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
It began a few years ago with a handful of old, unlabeled photos. Images of workers who placed the bricks and the cinder blocks for the Museum’s walls and also installed the statues on Lions Bridge and in the Park. They were literally part of the very foundation of our Museum. Then the questions began. What were their names and their stories? Why were they so important to our Museum, but we didn’t know who they were? What we found, and are still finding, has evolved into one of the most interesting, impactful, heartbreaking, joyous, and eye opening projects we have ever worked on. A project we named “Hidden Histories.”
The earliest beginnings of the project actually started from several other initiatives. A quest to gather as much information about our Park and grounds as possible, and a look forward to our 100th Anniversary coming up in 2030. The emphasis on our Park is part of a long term project focused on issues like conservation, sustainability, ecology, preservation and the history of the area. This work has helped with the formation of our new Park Department which was announced earlier this month. The 100th Anniversary project is taking a look back at our history and also a look forward to see where we are headed in the future.
Both projects led to the discovery of photos showing the men who did the construction on our Museum and Park. As well as a number of images showing members of our Museum team dating from the 1930s and beyond. The photos are part of our Institutional Collection that documents what happens here. They include famous visitors, parties, exhibitions, large artifacts arriving, personnel photos, and just about anything else related to our day to day activities. While we knew what types of photos we would find in the collection, we didn’t anticipate finding out what we didn’t have. The men’s identities and a realization that despite our Museum’s focus on inclusion and connections within our community, we hadn’t made a connection with ourselves. In the 91 years since the first of those photos were taken, we hadn’t made a connection with the men who were the very foundation of our success. And the hard truth is that because of who they were, no one in the 1930s thought it important enough to label these images and ensure they would be known by their names and faces. The time was way overdue to correct this.Read more
In my previous post, I mentioned that the Library has a 1567 Latin edition of Olaus Magnus’ Historia Olai Magni Gothi archiepi scopi vpsalensis, de gentium septentrionalium (History of the Northern Peoples). It contains a simplified woodcut of his famous Carta Marina map. Unfortunately, I was not able to show a photograph of it due to its condition and the difficulty of photographing it.
Thanks to the efforts of Brock Switzer, cultural heritage photographer, and Emilie Duncan, paper conservator, I can now share an image of the 1567 edition of the Carta Marina.
The technical challenges
In order to understand the challenges of photographing the map, it is necessary to describe how it is inserted in the book. According to Emilie, “the map is glued along the central vertical fold to a paper strip called a “stub” or “guard.” The other side of the stub is sewn into the book structure as if it were just another page.” In the case of our edition, she goes on to explain, the stub is too short, which hides the center portion of the map in the gutter area.
If you look closely at the map, you will note that there is a void vertically along the center. It is particularly noticeable at the top edge of the map. To the left of the void are the letters “SEPT” and to the right are the letters “TRIO”. If you were able to see the entire map, those letter strings would spell out the word SEPTENTRIO.
The fact that the map is folded both vertically and horizontally into the book presents another challenge to the photographer. Unfolding the map without damaging it and getting in plane (i.e. flat) was no small feat. Hats off to Brock and Emilie for the care with which they unfolded the map. Staff and patrons alike can now access the map without having to handle the original.
While the 1567 edition of the Carta Marina does not have the number and variety of sea monsters as the earlier editions, it does show several sea monsters off the west coast of Scandinavia and in the waters around Iceland.
Adam Henricpetri published the museum’s 1567 Latin edition of the History of The Northern Peoples in Basel, Switzerland. Scholars initially attributed the woodcut of the Carta Marina to Fickler Weylensis, who translated Magnus’s work into German, basing the attribution on a misreading of the initials in the lower right corner. More recently, map historians have determined that the initials “TFW” are associated with the woodcut artist Thomas Weber.
I hope you’ve enjoyed a deeper look at the Carta Marina. I’ve certainly enjoyed researching it.
Last fall, we in the Archives received a request, as we often do, from the History Department of Christopher Newport University, to provide an internship opportunity for a young man who was to graduate the following spring. Usually this is not difficult for us. This year, however, we could think of nothing to do for young Thomas Fosdick (the CNU student in question) and nearly gave up. The pandemic made it impossible for him to come on site and work on archival material. However, both Bill Barker (fellow archivist) and I knew that log book transcriptions could work. So I found a small logbook dating from the Civil War kept by the captain of the steamer Andrew Harder. But my choice of Log 192 involved an inherent mystery we had hoped Thomas might be able to solve for us. Who was this diarist?
