Hello readers,It has been a busy summer and one that has been especially interesting for Library staff. We are all deeply involved in a project that has been funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to catalog archival resources from our collections that involve the Battle of Hampton Roads (BOHR). So what does this project mean for the Library staff and our dedicated volunteers and interns? It has become an opportunity to spend much more time researching and describing singular items in BOHR collections. Given this opportunity, I thought I’d share something that I found interesting in a four page letter from the collection of Jacob Nicklis’ papers. On December 28, 1862, Jacob Nicklis wrote to his father from the USS Monitor. In the letter, he informs him that they are anchored near Fortress Monroe awaiting the Montauk and the Connecticut, so he is taking the time to write about where he has been since the last letter, and to say where he will be going in the coming days. Jacob then shifts gears to provide his father with a detailed description of his Christmas while on board the Monitor. This all seems like an average letter that you would send home to loved ones, right? Well, towards the end of his letter on pages three to four, Jacob tells his father not to write back until he hears from him again. Jacob then ends the letter with what I considered a very chilling comment: “They say we will have a pretty rough time a going around Hatteras but I hope it will not be the case.”
As many of you know, the Monitor sank off the coast of Cape Hatteras, December 31, 1862, and Jacob Nicklis perished with 15 of his crew members.
A couple of months ago, the Museum decided it was time to begin exploring a program that would allow supporters to “adopt” items in the collections for restoration. While the details of this program are still in the works (museums often move slowly and deliberately on such things, and rightfully so), a call went out to staff to find objects to put up for “adoption”.
Naturally, I was interested in proposing some USS Monitor-related materials for this program, since I am the NOAA Project Archivist at the Library. So I went casting about for ideas. Thankfully, much of the Monitor-related material in the Library is in good shape, not in need of extensive restoration. But that didn’t help me in my search for items to submit for the program.
Last week I took a few minutes to visit the Conservation wet lab to visit Monitor‘s main engine, the first time I had seen it with the tank drained.
Before I say anything about this experience, I ought to say that I love steam engines, have loved them ever since I was a child. Like so much nineteenth century technology, the steam engine seemed to me imaginative, almost pre-scientific (though based on sound science). I don’t know a thing about steam engines, honestly, but I love them because I find them beautiful. Their movements are graceful, their lines and curves are elegant. Their great exposed connecting rods, intricate gearing, the eliptical shapes of the eccentrics, have something of the animate about them. In the extravagence of their movement, they seem improbable as machines, so unlike the completely restrained electrical motor. One can be devoted to them easily.