Biscuits Off the Beaten Path

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A menu from the centennial celebration of The Baltimore Steam Packet Company on May 23, 1940. Collection Number: Ms0015—01365

Easy to Overlook

Well, well, well. I’ve definitely done it this time. You’ll hear from museum professionals over and over about the idea of falling down the proverbial rabbit hole. Something captures our attention, and away we go, sometimes spending hours upon hours digging into the topic du jour. It can be anything that causes this condition. It might be a shipwreck, a painting, a moment in time, an exciting person, etc. Sometimes it’s a side dish on a menu. Yeah, you read that right. Come to think of it, though, a side dish might even be too grand a description.

I recently had cause to photograph some of our ephemera (a fancy word for printed memorabilia) from The Baltimore Steam Packet Company. You may be more familiar with their moniker “Old Bay Line.” One of the items I digitized was the menu for the Baltimore Steam Packet Company’s centennial celebration dinner on May 23, 1940. From the menu, it’s safe to assume that it was a grand affair featuring such sophisticated dishes as seafood cocktail, terrapin a la Chesapeake, golden roast pheasant, Maryland Beaten Biscuits, Cen–   Read more

WAVES Trailblazers: Lt. j.g. Harriet Ida Pickens and Ensign Frances Wills, the first African-American WAVES officers

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Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Harriet Ida Pickens (left) and Ensign Frances Wills photographed after graduation from the Naval Reserve Midshipmen’s School (WR) at Northampton, Massachusetts, in December 1944. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

With this blog post, I’ll be taking us back, once again, to World War II. You may already be familiar with the WAVES, or Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, which functioned as the women’s reserve branch of the Navy during WWII. While we did have a previous blog post on the WAVES and what some of their members did when serving at the Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation (HRPE), with this blog I’d like to delve a little deeper, and talk about two specific WAVES: Lt j.g. Harriet Ida Pickens and Ensign Frances Wills, the first African American women to join the WAVES, and the first African American officers in the WAVES. 

We often think of WWII as being a general call to arms, an “all hands on deck” time in our history. Despite this sentiment and the genuine need for troops,  the military often barred or refused to enlist African Americans. While the Women’s Army Corps (or the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps until 1943) and Army Nurse Corps allowed African American to enlist in 1942, they were both segregated institutions. The Navy’s WAVES, the Coast Guard’s SPARS, and Navy Nurse Corps did not integrate for several more years. Despite the racist policies and practices put in place by the military, many African Americans (and BIPOC) continued to fight against these bigoted policies and attempted to enlist.    Read more

Beyond the Frame: Will They or Won’t They?

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“Rescue of the Crew of the USS Monitor by USS Rhode Island, December 31, 1862” William Richardson Tyler, 1892. Oil on Canvas. 2018.0005.000001

The piercing moonlight emanates from the canvas like a siren song, calling you closer, pulling you in as you approach this piece. The wind whips around you, the clouds envelop you, the waves engulf you – there seems to be no escape – it’s too late.

The Power of Light

Personally, I’m a sucker for chiaroscuro – It’s that intense contrast of darkness and light that creates drama in a work of art. It’s what drew me to this piece in the first place. I fell in love with it the moment I saw it. I loved the darkness, the drama, the fact that – for a civil war painting, it wasn’t really “civil war-ish”. Looking at this work, “Rescue of the Crew of the USS Monitor by USS Rhode Island, December 31, 1862” by artist William Richardson Tyler is an experience best enjoyed over a few minutes, at least.    Read more