Have you ever noticed the big metal doors at the Business Entrance of The Mariners’ Museum and Park? Have you ever thought that maybe they were a little fancy for an entrance where deliveries are made and staff enters to gather our badges and trek to wherever our offices happen to be on-site? Well, those doors, made of bronze, are actually part of our Collection and used to be the Main Entrance to the Museum!
There is a bit of a story behind them. As you have probably read in a previous blog, Archer M. Huntington was the driving force behind the construction of The Mariners’ Museum and Park. It was his vision to have a stunning entrance to the Museum, something that would visually make people stop and say “WOW!”. Incidentally, this is why the original portion of the Museum has the very unusual “Huntington Squeeze” brick and mortar technique. It’s done by not scraping off the mortar as layers of bricks are added in the wall construction.Read more
…but I thought I would volunteer an annotated list of some of the maritime history books that I have found myself pulling off the shelf (again and again) for reference during my twenty-year tenure at The Mariners’ Museum and Park.
The Story of Sail by Veres László and Richard Woodman (Chatham Publishing: 1999) is a dense volume of over 1000 scale drawings of (you guessed it) sailing vessels. A wealth of details about sails and rigging are complemented with great drawings of the vessels themselves all backed by a thorough bibliography.Read more
This is my first blog for the Museum, and I intend for this to be a message of hope against the backdrop of a period of heightened pain and anxiety in our country.
I believe wholeheartedly in our team, our mission, and the fact that both are up to tackling even the toughest of society’s problems. I will do my best to explain our team’s posture and approach in a way that represents our view that we can simultaneously be clear-eyed and honest about the flaws in our communities and also be positive and optimistic about our collective future.
So, in this post, I will put our mission up against this moment in our nation’s history. If it stands up (and I believe it does), I want to show that our beloved Museum – and cultural institutions like us – can be a powerful tool to build the prosperous, peaceful, and vibrant communities to which we all aspire.
The starting point for our team is always service, empathy and love. To begin a conversation about how our Museum addresses the challenges of the moment, it is important to me to go first:
I love and respect the Black and Brown men and women on our team, and I cannot imagine our team without them. I am humbled and grateful for the Black and Brown leaders in my life who shaped me as a leader.
Speaking more broadly to our community, I want our Black and Brown neighbors, colleagues, and friends who are reading this in Newport News, Hampton Roads, and elsewhere, to know that The Mariners’ Museum is YOUR museum. We are committed to telling YOUR stories. We care about you, and our communities are better everywhere when Black and Brown lives flourish.
One final thought before beginning: It is impossible NOT to see the evil in the world today. The question is, are we going to be overcome by that evil, or are we going to overcome that evil with good? Let’s get started…
Many readers of this blog will know that in the summer of 2016, our team at The Mariners’ Museum and Park committed to a new Mission statement:
The Mariners’ Museum and Park connects people to the world’s waters, because through the waters – through our shared maritime heritage – we are connected to one another.
We chose these particular words to guide our work for two main reasons:
1. The Museum Charter: Our original 1930 Charter established a museum and a library, within a park, that preserves and promotes maritime heritage “to promote the public welfare.” This last phrase – “to promote the public welfare” – reminds us that we don’t get to simply “play museum” when we go to work. Our charter compels our team to do good in the world.
2. Social Capital: Today, we interpret our charge to “promote the public welfare” as building social capital in our local, national, and global communities. Most definitions of “social capital” capture a few key elements: the degree to which individuals identify as a part of a larger community; the level of trust between people within that community; and the frequency and quality of social exchange between people within that community. A growing body of literature finds that the higher the level of social capital in a community, the more resilient that entire community is and the greater potential for economic growth that community possesses. Those are pretty good components of “public welfare,” too.
Now that you have this baseline understanding of our compelling mission and a little bit of the intellectual framework behind it, I am anxious to show how we actually apply it. So, let’s take up the urgency of the news today. Virtually the entire country watched, in horror, the video of a Minneapolis police officer killing George Floyd a month ago. Our team, using our mission as a guide, has already begun to respond to this moment in history with empathy, and with an approach that we learned four years ago and have practiced ever since.
