design),” he said.

David Walton, another spokesman with the Postal Service, agrees.

“This appears to be an Art Deco rendering of the Great Seal of the United States,” he said. “While today, most people are familiar with the contemporary rendition of the seal, the seal itself has changed many times since it was first conceived, reflecting the artistic sensibilities of the times.”

Texas-based historian David Appleton, who studies and speaks on matters related to official seals and coats of arms, said the contractor could have been hired through the Works Progress Administration. This was a government agency established during the Great Depression to put people to work on federal projects. He said some of those workers were hired to make public art.

Appleton has seen a similar eagle depiction on a post office in North Carolina, also built in the early 1930s.

“I suspect, without knowing for certain, that it was just a matter of the artists of that time putting their own ‘stamp' on the depiction of the national arms and the eagle,” he said. “They were able to create pieces of art — in this case of the arms of the United States — and follow their own artistic viewpoint, without having to strictly follow any kind of a standardized pattern for it.”

Appleton said the Art Deco pieces were made during the Great Depression to serve as a work of public art and have become recognized as signs of the times.

Kelley said the eagle has become part of the post office's history and he hopes the public will appreciate it for the work of art that it is and the history is shows.

Sharick said, aside from renovations in the 1960s, the post office has remained true to its original form, something he said is important to preserve.

“The structure, more or less, throughout the building is maintained,” he said. “It's a beautiful building. The architecture is very impressive.”

Emily Balser is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-7710 or ebalser@tribweb.com.

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