A Maritime issue on the ballot!

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Key West Committee for Safer, Cleaner Ships
Advertising in favor of Key West ballot initiatives

Actually, the maritime issue isn’t on our Newport News ballot… it is on the ballot of Key West, Florida. However, the future of cruise ships in the world of Covid-19 may be on the minds of many citizens of port cities that welcome them.

Cruise Ships Face the Voters

This week I was on vacation in the Florida Keys — our first outing since the pandemic struck! I was very excited and pleased to get away from work (which I LOVE!) and the non-stop election coverage (which I love rather less). So when we arrived in Key West, I was taken aback to see the intersection of both the elections and my maritime life on signs all over town! Here is one of them:   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

Mariners Still Sailing Together…Apart – Part 2

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Noelle preparing to package & ship our most popular models, the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia/USS Merrimack. Ordered via our online gift shop. (All images in this blog: Amanda Shields/Mariners’ Museum & Park)

The Gifts That Keep Giving 

Back in April, at the height of Virginia’s stay-at-home orders and less than a month into the museum’s work-from-home status due to the pandemic, the only staff still physically working at the museum at the time were a skeleton crew of essential personnel. Noelle, our visitor services manager, was working from home when she noticed an order come through the online gift shop. Problem was, all of the packing and shipping had to be done while physically in the museum gift shop, but not only was the museum closed, even our park was closed. With everything going on in the world and the museum itself, I’m sure no one would have blamed Noelle for responding to the customer that the museum was closed and we just couldn’t fulfill the request at this time. After all, it was a small order from out of state, just toy models of the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia. Instead, she reached out to the buyer to find out more and discovered that it was a father buying the ships for his 6-year-old son’s birthday which was coming up that weekend. He explained how much his son loves the story of the Monitor and the Merrimack. Noelle told him we would make it happen; if the items were shipped by Monday they would reach the family in New York in plenty of time for the little boy’s birthday that weekend. She came in Monday, packaged the models, and even included a note wishing the little mariner a happy birthday. She then confirmed that the item was picked up, and upon receiving the tracking number passed it on to the family. This special kind of dedication and empathy isn’t found everywhere, but it’s here, even behind the scenes, at the Mariners’ Museum. 

In this exclusive behind the scenes series, I am introducing you to several members of our Mariners’ crew who are still manning the ship even though our beloved museum remains closed to the public. Allow me to introduce you to the resourceful and dedicated leader of our visitor services department.

Picture this if you will, the visitor services department…the admissions desk, 3D movie theater, the gift shop, and just overall customer service for museum guests suddenly faced with no visitors to serve, a museum closure, and the challenge of suddenly trying to figure out what remote work looks like for such an “on-site” department. Enter Noelle, the Mariners’ Museum Visitor Services Manager.

“Shifting my mindset to things our team could accomplish from home that would still improve guests’ experiences once we re-opened, was a little challenging at first,” Noelle says.    Read more

Mariners Still Sailing Together…Apart

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Ages of Exploration Gallery. (All images in this blog: Amanda Shields / The Mariners’ Museum and Park.)

A Teaser Trailer

Have you been wondering what it’s been like at The Mariners’ Museum since our temporary closure due to the pandemic? Take a look at what I’m calling the “Teaser Trailer” in a series that brings you behind the scenes to observe the people and places of our beloved Museum in a completely different light..literally! This series will give you a whole new view of our galleries and our team members during the closure. The Mariners’ Museum may be closed to the public at the moment, but we have not abandoned the ship.

The Galleries

The exhibits, usually so full of light and laughter, now stand still, dark, and quiet. The emergency lights cast deep shadows, beckoning to be photographed. With everything so quiet and still, the sound of each creak and tap is heard throughout every gallery. If I didn’t laugh at myself getting spooked I probably would’ve high-tailed it out of there! 

Usually, so much time and energy is spent making sure the focus is (rightfully) on the pieces in the exhibits, getting each object lit and highlighted just right. Now, with all the lights off there’s still magic to be found! It just looks a little different. It’s in the in-between, in the shadows and the depths, the places we don’t normally see because they’re hidden by the light.

Sometimes, if we change our focus we’ll even discover something new reflected back at us.

Often there’s beauty to be found even when the lights are dim, if we’re willing to sit with it for a while, appreciate it without running away from it. After all, you can’t have magnificent silhouettes without equal parts light and dark. In art, stunning portraits would have no depth without its shadows.

With the next posts in this series, I hope to inspire you when I take you behind the scenes with some staff members to hear about their fascinating work and the challenges they’ve faced during the pandemic. You’ll discover how such an “on-site” department like visitor services transitioned so suddenly to remote work. I’ll take you to sneak a peek into the rarely-seen archives, as well as watch our Cultural Heritage Photographer at work. Be sure to subscribe to our blog and get notified whenever there’s a new post to see how our Mariners’ crew are still running a tight ship!

Until next time, fair winds and following seas, my friends. 

   Read more

Pandemics and … Soupy Island?

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A boy on the dock, perhaps waiting for his turn to go to Soupy Island! July 4, 1937. Eldredge Collection, MS0091.

Updating records for our online catalog (catalogs.marinersmuseum.org, in case you’d like to know), I came across a curious image of an excursion steamer and a rather heartwarming story I’d like to share with you. It’s the story of how a city in the midst of the tuberculosis pandemic and periodic cholera outbreaks, came to help its poorest inner-city kids. It’s the story of a place called Soupy Island. The steamer is the Elizabeth Monroe Smith.

As you know, American cities in the 19th century and into the 20th century were often great places for communicable diseases to break out. The density of the population, the lack of medicines, the influx of immigrants from other places, all made the likelihood of outbreaks to be much higher than out in the countryside. Philadelphia was no exception to this.   Read more