During one week in July 2016, police officers killed two African American men on two consecutive days, in two different states: Alton Sterling in Louisiana, and Philando Castile in Minnesota. Later that week, an African American veteran killed five police officers in Dallas. Nationwide protests and demonstrations followed, including demonstrations right here in Hampton Roads, VA. I remember thinking that our team had just adopted this new mission statement about how the water binds us together as a community, and here’s this moment in time when that community felt really fractured.
I was still an interim president that summer, living in Newport News during the week and returning home to my family in Charlottesville over the weekend. I called my wife that Friday afternoon and explained that I was going to stay in Newport News over the weekend to attend Ivy Baptist Church (one of the largest African American Baptist Churches in the southeast community of Newport News) on Sunday. I figured the least I could do was to be present.
I showed up without telling the senior pastor, my friend (and now a Trustee of The Mariners’ Museum and Park) Kevin Swann, that I was coming. Little did I know that Pastor Swann had invited the Newport News Chief of Police to participate in a town hall at the start of the service. When I – a bald White man – walked into the sanctuary unannounced, everyone thought I was a police officer! The ushers promptly walked me to the front of the sanctuary to sit next to the Chief.
After a powerful dialogue with the Chief, Pastor Swann took to the pulpit to begin the worship service. He saw me sitting there in the front row and said, “Before I begin, I just want to acknowledge that Howard Hoege from The Mariners’ Museum is here. It’s good to have friends in the community in times like these.” He was talking about the Museum.
Following the service, several people thanked me for being there. An exchange with one woman stuck out, though, and helped me realize that many in our community couldn’t afford the $14 per person that we were charging to enter our Museum. Our mission sounded great, but a barrier to entry in the form of an admission price was excluding many in the southeast community, and no doubt many others. Access was a key problem for us to solve.
As a team, we decided to act. Specifically, we decided to go first – to serve. We dropped our price of admission for the entire month of August 2016 to $1 per person as a reminder that through the water, through our shared maritime heritage, we are ONE City, ONE Region, ONE Nation, ONE World – One Dollar. That month, we went from an August average of 5,500 visitors in our galleries to over 39,000 visitors, thousands of whom were African Americans visiting our Museum for the first time. Our staff poured into the galleries, meeting people where they were, and telling a more complete version of history than our exhibits could tell on their own.
That fundamental step – to go first, to serve first – led to several additional steps and substantial change to improve access in the intervening years:
By pursuing corporate sponsorships and private philanthropy, we were able to offer free educational enrichment programs to several Title I schools in our region. Our corporate partners provide a free student membership to every student who participates as a way to encourage their ownership of our communities’ history. This past school year, we were also able to pay for the transportation costs for thousands of students to get to the Museum and participate in those programs.
On the second Sunday of each month, we now open early for “Friendly Hours,” which is included with $1 admission. Friendly Hours is an inclusive time where guests with mobility, cognitive, or physical challenges can experience the Museum in a less crowded environment with reduced sound and lighting.
We developed and now regularly deliver programming that describes the African and African American Maritime Experience, with the goal of more completely acknowledging the contributions of all who have played a role in shaping our shared maritime heritage.
THE APPROACH – NOW
Now, in June, 2020, our posture and approach – and most certainly, our mission – remain exactly the same. In the wake of George Floyd’s death and others who preceded him, our empathy first turned inward. Our team began an open, internal dialogue about our own, individual experiences with fear, anger, and distrust caused by injustices in the world. We could see on one another the scars of the very fractures that we were hoping to mend in our community. As has become our habit over the past four years, we then turned outward and started to identify the things we could do immediately to serve our community. We quickly zeroed in on the inconsistent message that we were sending to the African American community, in particular, between the mission we adopted to serve and empower on the one hand, and the monument the Museum established by creating a lake in honor of Matthew Fontaine Maury on the other. Recognizing the potential harm in that inconsistency, our Board of Trustees voted on June 19th to begin the formal process of changing the name of Lake Maury to “The Mariners’ Lake”.
