Over The Rio
Waiting For Goddard
by Phil Lately
by John Troesser
mix of gunpowder and the US Postal System always guarantees a good story. Not
always a story with a happy ending, but a good story. The time was 1936.
Most of America was depressed. In fact so many people were depressed that the
1930s became known as "The Dust Bowl Days". After much research, our
staff was able to find that The Dust Bowl was somewhere in Kansas, but we still
don't know the names of any of the teams that played there. |
dusty on the Border too. Times were so bad that Texas Rangers, who
traditionally made their badges from Mexican silver pesos, instead had to make
their buttons from five-centavo pieces. Even Bonita y Clyde didn't include the
Valley in their area of operations, so those about to be foreclosed upon had to
take matters into their own hands and shoot their own bankers. We all know desperate
times call for desperate schemes. How else could one explain this Marx Brothers
script that launched letters to Mexico and back and even turned a profit.
Our story begins with an American Legion Post in Mc
Allen, Texas that wanted their mortgage paid off in time for the dedication
ceremonies that were scheduled for July 2nd 1936. It seems that the Post
Commander's son had two hobbies: rocketry and stamp collecting. Rocket mail
had been tried in Europe, but you can understand France's reluctance to have
anything remotely explosive come across it's border from Germany.
proximity of Mexico would add the word INTERNATIONAL to the already impressive
name ROCKET MAIL. So the son convinced his father that "First Day Covers"
could be sold to the stamp collecting community (a small town ten miles west of
Mc Allen) for a dollar each.
boy made up his own triangular Rocket Mail stamps that he sold for .50
each. In addition, each cover had to have a 16 cent US Special Delivery stamp
and for those making the return from Mexico, a 40 centavo Aero Correo stamp. Add
a few postmarks and there was no room for an address. |
Even today, a
letter from Reynosa can take three days to reach it's destination in McAllen,
although the distance between the post offices is a mere 10 miles. The Rocket
Mail would claim that at least some of your letter would arrive in about 10 seconds.
Postal authorities on both sides were reluctant at first, but it was
the depression and everyone decided they could use a good laugh. The seven foot
laminated cardboard rocket tubes were built and schoolchildren emptied out 600,000
Black Cat firecrackers to fuel the fiasco (Spanish for Fiesta). On the chosen
day, dignitaries were on both sides of the International Bridge in Hidalgo
praying that Mexico City and Washington hadn't heard about what was about to happen.
The trajectory (rocket language) was set for 1000 feet.
The Mayor of
Mc Allen lit the fuse and the First International Rocket Mail in the Western
Hemisphere roared up the launching skid and exploded 10 feet into the air, turning
covers and stamps into so much scorched confetti (Spanish for burned mail). Much
of this first batch was rescued by Mexican schoolchildren who took this to be
some sort of Postal Piñata. After everyone and most of the letters were recovered,
a second rocket was launched that spiraled into downtown Reynosa,
sideswiped a Model T and slid up against the curb at the American Bar where it's
smoldering remains were doused with the cheaper brands of Tequila. The Mexican
authorities that were miffed because they couldn't attend the ceremonies on the
bridge confiscated the 150 covers in this rocket. This was turning into more entertainment
than anyone had imagined and an international incident or war seemed only a rocket
Launch and then Lunch: |
Now it was time for Mexico's turn. Since a Mayor is a terrible thing
to waste, the now exceptionally long fuse was lit by Reynosa's village idiot (this
was 1936 and such things were said. Today he would be an urban savant). This one
surpassed all expectations and traveled about one mile into Texas. Everyone broke
for lunch while others tried to find this one. A total of six rockets were
launched that day in varying degrees of inaccuracy. Smart bombs these weren't.
Approx. 1100 covers were sent into Mexico, approx. 900 returned. All were
sold and the Loyal Service Post 37 was solvent.
Remember the confiscated
covers? They were returned a few years later and placed in a safe deposit box
in Mc Allen. Time passed and some alert banking person noticed that the rent hadn't
been paid for twenty years. The remaining covers were put on the market for the
now inflated price of Five Dollars. This time there was more interest and even
the Smithsonian Institution and the US Postal Museum both bought samples. A display
including photographs of the launches can be seen at the McAllen Museum.
This proves the old proverb: "You don't need to be a rocket scientist
to mail a letter."
The Thirties in Texas
"The article by Phil Lately is great!! I would like permission to use in
advertising some books we have on the rocket mail project. Although I wasn't even
born when this took place, we have a American Legion Post 37 member who was..."
D Lipscomb, American Legion Auxiliary Unit 37 President and Post 37 Community
Relations, June 22, 1999