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MIDDLETOWN — Richard Keithan grew up very close to where the majestic and iconic Arrigoni Bridge towers over Route 9 and the surrounding community.
His grandfather owned a four-family house on Portland Street in Middletown, where Keithan was born. “It’s been part of our family history for years,” he said.
He and his wife, Jackie, who live in Cromwell, stopped by the Middletown post office Friday to see the unveiling of the new USPS stamp that depicts the 85-year-old, 1,200-foot-long bridge that spans the Connecticut River between Middletown and Portland.
It is named for the late legislator Charles J. Arrigoni, who served in the state House of Representatives from 1933-36 and state Senate from 1937-40.
“I think it’s beautiful,” Jackie Keithan said.
The U.S. postal service stamp is part of a four-stamp series that includes Nebraska (Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge), Oklahoma (Skydance Bridge, also known as the Scissortail Bridge), and Iowa/Illinois (Iowa-Illinois Memorial Bridge).
A total of 620,100,000 stamps were printed.
The pale green-blue structure spans the Connecticut River between Portland and Middletown. Known locally as the Portland bridge, its two distinctive, 600-foot steel arches have the longest span length of any bridge in the state, according to the state Department of Transportation.
East Hampton Memorial School teacher and amateur wildlife photographer Joe Gowac, who did not attend the event, said earlier this year that he had forgotten about the agency selecting his image in 2020.
“I never imagined a photo of mine would become so popular and celebrated,” Gowac said later Friday. “I’m really proud of the fact that it brought so much joy to the Portland / Middletown area.”
The picture was taken in 2019 and posted on his Instagram account. A year later, a USPS representative commented on the post, wanting to get in touch with him — and the rest is, well, history.
USPS spokesperson Amy Gibbs conducted the unveiling of the posterboard-size stamp at the 11 Silver St. post office, and explained a little bit about the federal agency’s 240-year-history. She described postal stamps as “miniature works of art designated to reflect the American experience."
The Arrigoni, which cost $3.5 million to build at the time, was the most expensive bridge ever built in Connecticut, Gibbs said. “It proved its worth, opening up lines of traffic and trade," she said."In 2023, it’s among more than 4,000 bridges that connect our communities together.”
Ever since the announcement was made in April, Middletown Postmaster David Saraceno has been getting a lot of calls. “It’s pretty incredible,” he said of how local history is being highlighted.
Many people have been telling him stories about their experiences, he said, including one person whose grandfather worked on the structure. They want the collector's item to add to their family mementos, he added.
Saraceno grew up in Middletown near the Portland Bridge. “Having that stamp now in the office on a big poster is really cool," he said.
While the postmaster isn’t a collector, he said that, for others, stamps offer a sense of nostalgia, and “carry on the legacy of the stamp for future generations.”
“The buzz around this particular bridge stamp has been more than a normal stamp,” Gibbs said. “A town really connects to their bridge. … They see it every day. Maybe there’s a personal connection.”
Anyone can pitch a stamp idea to the USPS stamp committee, which includes individuals from throughout the industry, Gibbs said, including graphic designers.
While the Keithans aren’t collectors, they brought along a large stamp commemorating the Mt. Rushmore National Memorial golden anniversary in July 1991. It was postmarked the day they were there, Richard Keithan said.
The couple, who traveled to Keystone, S.D., 32 years ago for the event, said they were unable to get into the memorial on the day it was unveiled, because the public couldn’t enter the facility while President George Bush was there.
The bridge series is available in $0.25 pre-sorted first-class mail coils intended only by commercial bulk mailers. They are available to businesses in coils of 3,000 for $750 each, and 10,000 at $2,500 per coil. A permit is required to use the stamp.
Individuals can purchase strips of 25 stamps at the Portland post office, 320 Main St., and Middletown post office for $6.25 per strip. However, these are not intended for consumer use, only for collecting, Gibbs said.
For more information, call 816-545-1110 or visit bit.ly/3wGmqfx.