Biscuits Off the Beaten Path

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

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?

“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

Remembering their Sacrifice: The 77th Anniversary of D-Day

Panorama of Omaha Beach, “Charlie” and “Dog Green” sectors, 2016
Photographic interpretation by Lyles Forbes/The Mariners’ Museum and Park

We arrived at the beach early in the morning when the tide was out. A long way out. A warm breeze was coming in as we walked out to the water’s edge. “Don’t look back until you get out to the water.” When we got out there, and turned around . . .

. . . and stared at the bluffs overlooking Plage de Colleville-sur-Mer.  On this day 77 years ago,  the scene on Omaha Beach was far different from the quiet, sunny morning we experienced while there. It was, however, a powerful moment to try and imagine the landings made by the American V Corps.   Read more

Ben Butler and the Contrabands

Fort Monroe, Old Point Comfort, Virginia, ca. 1862. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

When Union general Benjamin Franklin Butler arrived at Fort Monroe, Virginia, he immediately sought to show the Virginians that his troops could go anywhere they wished on the Peninsula. On May 23, 1861, Butler sent Colonel J. Wolcock Phelps into Hampton. The Union troops marched into the town and then returned to the fort. In the ensuing confusion, three men enslaved by Colonel Charles King Mallory escaped. Frank Baker, James Townsend, and Shepard Mallory seeking their freedom, made their way onto Fort Monroe. Butler refused to return the runaways and called them ‘Contraband of War.’ Their decision helped transform the Civil War into a conflict between the states and a struggle for freedom.


Winfield Scott recognized Fort Monroe as key to his policy of bringing his native state of Virginia back into the Union. He believed that the enforcements he had already sent and the additional troops he intended to transfer to the Peninsula necessitated a change in command. Scott needed a high-ranking officer to command the growing number of troops on Old Point Comfort.  He wanted an aggressive leader who would actively contest Confederate positions threatening the Hampton Roads anchorage and secure the Peninsula as an avenue of approach against Richmond. Scott’s selection was somewhat of a surprise. Instead of detailing a veteran officer to this critical post, he chose the sharpster lawyer and slick politician turned militia officer, Major General Benjamin Franklin Butler.    Read more