The Mariners’ Museum created our lake in the early 1930s by building the Lions Bridge to dam Water’s Creek. The Museum’s first trustees named the new lake in honor of Matthew Fontaine Maury and his significant contributions to oceanography that made him known as “The Pathfinder of the Seas.” Maury made those contributions as an officer in the US Navy in the early 1800s, but at the outset of the Civil War, Maury resigned his commission and joined the Confederate Navy. Before the war, he explored the idea of and advocated for establishing colonies in Brazil and Central America where Southern slave owners could relocate or expand their operations. Following the Civil War, Maury served the Emperor of Mexico as the Imperial Commissioner of Colonization. Regardless of the original trustees’ intentions in the lake’s name, preserving his name on a lake inadvertently makes an implicit value statement that we, today, honor and value all of Maury’s work and beliefs, which we do not.
To take it one step further, our team is actively planning to put kayaks and canoes back on our lake. As we discussed changing the name to The Mariners’ Lake, I kept running a scenario in my mind: members of our education team are leading a science program for local 5th graders who are all in boats on the water. Imagine one of those 5th grade students is an African American boy exhilarated by his experience on the water. What happens when that child asks, “Who is Lake Maury named after?” With one simple question, that young child’s meaningful and experiential access to science and education is completely flipped into – at best – a shocking and confusing emotional moment that steals a piece of the innocence of a child discovering the world around him. Matthew Fontaine Maury’s story is completely out of context for both the lake and how our visitors – not just this one child – will experience it.
=&0=&. We still tell the story of Maury’s role in history within our galleries and I suspect that we will continue to tell it. Our galleries are the appropriate place to do so. But we want our Park and Lake to serve its original purpose, perhaps explained best in a 1932 letter found in the Museum’s archives:
“One of the splendid things this wonderful park can accomplish is to change public sentiment towards the good, the elevating, the proper spirit.”
We have already stepped up our efforts to reveal this nation’s hidden history, an effort that is and will increasingly become the core of who we are. Those efforts begin with our own institution’s hidden history. I included these photos as a visual reminder that the literal foundation for the Lions Bridge dam that created The Mariners’ Lake and the foundation for our Museum buildings were laid by skilled African American hands. Those same hands erected the Museum buildings, and we are determined to name those men and women and to properly recognize their role in making our beloved Museum the special place that it is.
OUR COMMITMENT GOING FORWARD
We are not perfect at this work. While we have established baseline access for many in our community, we are not yet reaching everyone. We do not yet know if we are actually building social capital in our communities, but we are at the beginning stages of working with the Center for Educational Partnerships at Old Dominion University and others to figure out how we can measure whether or not we are actually having the desired impact our mission suggests we can have.
While we are not perfect, we are totally committed to this mission. Our steps over the last four years and our actions in the last month are all intended to awaken in every corner of our communities a sense of a shared maritime heritage that transcends race, ethnicity, gender, age, socioeconomics, and all of the ways in which we sometimes feel different from one another. If we can do that, we just might grow a little social capital and turn the tide of even those most intractable problems our communities face.
Does all this sound a little too lofty? Maybe a little beyond the “scope” of a museum? Our founder, Archer Huntington, who established The Mariners’ Museum to “promote the public welfare,” provided the beginning of an answer in the early 1930s:
On the whole, I think it is bad for the spirit to bother about what other museums have done, in view of the fact that we do not ever wish to do the same. If the Mariners’ Museum has no new line of work and no new Museum principles to prove, it is a waste of time and energy.
We are determined to make good on Huntington’s charge to us. Circling back to the beginning: we believe that the resilience and potential for economic growth in our communities depend on the social capital that derives, in part, from a sense of a shared history across our communities. =&1=& I am proud that our team’s posture of service, empathy, and love has led to an approach for our Museum that might actually make our communities stronger.Read more
In my last post, I explained some details of our fantastic pollinator garden at The Mariners’ Museum and Park, and how our local community and Museum staff helped to build, plant, and maintain it. I touched a bit on some of the plants featured in the garden and some of the pollinators who might visit those plants. Here, the reader can learn a bit more about the pollinators we have record of in the Park and how those specific plants are assisting them in their warm-weather pollen feast.
