A memento, an emblem, a reminder

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Newport News Daily News, 7 May 1944.  The Mariners' Museum.
Newport News Daily News, 7 May 1944. The Mariners’ Museum.

An object is not always an object. Sometimes it can be a symbol or a reminder of lessons learned, sometimes it is a testament to recovery.

Some years ago, The Mariners’ Museum had the worst kind of archivist, lifting items from the collection and selling them on E-bay. To this day, no one is entirely certain what was lost. Records from before his tenure here were often incomplete and idiosyncratic, a fact he used and exploited to his advantage. The mess he left behind, both metaphorically and physically, is something we still deal with. No one is sure how he worked, or why some of these items were chosen and then left cluttering up his office. Were they things he had meant to sell and hadn’t yet gotten to, or was the massive pile of disorganized items meant to disguise the quantity that had gone missing?   Read more

Entertainments at Sea

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F-6396 -- Phonograph kit, detail.
F-6396 — Phonograph kit, detail.

What do you do when you’re on a weeks-long trip, wedged into the hold of a Liberty ship? The inevitable boredom was apparently enough of a concern that the US Army made up crates of amusements for soldiers embarking for overseas service. Some of them make perfect sense, like small, portable musical instruments, or a collection of books. One wonders, however, where is there enough space to have a baseball game without losing the ball? Here is a selection of some of the more interesting sets pictured, with descriptions in the captions.

Life on a Liberty

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HRPE L-6409

The vast bulk of the ships we encounter in the course of cataloging the HRPE photographs are Liberty ships. Not entirely surprising, really, as there were 2,710 completed between 1941 and 1945, making them a large portion of the Army and Merchant Marine fleets. Some of the Liberties were converted to transport ships, and the reception was not entirely favorable. While the holds of a Liberty were just fine for crates of supplies or racks of bombs, fitting them up with bunks resulted in conditions like this:

The inscription on the back says these photos were taken to show the “crowded conditions”. For officers, conditions were slightly better, with bunks only three men high, and actual mattresses on springs.   Read more

Putting the pieces together

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P0003/-02#B-5888, Samuel Livermore Stack.

When we started this project, we had photographs with minimal information, and no way to fill in the gaps. This left us with images like this one, whose inscription was only “Close view of stack with three swastikas”. They looked like tallies, and given that they lacked the plane painted over them that the Louisa May Alcott had, we could not even be certain they were from shooting down planes. That’s all we had, until the 8 x 10 inventory, which provided a new source of information.

Given the size differences between a 4 x 5 print and an 8 x 10, you expect more details on the larger prints, but we didn’t know to expect as much as we got — not just the name of the ship (Samuel Livermore) but the casualties (Three German JU-88s), the location (the Mediterranean) and the men who did the shooting — Ennis Quinn of Milledgeville, GA, William C. Watson of Detroit, Marshall Sells of Landis, NC, and Glenn Pringle of Oskaloosa, IA. That’s a pretty decent haul for one extra source!   Read more

The "white glove treatment", and a major prize.

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One box of 8 x 10s, with one folder open. Time separated the caption from the back of its print, and you can see how much more fits on a photo of this size than on a 4 x 5.
One box of 8 x 10s, with one folder open. Time separated the caption from the back of its print, and you can see how much more fits on a photo of this size than on a 4 x 5.

There’s been precious little cataloging this week, as we’ve been working on an inventory of the 8 x 10 prints in the HRPE collection. The 8 x 10s from HRPE have been in cold storage since the 90s, when the cold storage room was installed, and have barely been touched by anyone since then. They lived in folders in drawers until about two weeks ago, when we began moving the folders into boxes and the boxes into cool storage to begin thawing out before being moved over to the library for a complete inventory. Many of the 8 x 10s have more information on the backs than the 4 x 5s do, which will allow us to better describe the images as we catalog them, going forward.

These prints have, like the rest of the collection, never been cataloged or inventoried to any degree beyond sleeving them and putting them into numerical order, but the end of last week found us in boxes of unsleeved materials. These photos are getting the “white glove treatment”, as the oils in bare hands can stain the surface. Sleeves mean that white gloves won’t be necessary in future and also makes them easier to handle — while gloves protect the photos, glossy surfaces and cotton gloves are, predictably, slippery together. In the process, we are also removing stray paperclips, and inserting detached cations into the sleeves with their photos, preventing future damage. We are also supplying the library with enough paperclips to last the next decade.   Read more