spreads joy during holiday season
enjoys the busy days each December
Helen E. McKinney
BETHLEHEM, Ky. (December 2008) While you may
not find a star in the East hovering above Bethlehem, Ky.,
you will find that the post office has hand-stamped letters since 1947
depicting this familiar scene of Wise Men seeking the Messiah.
Many view Christmas as a season of making memories to last a lifetime
so, Whats more meaningful than visiting Bethlehem
at this wonderful time of the year, and sending everyone on your mailing
list a keepsake to let them know you were thinking of them? asked
Bethlehem Postmaster Susan E. Leopold.
by Helen E. McKinney
Postmaster Susan Leopold
says mail comes from around the
world for the special holiday stamp.
In this tiny town, Leopold says taking in 100 pieces of
mail a day is a good day at any other time of year. In contrast,
the post office handles between 5,000 to 7,000 on the busiest days in
Its very rewarding that my customers look to me to put the
finishing touches on the cards they are sending their friends and family,
The fame of the Bethlehem Post Office during the holiday season can
be credited to Anna Laura Peyton, who became Postmistress in 1935. When
she realized customers where coming from out of town to get the Bethlehem
postmark, she devised an idea to add a red cachet of the Three Wise
Men following the star to Bethlehem to accompany the postmark.
The idea had immediate appeal. Peyton never charged for the service,
asking only that customers purchase their stamps at the Post Office
in exchange for her services, said Leopold.
So many people plan events to celebrate Christmas, and in one
day their event and their guests come and go, Leopold said. For
me, its more like a month of celebrations.
People travel from all over the United States to visit Bethlehem. For
those who cant physically make the trip, they send their cards
and postage payment to the postmaster to take care of their holiday
mail. Collectors also frequently request the postmark and cachet.
It is not uncommon, said Leopold, to see cards and
requests come from all over the states and even other countries Italy,
France, Germany and Canada seem to have many collectors.
Sheila Downey, who was the Bethlehem postmaster from 2001 to 2005, said
a large portion of cards came from France. They could have gotten
the Bethlehem, Pennsylvania postmark, she said, but the Kentucky
postmark is special because of the combination stamp and postmark.
An open house will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Dec.
6 at the post office, 3946 Bethlehem Rd., Bethlehem, Ky. Customers
can enjoy refreshments as they watch employees stamp their holiday
mail. For information, call (502) 845-0207.
More holiday business is from out-of-county than
in county, said Downey. Meeting a variety of different people
is what Downey, now postmaster at the Pleasureville Post Office, said
she liked best about the holiday season. So many people came in.
I didnt know what to expect.
Peyton had no idea how popular her idea would become. The current post
office is in the house that was once Peytons home. Her front parlor
housed the post office business.
At that time, everything was located in a home, said Zelma
Winchester, Peytons daughter. A retired fifth-grade teacher, Winchester
worked part time at the post office as a substitute clerk for 36 years.
Winchester now leases the building to the government to use as a post
office. People came from everywhere, she said. They
wanted to make it a trip.
One couple from Cincinnati would come every year to have their cards
There was also a man from Paris, Ky who came faithfully every year to
have his mail stamped, recalled Winchester. Another regular was a wealthy
gentleman from nearby Shelbyville who even sent a piece of mail to the
Queen of England with the Bethlehem postmark.
Mother corresponded with lots of countries, said Winchester.
She said the family even worked at night to get all of the holiday mail
When Peyton retired her son, Cecil, a clerk at the post office, became
postmaster. His sister, Zelma, then took over his position. Together
they continued the tradition their mother had started, said Leopold.
The Peyton family served the Bethlehem Post Office and community
for a total of 66 years.
Leopold became Bethlehems 31st postmaster in 2005, having worked
at the post office since 2001. She added the phrase from Bethlehem
since 1947 to the bottom of the cachet so its creation could always
be traced back to the Peyton family.
Downey said that even after he had retired, Cecil would come back to
the post office to demonstrate to the employees how to stamp the mail
correctly. He would take the time to do every one he stamped just
right, said Downey.
There was speculation at one time that the tiny post office might close.
The people of the community worked hard to keep it open, said Winchester.
State Rep. Tom Riner always supported us, she said.
This office is based on stamp sales. Our revenue keeps it going.
For that reason, she encourages people to bring their Christmas cards
and letters to Bethlehem to be mailed.
Normally, there is only one person working in the Post Office during
the week, with two people scheduled a day during December. Leopold recalled
times when she had to borrow employees from neighboring Post Offices
to help with the huge volume of holiday mail.
Each Christmas season brings with it special memories, and for Leopold,
the 2003 season was no exception. We were visited by a real live
couple named Mary and Joseph who made the trip to Bethlehem for the
postmark, she said. They traveled from Tennessee the day after
Thanksgiving to get their mail postmarked.
There are many repeat customers who visit the Bethlehem Post Office
each year. The thing Leopold likes best about the holiday season is
that in Bethlehem you can escape the craziness of the holiday.
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