Pollinators can be either biotic (living) or abiotic (nonliving). Common pollinators include bees, butterflies, moths, beetles, flies, (fruit-eating) bats, hummingbirds, small mammals, water, and the wind. Additionally, numerous flowering plants have also evolved and developed a special relationship with pollinators to make their flower traits are more appealing so those flowers get pollinated. Some plants might give off a certain smell, the flower might be a certain color or shape, and all of those factors influence who comes to the flower. These traits and characteristics on a flowering plant trying to attract specific pollinators are called Pollinator Syndromes.
As one can imagine, pollinators aren’t aware of this process, they are in it for the food! Each of the special pollinators is adapted to these special flowers, for example, the tongues of hummingbirds are much longer than bee tongues, so hummingbirds often prefer the flowers that are trumpet-shaped. Bees, however, have been shown to also bypass those trumpet-shaped flowers and chew through the bottom petals to get to the sweet nectar! (Bees also will chew on plant leaves to make the plants hurry up and produce flowers if they need some fast food in the spring.) Clever adapting bees!
Bees in North America
In North America alone, we have 4,000 unique bee species and nearly 22,000 species worldwide! From the data we’ve collected over the past few years in the Park, especially from iNaturalist, visitors have spotted the common eastern bumblebee, eastern carpenter bee, and southeast blueberry bee.
I’ve personally seen other native bees including various types of sweat bees and mason bees. We also see Honeybees in the Park, but since that species is originally from Europe, it’s not part of the 4,000 North American native species. There are many, many more bee species in this area, so if you’re on iNaturalist in the Park, please take a picture of other bees (and pollinators in general) to help expand our database!
Pollinators in the Park
As listed previously, pollinators can also be butterflies, moths, beetles, flies, bats, and hummingbirds. Some pollinators recorded from our iNaturalist citizen-science database include: ruby-throated hummingbird, eastern tiger swallowtail, pearl crescent butterfly, isabella tiger moth, horned passalus beetle, henry’s elfin (butterfly), and so many more! (Visit our page for more information. You can also visit our eBird page as well to see the birds who fly through and might eat some of those pollinators for their dinner.)
Plant planning (larval hostplants)
When we were planning the plants in the pollinator garden, I wanted a few important elements to be upheld during this process of garden planning. The plants needed to be native to Virginia, there would be no harmful and unnecessary chemical pesticides/herbicides applied, and I wanted as many plants as possible to not only be great pollinator sources, but also larval=&0=& for caterpillars of native moths and butterflies.
A great example of a host plant relationship most people know about is between milkweed and the monarch butterfly. The eggs of the monarch are laid on the milkweed. As caterpillars, they eat the milkweed leaves, which for the monarch caterpillars, in turn, makes them poisonous to predators. The distinctive caterpillar body coloration (black, yellow, and white stripes) on the caterpillar tell predators they are not tasty! When the caterpillar eventually transforms into an adult butterfly, the milkweed also becomes a great source of food that the butterflies can feed on during their magnificent multi-generational journey from Canada to Mexico and back. (Visit Monarch Watch for more information on monarchs and their amazing journey!)
Larval host plants are important to all moths, butterflies, and skippers– it is literally their home and meal during their larval stage of life. Some species might have many plants they call home, and others only have one type. The monarchs mentioned above only use milkweed, while other butterflies might be able to use a few different plants. Henry’s elfin butterfly, one that is in the Park mentioned previously, has a few different larval host plants including hackberries, blueberries, and eastern redbuds to name a few.
Though in this round of planting selection we were not able to get all the larval host plants I dreamed of (I can dream, can’t I?), we were successful in the end to get quite a few. According to Piedmont Environmental Council, we have seven larval host plants. Listed below are the plants and the butterflies they are host to:
Purple coneflower: silvery checkerspot
Beardtongues: common buckeye
Turtlehead: Baltimore checkerspot
Asters: pearl crescent and silvery checkerspot
Spiderworts: common buckeye
Joe-pye weed: painted lady
Columbine: spring azur
If you look at the list referenced above, we don’t have plants in here that are larval hosts for moths, however, with our diverse plant life in the Park, we actually have so many of the plant species listed on Piedmont Environmental Council‘s chart. We’re doing okay!
