Behind the Scenes on the SS United States with Albert Durant

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Waitstaff stands behind a SS United States model with plates and a clock on the back wall. Photograph by Albert Durant, The Mariners’ Museum, MS0536–034.

I don’t know about you, but I’m always up for a behind-the-scenes tour! It wasn’t so common in the 1950s to photograph the waitstaff and working areas of an ocean liner. This, combined with the African Americans pictured in a group of photographs I discovered in our Collection drew my attention.

Photographer Albert Durant approached the opportunity to be on board the SS United States during its trial run to focus on fellow people of color whose service made the passengers’ journey pleasurable.  I’ve since learned Durant was a trailblazer right here in our backyard.   Read more

A World War II Camp Hill Mystery…

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S/Sgt. John B. Dyer, Jr., 34327356, Rockwood, Tenn., 3164th QM Company, Camp Hill, congratulates Mrs. Anna B. Palmer, Newport News, Va., who was just named the mother of Camp Hill, HRPE, Newport News, Va. (Archive #P0003/01-#E-13990)

Dearest Mariners’ Blog Readers, I need your help with something. A short while ago, I was perusing our collection as I often do, in search of an interesting February lecture topic. Each month, I meet with the docents (at present, this is done virtually), and give a short presentation on an object in our collection. And for February, I was on the hunt for something relating to World War II and Black History – I was hoping we maybe had an object belonging to Francis Wills or Harriet Ida Pickens. Alas, I had no such luck. But what I did happen upon is actually far more intriguing and exciting.

The initial object that caught my eye was the above photo that has the catalog title Anna Palmer, mother of Camp Hill. I instantly had many questions: Who was Anna Palmer? What is a Camp mother? And what is this Camp Hill? To my knowledge, Camp Hill was abandoned after World War I – could this be the same camp? Although, to be completely honest, I am far from an expert on the Hampton Roads Ports of Embarkation. As it turns out, this photo is one of over 600 in our collection that include some variation of “Camp Hill, HRPE”  in the inscription on the reverse – the Army Signal Corps was diligent in their accurate labeling of photos.   Read more

Hampton Roads During WWII: USO Clubs

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Dance floor at Service Club C. Naval Ammunition Depot Band played for the benefit of Enlisted men & their ladies to gave a round of applause to Lt. Burgess for his efforts in making the evening a success. (archive number P0003/01-#J-9176)

While the most recognizable way for individuals to serve their country at times of war is through the service branches, there have historically been many other ways in which people served their country abroad and at home. For example, the United Service Organizations, better known as USO, a nonprofit-charitable organization which provides leisure facilities and shows to United States Armed Forces was founded by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in 1941, to “unite several service associations into one organization to lift the morale of [the] military and nourish support on the home front” (USO.com/about).

In fact, during World War II, there were estimated to be about 3,000 USO clubs worldwide, and Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation was no exception. USO clubs helped soldiers feel at home and gave them the opportunity to step away from the job and the realities of war. They provided leisure, like dances, ping pong tables, and other games; entertainment, sometimes local bands or even Hollywood celebrities would make an appearance (!); and they often had a snack bar, too, selling sandwiches, smokes and soda (but not liquor!) to service people.   Read more