The transport Andrew Harder
Before really tackling the problem of the diarist’s identity, we had to know basic facts about the service of this steamer. The Andrew Harder was a practically new vessel, a screw steamboat built in 1863 for service on the Hudson River between Stuyvesant, NY and New York City.
Her size made her ideal for transporting large numbers of people and animals, though she also served occasionally as a store ship. Our diarist recounts episodes of hearing battles at Bermuda Hundred, being attacked by guerrilla forces on the Potomac and Pamunkey Rivers, transporting cavalry and infantry forces to the front, bringing wounded to the rear, and taking liberated former slaves to freedom. On May 28, at Port Royal, Virginia, for example, he says that the Blacks “hade a jubelee Singing of freedom the riches thing I ever heard in my life.” That for me was the absolute best sentence in the entire diary.
Assembling the evidence
As Thomas and I dug into the logbook, the mystery of its author kept popping up. We kept getting tantalizing clues. On the cover, we saw the scrawl of a child’s name (or so we thought). The child could not have been older than about 7 or 8 years old. Below it, we saw the words Athens, Greene Co., New York. OK! We had a location! Then we saw that the diarist was a purely phonetic speller. That often made things tough for us to try to decipher. But I noticed that sometimes he occasionally substituted the letter ‘v’ for the letter ‘f’, maybe indicating some German or Dutch influence in the way he spelled.
None of these observations really gave us the solution we were looking for. The mystery was as deep as ever.
We had at least one tangible piece of evidence that we knew could help, if we ever got a clue. We knew that our diarist was notified of his mother’s death on April 27, 1864. Just as tangible though less strong, we also knew the names of a half-dozen or so of his friends and acquaintances, all from Athens, NY, and all born in the early 1830s (Ancestry.com is your friend in these searches). We also knew the owner of the boat, Mr. Peter Bogardus. Our logbook keeper mentions a Bogardus several times, and I was able to come up with his first name through that invaluable resource, the ship’s data notebooks of the Elwin Eldredge Collection. Those notebooks contained all the information Eldredge had compiled over decades on every steamship he ever heard of. Eldredge had, in fact, several pages devoted to the Andrew Harder. Eldredge’s notebook pages become even more important in our story later.
Thomas and I gave up. He finished his transcription of the logbook, and was doing a good deal of research on the battles and skirmishes that Andrew Harder was present for, actions that took places along the James, Pamunkey, Mattaponi, and Potomac Rivers in 1864. I continued to stew. Why could we not solve this mystery?! Where was the key to open the lock?
Eldredge to the rescue!
I knew I wanted to meet Thomas face to face, and give him the chance to actually see and handle the logbook he’d worked so hard on. So I invited him to spend an hour, masked and socially distant, with his logbook. I also thought I’d pull some other things for him to look at. So I got out the pages on the Andrew Harder from Eldredge’s ship’s data notebook. This time I read them carefully.
Back to the notebooks
Eldredge typed mostly on one side of a page, but he will occasionally turn the page over and type on the back as well. I had not noticed that he had done so on one of the pages. I turned it over, and saw in handwriting added by a TMMP archivist a reference to a document number. This document number was from a classification system in use at the library before the year 2000, but there are still a few boxes of documents that have never been brought into the modern system we use now. So I went looking, and found it.
More Eldredge evidence! Cracks in the wall of the mystery.
CL115 is a pass that was originally in the Eldredge Collection and was separated out in the manner of our pre-modern cataloging method. Brig. General Daniel Henry Rucker of the Quartermasters Department had issued it July 18, 1864, and addressed it to the Guards. It was issued to one R. P. Tremain, in the employ of the Q. M. D. (Quartermasters Department) on board the A. Harder.
Now here was a break! I had never seen Tremain’s name before in the log. And this person was in the employment of the Quartermasters Department, which in those days provided logistical support to the Army, including chartering ships to use as hospitals, transports, commissaries, storage ships, etc. These are exactly the activities that the Andrew Harder had been doing, including providing transportation for “contraband”, those emancipated formerly enslaved Blacks I referred to above. According to Logbook 192, the steamer was indeed at Washington and Georgetown on July 18. Could R. P. Tremain be … her Captain?