Curated for Phenology
The plant choice was additionally curated in part to consider phenology, or the bloom time of plants throughout the year. We wanted to create appeal and interest to our pollinators, which means making sure your plants don’t all bloom at the same time.
The red columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) is a wonderful spring-bloomer. It’s also shade-loving, so it was a good fit for the slightly shader areas of the garden. The creeping phlox was an earlier bloomer in the spring (see image above). Based on the images Amanda Sheilds snapped recently, the calico beardtongue (Penstemon calycosus) is full of lovely flowers now! The bees seem to love it! Later in the season (summer, end of summer, and fall) other plants will get their chance to shine, like the sweet joe-pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum), sweet goldenrod (Solidago odora), and the purple cone flower (Echinacea purpurea).
Why pollinators matter
To end our pollinator chat today, let’s talk about why pollinators matter. Many pollinators, like the bumblebee, are keystone species, which means they are a species that many other animals depend upon. When the keystone species are taken out of an ecosystem, it can throw the entire system out of whack. Imagine the ecosystems are like big clocks with lots of gears. If you take one critical gear out, the whole clock stops working.
A world without bees pollinating our flowering plants, like blueberries, strawberries, wheat, corn, zucchini, and so on, means we don’t have those foods. (Unless we physically pollinate them– but again, that’s another conversation or another day). According to Pollinator Partnership, pollinators provide us with one out of every three bites of food. Without our pollinators doing their job and helping plants, then our growing world population increasingly faces food security issues. Don’t forget that other animals rely on those foods for their survival, too, so it doesn’t just affect humans, but all animals who are relying on pollination to happen.
What you can do to help!
Our hardworking pollinators are struggling around the world in many ways due to the compounding issues of climate change, pesticides, disease, and other pressures, but you can help to make a difference.
You can build a little pollinator garden, or just plant native plants for the pollinators. Do some research on which plants are best for your green space. Ask around to make sure if the plants are native to the area– some places will only tell you what attracts pollinators, but leaves out if they are native plants or not.
Butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii) is invasive and aggressive. Don’t put it anywhere near your garden! It might attract pollinators, but it does little for our ecosystem, and there are many other alternatives out there that are better for this area (read this source to learn more).
Lastly, please, for the love of bees, do NOT use chemical pesticides or herbicides. The chemicals that are meant to kill mosquitoes, that are heavily used in the summer, actually kill all insects, including the vital ones like our pollinators. We need those insects– and other critters eat those insects. They are all part of our ecosystem, too.
Normandy, France, is filled with beautiful beaches and small, bustling towns. Seventy-six years ago, however, a different scene would be witnessed. World War II was in full rage. France was under Nazi Germany’s suppressing occupation. Its grip on Europe was strong, relentless, and seemed almost impossible to break. It would take an assault unlike any the world had seen in order to penetrate their defenses, weaken the German forces, and liberate the French nation. And that assault is exactly what would come on June 6, 1944. D-Day would begin the downfall to the tyrannical European oppression of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party, and become a defining moment of the 21st century.
In June 2019, The Mariners’ Museum and Park commemorated the 75th anniversary of D-Day. It was a huge success. More than 1,100 visitors came to the Museum to hear about the actions that took place. It was an emotional day as visitors shared personal stories or stories about their loved ones who had served that day. We brought out several images and objects from our Collection. We created a hand-drawn and painted 14’ x 20’ map showing the shores of Normandy and the five beaches of the assault – Gold, Juno, Sword, Omaha, and Utah. We labeled pieces of the different Allied Forces divisions and moved them throughout the map to show the scale of the assault and the amount of area that needed to be captured. Lyles Forbes, Vice President and Chief Curator has had the opportunity to visit Normandy. He created several pictures, many seen in this post, that blend images from present day scenes and photos from the past, so that visitors could see a correlation of what the places look like today versus when the invasion was taking place.
