Oh, How We Mariners Love Lighthouses

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An ocean wave crashes against a lightouse, almost completely obscuring it.
Wolf Rock Lighthouse, Lands End, Cornwall, after 1870, Gibson & Sons, Scilly. The Mariners’ Museum, P0001.012-01-PL281.

I’m aware that lighthouses serve a practical purpose, where land and water collide, but symbolically, they offer a message of hope and determination when facing adversity.

There are times when the ocean is not the ocean-not blue, not even water, but some violent explosion of energy and danger: ferocity on a scale only gods can summon. It hurls itself at the island, sending spray right over the top of the lighthouse, biting pieces off the cliff. And the sound is a roaring of a beast whose anger knows no limits. Those are the nights the light is needed most. ― M. L. Stedman   Read more

It’s a Disaster! The Rollers of 1846

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View of James Town and the Harbour, Saint Helena. Taken from the Harbour Master’s Office during the Rollers of the 17th February 1846. The image was created from an eyewitness view by Frederick Rice Stack, a lieutenant with the St. Helena Regiment. (Accession# LP1200/1937.1569.01)

It’s time for me to admit something—I have a sick fascination with historical disasters—especially those related to natural phenomena. I don’t know why. I just do. Some of the prints and engravings we have in the collection are really unique so I thought I would share one of my favorites: The February 1846 “rollers” at St. Helena.  This image has fascinated me for years! The first time I saw it my immediate question was—what the hell are “rollers.” Now obviously they are waves but why did these particular waves deserve a different designation? (And no, they are not related to an earthquake or tsunami.)

The islands of Ascension and St. Helena (the island where Napoleon was exiled) in the South Atlantic are periodically plagued by waves that seem to occur for no readily apparent reason–one moment the seas are calm, little waves start rolling ashore and before long waves big enough to surf are hitting the north facing side of the island.  One source described the waves as “the rollers for which St. Helena has ever been celebrated.” Really? I find it hard to believe anybody was celebrating after looking at this image because in this instance the consequences of the “rollers” were so catastrophic the event was recorded for posterity.   Read more

Tragedy on the Mississippi

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The Assassination of President Lincoln, Courtesy of Library of Congress. Call No. LC-F81- 2117 [P&P]

A Somber Day

Today marks a somber day in the history of the United States of America. 155 years ago, our country suffered its, to this day unbeaten, greatest maritime disaster by loss of life. If that seems surprising to you, then you aren’t alone. It is, unfortunately, a chapter of our collective maritime heritage that has been largely forgotten. Why? Because it happened at the end of April in 1865.

If you’re familiar with the history of the American Civil War, then you no doubt know that April of 1865 was one of the most formative years of our Union. It was a month that saw union forces march into Richmond and high-profile surrenders that led to the end of the war. It was the month in which Abraham Lincoln was shot and killed by actor and confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth. The day immediately before the disaster, Booth was cornered in Bowling Green, VA, and slain by Sergeant Boston Corbett of the 16th New York Cavalry.   Read more

Artifact of the Month – Maple Leaf Carvings

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Nickerson

This month’s artifact choice is a set of 9 maple leaf carvings that I have been researching the last few weeks.  When I first came across them I noticed that there was writing on the back regarding their particular histories, which for some reason was not in our computer system.  The story of the leaves starts with the man who carved them, Gilbert Nickerson of Shag Harbour, Nova Scotia.

He was known as the “Old Chairmaker” and collected wood from ships to make into chairs, maple leaves, and other interesting pieces.  In one of his chairs he is even reported to have used a piece from Titanic.  The southern area in Nova Scotia where Nickerson lived was rather treacherous for ships and so a great number of them were stranded or sank, causing lots of wood to drift ashore.   Read more

A Valentine For Our Readers

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na103

A bit of Valentine’s Day fun for this blog post which looks at artifacts in our collection that are cataloged with the words valentine, love, darling, chocolate, candy,  kiss and heart in either the name or description fields in our collections database.

VALENTINE   Read more