The mystery solved! (we’re 95% sure)
We needed proof. Ancestry.com provided the information to seal the deal. Robert Porter Tremain, born 1830 in Athens, New York, registered for the draft in 1863. His mother, Deborah H. Tremain Jerome (his widowed mother had re-married), died in 1864. The notice of her death came from a person he just calls “Myes”. I believe that person could be Tremain’s half-brother, Matthew M. Jerome, then nearly 19 years old. Robert P. Tremain, the records say, lists as his profession, “Boatman”, and by 1870, he lists “Steamboat Captain”. Robert had married in 1851, and his first child, Augustella, was born the day after Christmas, 1863. It is her signature, barely discernible, “Gustella D” that we see at the top of her father’s diary. We also see her initials scrawled lightly in pencil on 2 pages of the diary, ATr.
It is true, the case isn’t quite as air-tight as we would like. Our diarist does not say in his entry on July 18 that he went to Alexandria. Other crew members, perhaps former boatmen, might have also been in the employ of the Quartermasters Department and had mothers die in 1864. I might be mis-reading a terribly difficult bit of handwriting on the paste-down. But I myself think it is sufficient evidence.
Why does it matter?
Why is it so important that we solve the mystery of the captain of the Andrew Harder? Because this museum has a mission to connect people to the world’s waters, and through the waters, to each other. I asked Thomas to contact the Greene County Historical Society in Athens, NY, in part to see if they could help with identifying our mystery writer. But I also asked Thomas to provide them with a copy of his complete transcription. I felt it was important that the people of Athens, through their historical society, know that in 1864 somewhere in Viginia, Robert Porter Tremain of their city helped to support the causes of freedom and Union. A descendant might find a reference to the logbook, perhaps though the Greene County Historical Society, perhaps through this blog, and get to know something about their family’s story. And that is precisely why we are here and why we do what we do.
As noted in a previous blog, one of the most famous and intriguing maps of the 16th Century is Olaus Magnus’ Carta Marina, first published in 1539. The Carta Marina depicts the geography of Northern Europe, the British Isles and Iceland. More importantly, it is populated with figures from Scandinavian history and folklore, and with animals both real and imagined.
In 1555 Magnus published his Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus (History of the Northern Peoples), which included a black and white version of the Carta Marina. The library has a 1561 Italian edition of the work, Storia d’Olao Magno, arcivescovo d’Vspali, de’ costvmi de’ popoli settentrionali, as well as a 1567 Latin edition. The 1567 edition in the library contains a simplified version of the Carta Marina. The 1572 version depicted below is from the University of Minnesota Libraries, James Ford Bell Library. It will have to stand in for the example in the Museum’s library due to the condition of the map and the difficulty of photographing it.
A full color version of the Carta Marina was published on nine sheets. The reproduction image below is also from the holdings of the University of Minnesota Libraries, James Ford Bell Library. It shows Sheet 2, depicting the seacoast of northwestern Scandinavia, with Greenland in the upper left corner. Additionally, it depicts a wide range of sea monsters, many of which would show up in later maps.
Sheet two of the Carta Marina is rich in details. One of the more intriguing monsters on this sheet is the the large sea serpent in the lower left corner, which is seen destroying a sailing ship. Just above it, labelled with the Letter “C”, is a large whale attacking a ship. These types of interactions between men and creatures of the sea are common in the Carta Marina.
Other sea monsters of interest are the two creatures in the top center of the sheet. They are described as “Two colossal sea monsters, one with dreadful teeth, the other with horrible horns and burning gaze – the circumference of each eye is 16 to 20 feet.”[i]
Abraham Ortelius and the Theatre of the World
As I have written previously, most scholars consider Abraham Ortelius’ Theatrum orbis terrarium (Theatre of the World) as the first modern atlas. Between 1570 and 1612, thirty-one editions of the Theatrum orbis terrarium were printed. Many of the later editions of the atlas incorporated up-to-date cartographical information on the known world. They also included numerous illustrations of sea monsters. It is not somewhat curious that the first modern atlas would include illustrations of sea monsters and other mythical beasts?
