Hidden Histories: The Quest to Put Names to Our Past

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Construction on the arcade of the Library wing, February 1935.

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

Episode III – Mariners Still Sailing Together…Apart

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Rachel, the Museum's Information Specialist, searching the archives.
Rachel, the Museum’s Information Specialist, searching the archives. All images in this blog: Amanda Shields/Mariners’ Museum and Park.

Episode III – Digitization of the Print

In a museum not so far far away there’s not just one, but two Mariners’ crew whose work is so interconnected that even a pandemic can’t change that. Now, our Library Information Specialist and Cultural Heritage Photographer are discovering what “working closely” looks like at a distance.

A Reference in References

An unassuming white door is nestled in the center of a white wall you’d never even notice was there unless someone pointed it out to you. Through that door is what we call Gallery 1. Inside it, a large table fills the front of the room to lay out large items. It’s filled with books, photos, drawings, and the most high-tech shelves I’ve ever seen! Seriously, these are not your grandpa’s stagnant library shelves. With the push of a button, they slide together, closing one aisle and revealing the next aisle of records.

My geeky brain was immediately reminded of that scene in Star Wars – Episode IV. It’s the famous scene when Luke, Leia, Han, and Chewie are trapped in the trash compactor and the walls are literally closing in on them! But don’t worry, these walls have sensors so if you leave so much as a stool in the aisle they won’t be closing. No Death Star scenes being reenacted at The Mariners’ Museum. 😉 Although, there may be an extremely high potential for lots of Star Wars references!

“These are not the records you are looking for.”
~ Obi-Wan Kenobi/Amanda Shields   Read more

The Magic of Maritime Mondays

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All ages enjoy Maritime Mondays!

The Magic of Maritime Mondays

The pandemic has changed everything. We go to work “from home” and most of our day-to-day interactions with others outside of our homes are done online via Zoom, Google Chat, FaceTime, etc. Of course there are those who are essential personnel including first responders, maintenance workers, health care providers, and all those folks who keep our cities going and our grocery stores running. Even my 20-year-old kid, who still lives at home, is working at Starbucks. But I’m stuck at home.

Connecting through the world’s waters

My job at The Mariners’ Museum and Park is programming. The Department of Interpretation is the go-to for the things that you get to experience in our galleries. Some of the programs that we present include our amazing one-day exhibits: D-Day Memorial Event last year, our annual Battle of Hampton Roads event, our Indigenous Peoples Day, and others. We also create workshops, develop and produce the lecture series, answer research questions, community outreach, host the Lifelong Learning Society, and more. We have the privilege of being in the galleries, sharing our collection with you, our visitors. After all, we are collections-based and audience-focused. 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.

Monday mornings with my little mariners

I really miss talking to visitors and my coworkers! As an extrovert, this is a challenging time. But one of the things I miss the very most is…Maritime Mondays.

Oh, the joy of getting to read a book to a group of kids each Monday morning at 10:30! Kids range in age from infants to about three during the winter, then the ages expand to include all ages during the summer. Normally I would be prepping to entertain, inspire, and share the love with about 50 children each week. Many of them attend each Monday. Even the kids during the winter are normally the same kids each week. They know me as “Miss Lauren” (it’s a southern thing) and my awesome helpers as “Miss Wisteria,” “Miss Greer” (awesome intern) and “Miss Heather” (another awesome intern). We often also have additional team members take part, so the “Miss” list includes Re-Re and Sara.

In addition to reading the story, we do a craft. I like interesting things that the caregivers and children can work on together. I try to make it a bit more complicated in the summer, since we have older children attending. Even if I repeat a book (I have about 80 and am always on the search for good maritime inspired or themed books), the craft is never the same. Several families have “Maritime Mondays” walls in their homes with all the crafts collected and displayed together.

Nothing is better than having 40 children repeating the sound effects in the story when prompted. Early on, you see them look at their caregivers with an expression of “Am I ALLOWED to be loud?”. With encouragement, I could have 50 foghorns blasting in the Museum. A truly lovely sound. These are our future members!

These are children who come to our Museum so often that they feel like this is a second home. They know the floor plan and lead their caregivers off to explore the Toys Ahoy: A Maritime Childhood exhibit, or to explore the International Small Craft Center.




Sharing the joy of reading

I am the parent of four children. I even homeschooled my kids for several years. Reading is so important and my older kids rejoiced when a sibling was born because it meant that the new baby could get a library card. It would add 40 more books to our library shelves for them to enjoy. It’s really common knowledge how important reading early and often to children is. It aids in developing their vocabulary, cognitive skills, attention spans, and more.

Please consider joining us on any given Monday morning when the Museum reopens. I would love to see you! The more Mariners, the better!   Read more

One hull of a boat….

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A different twist this week: a phone-a-visitor.  In conjunction with my volunteering at the Chris-Craft Archives at The Mariners’ Museum library at Christopher Newport University, we receive phone calls from all over the world concerning various Chris-Craft boats.  The mode of reference for research and responses to the callers usually hinges on the hull number of the boat as given at the time of construction.  This is the basic requirement.  I  took a call from a gentlemen from New Hampshire who said that he had a hull plate from a Chris-Craft, but that is all!  He did not know if the boat still existed, as it may have sunk, wrecked, or just died.  At any rate,  he wants plans and drawing so that he can build  the boat around the hull number, as he is a boat builder and can use CAD (computer aided design) to accomplish this effort.  ( 37-foot boat)  While we may never know the end of this story, but I can assure you this will be “one hull of a boat”!

Visitor Experience – The Library of Congress

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I recently had the pleasure of greeting ladies from The Library of Congress, (Juretta, Susan, & Kris) who were in town for the Virginia Forum at Christopher Newport University.  They had  been to The Mariners’ Museum on Thursday for a meeting and dinner and had time for a small sampling of the treasures of the museum. They decided it would be a good opportunity for a further look.  They were especially interested in The Monitor Center, and I was pleased to provide them with a few of the in-depth aspects of the center and the historic Battle of Hampton Roads.  I also gave them a view of our new and innovative slide-show highlighting the other galleries.  What a joy to have real scholars who are interested in what the museum has to offer.  I expect to see them on a return visit in the future.