Because the Museum is currently closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are unable to recreate this program this year. Seventy-six years later, the accounts of what took place that day are still heavily embedded in our minds. It remains the largest seaborne assault in history. So here is a synopsis of D-Day and the Normandy invasion.
In the early morning hours, a dim glow of the full moon’s light showed through the clouds as high tide rolled in over 50 miles of the French coastline. Months of planning by the Allied forces of the United States, Great Britain, and Canada were finally in motion. They called it Operation Overlord. Many things went wrong, not just that day, but even during the days leading up to it. The original invasion was set for several days prior. Yet bad weather pushed back the date. Knowing they needed the light of a full moon, they had no choice but to proceed on June 6. It was now or never. Even still, weather conditions were not ideal.
The resolve and determination of more than 160,000 Allied troops were about to be tested. Several thousand vessels made their way across the English Channel to the French beaches. The naval portion of the invasion plan was code named Operation Neptune, and failure was not a possibility. But D-Day did not begin with the storming of the beaches. The German enemy had a stronghold in the surrounding area. Key spots needed to be secured by Allied troops if the amphibious assault had any chance of success. That’s why hours before, shortly after midnight, airborne landings began.
In order to minimize or slow the enemy’s counter-attack on the amphibious forces, airborne troops first descended into designated landing areas around midnight. Their goal was to secure key points and open roadways throughout the area by dawn, providing the upcoming amphibious assault a chance to succeed. Paratroopers of the U.S. 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, the British 6th Airborne Division, the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, and other attached Allied units were involved. More than 13,000 paratroopers rained from the sky into heavy enemy territory, many shot down and killed before reaching the ground. Others landed in the water, and due to their heavy equipment, drowned. Several received injuries from hitting buildings, and from the impact of landing from a jump only 700 feet high. Many found themselves blown off course and scattered throughout the French landscape.
For those who made it down alive, they had only yet begun to achieve their mission. The airborne assault did not initially seem very successful. Yet, it created enough distraction and confusion for the German enemy that by the time dawn neared, the second part of the plan could begin.
Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, Sword. Codenames for the five beaches to be stormed by Allied troops. British forces were responsible for Sword in the center and Gold to the east. The Canadians led at Juno between the British forces. American forces would be on Omaha and Utah to the west. The stage was set, plans were made. Yet no one could fully be prepared for what would take place on that day. Picture in your mind a cloudy sky during the early morning hours, just before the sun begins to peek above the horizon. This will give you but a small idea of how much, or little, light the men would have as the battle began. More than 6,000 ships and amphibious assault vessels carrying more than 150,000 troops made their journey across the English Channel. By 6:30 a.m. the invasion starts.
Jump. Swim. Run. Crawl. Jump into the frigid waters. Swim through pounding surf. Run across the thick sand. Crawl to the coverage of the dunes and cliffs. Jump. Swim. Run. Crawl. Thousands of men set off, plunging into cold, rough waters with up to 80 pounds of equipment attached to them. The enemy immediately begins firing heavily into the oncoming raid, killing thousands of Allied soldiers, some before even making it out of their vessel.
Getting off the amphibious craft was but a small victory for the soldiers. They still needed to make their way through 200 yards of the violent high tide surf. Here, take another moment to really understand this picture. Two hundred yards: the equivalent of two football fields in some of the most brutal conditions one can – or maybe cannot – imagine. And still, you’ve only made it part of the way. Once the soldiers finally make it onto shore, there are another 350 yards to go, still under heavy fire, before reaching the beach head and hopefully some coverage. Each beach had its own challenges:
Utah Beach was five miles wide, and the westernmost of the five beaches. Four thousand troops and 1,700 motorized vehicles had landed at Utah with surprisingly few casualties—fewer than 300 men (not including paratroopers).
Omaha Beach was six miles wide, and the largest of the five beaches. Heavy seas, underwater obstacles, and intense enemy fire destroyed many craft, causing high casualties even before the assault battalions reached shore. The Americans suffered 2,400 casualties at Omaha.Read more