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

July Artifact of the Month – WAVES Uniform

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Propaganda poster encouraging enlistment in the WAVES. Courtesy of The Mariners’ Museum.
Propaganda poster encouraging enlistment in the WAVES. Courtesy of The Mariners’ Museum.

The June Artifact of the Month is a WAVES uniform set that was given to The Mariners’ Museum by Mrs. Clara Gemmet. Mrs. Gemmet joined the Navy in 1955 and went to boot camp in Bainbridge, Maryland. Following her basic training, she went to Airman Prep school, which she passed and continued on to the Naval Air Station Memphis, a major technical station for the Navy and Marine Corps. According to Mrs. Gemmet, she is still in touch with some of the women she was in the Navy with and, if given the opportunity, she would go back and do it all over again. She specifically states, “The women I worked with, shared cubicles with were wonderful, honest, proud women – proud to be helping their country by wearing OUR uniform.” Mrs. Gemmet is still involved with the WAVES through WAVES National, which works with women from all of the seagoing services, along with the Sacramento WAVES and as an officer in her local branch of Fleet Reserve Association.

In the end of July 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law the creation of a World War II naval division for women, known as Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service, or WAVES. It allowed women to be placed into non-combat jobs within the continental United States, in an attempt to fill desk jobs with women and therefore enable men to take on combat roles elsewhere. For example, women worked as pharmacist assistants, radio dispatchers, mechanics, mail carriers and decoders. Within one year of FDR’s signing of the law, about 27,000 women had signed up for service. By the time the war was over, there were about 8,000 female officers, and almost 84,000 enlisted women, which made up about 2.5% of the total navy.[1] These women, including Mrs. Gemmet, still wore skirts and dresses as part of their uniforms, as opposed to pants, along with fitted jackets and heels.   Read more