The map of Iceland shown below was first included in the 1590 edition of the Theatre of the World. This image is from the library’s 1592 edition. According to a website published by the National and University Library of the Iceland which shows digitized copies of all old maps of Iceland, “Although the map is faulty in many ways, it is far superior to all earlier maps of Iceland in content and execution. Here for the first time we find a map giving a more or less complete survey of all settlements in the country and most places of interest.”[ii]
In spite of the accuracy of the map, it is the seas surrounding Iceland that provoke a response from modern viewers. They are full of fantastical creatures, a few of which I’ll highlight below. While the sea monsters from Olaus Magnus certainly informed many of the illustrations in the Theatre of the World, many of the creatures depicted had evolved from Magnus’ drawings. One interesting feature of this map is that it included a key to the creatures, all of which are described on the back of the map.
Comparing the Ortelius map with the Carta Marina, I was struck by the fact the monsters in the Carta Marina are frequently seen attacking ships or interacting with men, whereas in the Ortelius map, they are depicted more as specimens. Any idea on why that is the case?
A) The Nahval
In the ocean north of Iceland is a monster described in the Ortelius atlas as “a fish, commonly called NAHVAL. If anyone eats of this fish, he will die immediately. It has a tooth in the front part of its head standing out seven cubites. Divers have sold it as the Unicorn’s horn. It is thought to be a good antidote and powerful medicine against poison. This monster is forty ells in length.”[iii] You may recognize this “monster” as the narwhal.
A cubit is an ancient measurement that is approximately 18 inches. Thus the nahval’s “tooth” is approximately 10.5 feet long. An ell is a former English unit of measure that is equal to 45 inches. According to Ortelius, the nahval is 150 feet long.
D) The Hyena
The hyena is seen in the left center of the map, off the west coast of Iceland. The text describing the hyena reads as follows: “The Hyena or sea hog is a monstrous kind of fish about which you may read in 21st book of Olaus Magnus.”
Magnus has quite a bit to say about the Hyena, which he labels a “sea pig.” He writes, “It has a pig’s head with a crescent moon at the back, four dragon’s feet, a pair of eyes in its loins at each side, and a third on its belly […] at the end a bifurcated tail of a normal fish.”[iv] He goes on to state that “Certainly this sea-pig knows all about the art of plundering with atrocious savagery; and it becomes even fiercer when, with the seal as a friend and accomplice, it molests all kinds of prey.”[v]
There is no no known counterpart to the sea hyena in the world. It is clearly an imagined monster.
G) The Hroshualur
“HROSHUALUR, that is to say as much as Sea horse, with manes hanging down from its neck like a horse. It often causes great hurt and scare to fishermen.” Interestingly, the Hroshualur depicted on the map was not derived from the Carta Marina. It stems from much older origins, namely the Sea Horse, or Hippocampus, from Greek mythology. Renaissance artists frequently used the hippocampus in their illustrations. The hippocampus is associated with Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea, and later with Neptune, the corresponding Roman god.
H) The largest kind of whale
Unnamed in the Ortelius map, this whale is described as “the largest kind of whale, which seldom shows itself. It is more like a small island than like a fish. It cannot follow or chase smaller fish because of its huge size and the weight of its body, yet it preys on many, which it catches by natural cunning, which it applies to get its food.”
I) The Skautuhvalur
“This fish is fully covered with bristles or bones. It is somewhat like a shark or skite, but infinitely bigger. When it appears, it is like an island, and with its fins it overturns ships.” Various sources refer to this beast as a giant ray.
“Steipereidur, a most gentle kind of whale, which for the defense of fishermen fights against other kinds of whales. It is forbidden by proclamation that any man should kill or hurt this kind of whale. It has a length of at least 100 cubits.” A whale 100 cubits in length would be about 150 feet long.
The beauty and imagery of the sea monsters on Ortelius’s map of Iceland is not to be denied. That he used images from the Carta Marina is clear, even though not all of the monsters depicted are directly from the earlier source. Returning to my earlier question, about why one of the first modern maps of Iceland would have such a rich collection of sea creatures as illustrations, I’m afraid I do not have the answer. Could it be, as Chet van Duzer writes, that the presence of so many fierce sea monsters suggests “that the island was a wild and inapproachable place at the very edge of the known world”?[vi]
[i] Nigg, Joseph. Sea Monsters: A Voyage around the World’s Most Beguiling Map. Chicago; London: University of Chicago Press, 2013, p. 12.