Behind the Scenes on the SS United States with Albert Durant

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Waitstaff stands behind a SS United States model with plates and a clock on the back wall. Photograph by Albert Durant, The Mariners’ Museum, MS0536–034.

I don’t know about you, but I’m always up for a behind-the-scenes tour! It wasn’t so common in the 1950s to photograph the waitstaff and working areas of an ocean liner. This, combined with the African Americans pictured in a group of photographs I discovered in our Collection drew my attention.

Photographer Albert Durant approached the opportunity to be on board the SS United States during its trial run to focus on fellow people of color whose service made the passengers’ journey pleasurable.  I’ve since learned Durant was a trailblazer right here in our backyard.   Read more

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

Continuing work with the Ship Models

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Work continues on the exhibition for the 50th anniversary of the Hampton Roads Ship Model Society, with models having arrived every day for the past two weeks.  We have almost reached the finish line though with only a couple more models set to come in.  Although anyone can walk through and see the work we’re doing, the exhibition officially opens August 5th and will remain open until February 11th, 2018.  The models are so lovely and it’s amazing the amount of work and skill that goes into making them.  The model makers clearly have a tremendous amount of patience.

There are a lot of models that people will recognize in this show, including America, CSS Virginia, USS Monitor, and SS United States.  We get a lot of questions about our model of SS United States, which is currently in storage, so it will be great to have one on display again.  There are two models of America (where the America’s Cup race gets its name), which make an excellent contrast to the AC72 displayed in the gallery next door.  It shows you just how far technology has taken us.

Artifacts on the Move!

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Entrance to the Museum

Recently I had the good fortune of being in the Boston area and was able to visit some of our artifacts currently on loan to the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts.  Their exhibition, Ocean Liners:  Glamour, Speed, and Style is open from now until October 9, after which it will be traveling to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.  We loaned them a number of fantastic pieces, including some that are quite large.

In the second room, seen in the picture above, the engineering of these mighty ships was discussed and two of our artifacts were included.  The first is the piece hanging from the ceiling, a towing tank model of SS United States.  This model was tested in the U.S. Navy’s David W. Taylor Model Basin at Bethesda, Maryland in 1946.  The other piece is the cream-colored half model on the wall to the right.  It doesn’t look like much in this photo, but it is a 21′ plating model for SS United States, made in 1949.

The next room held some of my favorite pieces.  The large painting on the right came from the smoking room of SS Kronprinz Wilhelm of the North German Lloyd Line and is quite an impressive piece.  To the left of this painting (difficult to see because of the angle and the other visitor) a lit model of SS Kronprinzessin Cecilie, also of the North German Lloyd Line.  It was made by Fleischmann, a toy company in Germany. On the wall to the left is a folding stateroom sink from the Cunard Steamship Company.

Numerous items from SS United States were used.  In the top picture is a decorative light panel from the private dining room on the promenade deck.  Unfortunately my camera does not do justice to how beautiful it looks when lit.  The main feature in the bottom image are the three glass panels from the first class ballroom.  They also look pretty spectacular when lit.  In front of them is a cocktail table from one of the lounges and to the left of this (a bit obscured as it is partially cut off) is a small table lamp used in the first class and cabin class dining rooms.

One of my favorite displays in the exhibition was the pool flags and swimming suits; it had a very fun vibe.  The pool flags are also ours and came from SS United States.  The second picture shows them on the ship.  They spell out “Come on in the waters fine!”

All in all, it was a very interesting exhibition with some gorgeous and fascinating pieces.  If you find yourself in the Salem area, I recommend taking a look!