Food for Thought Series: What a Menu Can Teach About Art

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We usually think of menus in purely functional terms, right? It is a sort of small booklet one gets in a restaurant that lists the possible foods we could order. Ocean liner menus, however, strive to be more than just functional; they are part of a whole vacation experience and therefore play more than just a purely functional role on a cruise. These menus must enhance the guests’ experiences on the voyage and impress them (as presumably the rest of the cruise does). Ocean liner menus are, in effect, part of the “whole package.” Because of this, ocean liner menus, especially older ones, were decorated, aesthetically pleasing pieces of art, as well as menus. The menus in the Beazley Collection exemplify this idea with their often colorful designs:

This menu cover, for example, from the ocean liner Bremen (1929-1939), is like a work of art unto itself. Can these menus then function as more than just utilitarian objects that showcase food? Yes, they can and did. The menu covers often offered the viewer valuable insight into a society’s cultural or aesthetic values.   Read more

A Taste of the Past

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Click for a large view. From The Mariners’ Museum collection.

Greetings readers, and welcome back to the Library blog. In its day, the SS United States was the pinnacle of transatlantic transportation. Passengers could travel in style, and enjoy all manner of comforts from air conditioning to news broadcasts. The luxury of the voyage was also present in their dining, as a rich tapestry of food options was presented for each meal. Roughly 55 years ago on a Friday in 1957, passengers on the SS United States were treated to the following menu for their dinner.

This particular menu has a host of delicious and elegantly prepared dishes available. While the quality of this fare would be customary to the richer and more sophisticated guests on board, humbler passengers of average means would no doubt have been elated to see soups, fish, fruits, roasts, entrees, cakes and ice creams all so richly prepared and served together on a single menu. The extra care and specialization put into its cuisine is apparent in the translation of the menu text into German for the convenience of the German guests, and everyone who dined on that particular Friday would no doubt have remembered it prominently – at least until breakfast the next morning. It’s refreshing to see that the SS United States took as much care in feeding its guests as it did in crossing the Atlantic as quickly as it could be done.   Read more

Tuesdays Past and Present

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Click on the picture for a much, much better view. From The Mariners’ Museum collection.

Hello everyone, and welcome back to the Library blog. This blog mentions the SS United States with some frequency, but I’m sure many people are curious what a typical day might be like aboard one of her Caribbean cruises. The Mariners’ Museum Library has a large collection of programs from the SS United States, which offer a glimpse into one of those days – but how does a cruise aboard the SS United States compare to a modern one? How would your average Tuesday differ from past to present? Using the below pictured program, we can compare its Tuesday in 1962 to a modern Carnival cruise line’s Tuesday in 2008, which can be viewed in its entirety HERE. Both vessels arrive at St. Thomas on their respective Tuesdays, so let’s see how they compare!

On first inspection, the programs share some similarities: both have morning religious service followed by breakfast, a morning excursion to the island, lunch, dinner, and entertainment. However, a number of differences present themselves. First, the SS United States seems to have a much shorter program than the Carnival line. The SS United States program covers only the basic events of the day, while the Carnival program extensively lists each and every activity aboard ship by time and location. Carnival features a schedule teeming with family activities, sports, games, music and movies in large number: the SS United States program only has one movie, two cocktail hours, a swimming pool, afternoon tea and a dance.   Read more

Scraps of the Past

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Click on the picture to read the text! From The Mariners’ Museum collections.

Hello readers and welcome back to the Library bog. Some of you may remember a previous Director of The Mariners’ Museum named William Wilkinson, who served from 1973 until 1991. When Wilkinson passed away in March of 2010 he left behind a grand legacy to the Museum, which includes the Chesapeake Bay gallery, recognition of the Mueum as a prestigious museum, and a beautiful treasure: a scrapbook on the SS United States.

Wilkinson’s scrapbook contains a wide variety of material, from articles and photographs to souvenir logs and even meal menus. The largest collection of items is a series of articles covering a range of topics that are almost entirely comprised of newspaper clippings. These clippings report on the launching of the ship, her attainment of the transatlantic speed record, and many other notable features the ship possesses. After the articles, the most numerous type of object is a series of meal menus. These menus detail some of the exquisitely prepared breakfast, lunch and dinner options available to the passengers. Some of the options make ones’ mouth water, but others – like Smoked Ox Tongue and Boiled Pig’s Knuckles from the July 20th 1957 Luncheon Menu – force your eyes to quickly dart away before your appetite spoils.   Read more