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CIHS commemorates history behind mailbox

By Staff | Apr 4, 2019

PHOTO PROVIDED Captiva Island Historical Society members Ginny Reiss, Mike Boris, Jewel Jensen, Queenie Viglione, Cindy Sargent and Tom Libonate present a commemorative plaque to Postmaster Carol Marlet, left.

A reflection of the island’s colorful personality, the old Post Office box is now part of its history.

On March 22, the Captiva Island Historical Society paid tribute to the unique mailbox by marking it with an official historical plaque. The box had served islanders and visitors for nearly two decades.

“It is part of our history and it was a very special item,” President Tom Libonate said.

He raised the idea of commemorating the box at the CIHS’ recent board meeting.

“We elected to pay tribute to it and put one of our plaques with it,” he said.

PHOTO PROVIDED Captiva’s iconic mailbox in its new home as a piece of installation art.

In 1999 – during one of his many stays on the island – artist Lauri Kaihlanen, from Rockport, Massachusetts, was asked to decorate the mailbox. It was a piece of art that captured the tropical beauty of the island. Some said it was the only one in the U.S. postal system with a distinct personality.

Libonate explained that that all changed around October. The U.S. Postal Service required the island branch to take the iconic mailbox out of service and replace it with the regulation blue mailbox.

“It was swapped out,” he said.

Libonate and fellow islander Ron Gibson – a friend of Kaihlanen – along with Postmaster Carol Marlet felt there needed to be a way to preserve the mailbox and find a new location to display it as a piece of living art and a testimonial to Captiva’s colorful history. So, it was stored away for a time.

Kaihlanen was already planning a trip to the island in November to decorate the Captiva Memorial Library’s new book drop with his art, so they asked if he could also touch up the mailbox and make the original design look like new. Kaihlanen agreed and an outdoor studio was set up at Gibson’s home.

PHOTO PROVIDED Artist Lauri Kaihlanen, right, who originally designed the Captiva mailbox in 1999, with long-time Captiva resident and friend Ron Gibson.

“He probably put two or three days’ work into it,” Libonate said.

He noted that Kaihlanen has freshened it up with new paint several times over the years.

Once the paint was dry, the mail deposit areas on box were sealed so it would not mistakenly be used as a working mailbox. Marlet had the idea to use it as an art installation in the garden at the post office.

“It was Carol’s idea to use it in the garden,” Libonate said.

With a designated place for it, the mailbox was loaded back on a golf cart and taken home. A small reception was held in December when it was installed. Additional landscaping around it may be next.

LISA RIORDAN The Captiva Memorial Library book drop painted by artist Lauri Kaihlanen, right.

“Eventually it will look like something that belongs in the garden,” he said.

Libonate explained that while he initially got involved with the project of helping to find a way to preserve the mailbox as a citizen, he knew after it was set up that it deserved a little more recognition.

“After it was installed, I suggested to our board that we pay tribute to it,” Libonate said.

He cited its uniqueness as one driving factor.

“It has been a part of our history, albeit recent history, but it’s part of the island’s character,” Libonate said. “We wanted to make sure it was preserved and recognized – it is just really really special.”

He added that the grassroots effort has been well-received by the public.

“It’s been overwhelming,” Libonate said, explaining that the commemorative plaque lists the years 1999-2018 with the artist being Kaihlanen. “We’ve heard nothing but praise about what a great idea.”

“All the parts just seem to have fallen into place,” he added.

For more information about the CIHS, visit www.captivaislandhistoricalsociety.org.

The Captiva Post Office is at 14812 Captiva Drive.