Tell Me About It: Protective Gear or Telecommunication?

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Man Wearing a Voice Pipe, ca.1915. The Mariners’ Museum, #P0001.004-PC189.

Tell Me About It is an occasional blog on photographs that have piqued my curiosity for some reason. I am seeking information from you, our readers, in hopes of learning more about these subjects.

Imagine my surprise when I found out that this contraption is a Speaking Tube–I had cataloged it as a gas mask. The photograph is World War I vintage (that’s my excuse!).   Read more

USS Neversail: The Landlocked Ship That Made Its Own Waves

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Recruiting poster showing USS Recruit. Carlton T. Chapman, artist, ca. 1917. The Mariners’ Museum and Park 1998.33.28

During World War I, a Navy vessel ‘sailed’ the concrete of New York City for three years. The only water it ever encountered was from the sky and the city’s municipal water supply. The battleship, nicknamed “USS Neversail” and the “Street Dreadnaught,” was officially christened USS Recruit.

This recruiting poster depicts Recruit proudly steaming through the waves, leading other vessels in its wake. In reality, Recruit was constructed, commissioned, manned, decommissioned, and dismantled without ever touching an ocean. Yet despite being landlocked, the ship played an important role during World War I.   Read more

Can’t You Just Photoshop It?

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Catalog number 1969.0124.000001

I’ve heard it time and time again, “can’t you just Photoshop it?” I blame all the magicians out there who accomplish unreal feats every day using Photoshop. They’ve built up a mythos that stands nearly impossible to live up to if you, like me, consider yourself “good, but not great” at using the program.

In May, we will be opening a new exhibition, =&0=&. The exhibit will explore the local impacts of WWI through personal stories and artifacts as well as lots and lots of posters. Posters like this one:

We are a history museum, so, to some extent, we expect that artifacts may have some damage. This poster has survived since 1917. It’s not surprising to find that it has some tears and creases, but when a reproduction is going on display, it’s nice to see it restored to its former glory. So what’s the solution? Can’t you just Photoshop it?

Yes. Yes, I can…I think.

This poster presented a couple of unique problems. Digital restoration can be quite straightforward these days, with the help of features like content-aware healing but that isn’t always the best solution. In this poster’s case, the method of printing was going to present a challenge.

A dot-based printing method was used to produce this poster. When using the healing brush, even in content-aware mode, the dots can easily end up distorted and leave a feathering blur where the brush was applied, making it apparent there used to be something else there.

I needed to find a method that gave me more control and didn’t have the same blurring effect along the edges of my repairs. The solution? The clone stamp. If you aren’t familiar, the clone stamp allows you to replicate a selected area in a new location. Using the clone stamp with no feathering and 100% opacity, I was able to “paint” over damaged pixels with the appropriate color and dot pattern.

Now, repeat. Every section of damage had to be carefully painted over with the clone stamp tool sampling from nearby areas that were not damaged. In some cases, like the last prong on her crown, I had to find the correct sample point and entirely remake it while still making it convincing as the original.

Digital restoration is not for the faint of heart in cases like this. Fortunately, I had ample time to make my repairs as subtle and convincing as I could. The results were more than worth the effort involved.

You might have noticed I didn’t make the poster “perfect.” That is an essential piece of digital restoration. I wanted it to look cleaner and in better condition, but still real. The foxing and few remaining blemishes help to make that case. If you had never seen the original piece, you would never know that it had undergone restoration at all.

For more information on Answering America’s Call, visit: www.marinersmuseum.org/answering-americas-call/

For more information on this poster and to search our catalogs, visit: http://catalogs.marinersmuseum.org/search   

September Artifact of the Month – USS Leviathan Eagle Ornament

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Eagle decorative ornament from the SS Vaterland, courtesy of The Mariners' Museum.
Eagle decorative ornament from SS Leviathan, courtesy of The Mariners’ Museum.

When asked to work on this collections blog, my supervisor asked what artifacts in particular drew my attention. It’s a little awkward to say, but I’ve always been a fan of wartime histories and I may or may not have responded with a jubilant “WAR,” which sounds worse when you excitedly exclaim it in front of people. Regardless of my intern embarrassment, my declaration has ensured that I often get to focus on war relics, such as this month’s artifact, a metal eagle ornament from SS Leviathan. The eagle is a decorative metal piece that would have been displayed on the interior of the ship following its renovations. It’s two toned in color, with a blueish colored body, and gilt accents on the feathers and legs. It’s pictured twice below, once in color, and once in black and white so that it is easier to see the detailing on the piece.

 

 

Leviathan was originally SS Vaterland, a passenger liner built at Hamburg, Germany. In 1914, she was the biggest ship in the world, but only made a couple of trips prior to the outbreak of World War I.  Vaterland had just arrived in New York when war was declared, and was therefore unable to return to Germany. Prior to this, she had made only three round trips between New York and Europe. Instead she remained in a terminal in New Jersey for three years until the United States entered the war in 1917. At that point, Vaterland was taken and turned over to the U.S. Navy, who renamed her Leviathan and kept her in service as a troop ship until 1919. Following the conclusion of the war, Leviathan again found herself in limbo, until she was sent to the Newport News Shipyard in southern Virginia to undergo a complete overhaul and renovations to turn her back into a passenger liner. Her renovation was actually supervised by William Frances Gibbs, the naval architect who would later design SS United States, and the owner of two of the baseballs that were featured in our April Artifact of the Month.

 

 

As a United States passenger line however, Leviathan was less successful. She was popular as one of the few American cruise liners following her renovation, but this faded with the passing of the 18th Amendment and the establishment of Prohibition.  Leviathan established herself as a “dry” ship that did not serve any alcohol in accordance with Prohibition, provoking potential customers to ride on British ships that did serve alcohol. This, in addition to the Great Depression, helped prevent Leviathan from reaching her potential as a luxury cruise liner, and in the mid 1930’s she was deemed not profitable and placed inactive until 1938. Eventually she was sent to Scotland where she was dismantled and turned into scrap. However, Leviathan remained the largest commercial ship until 1952, with the completion of SS United States. While Leviathan was not involved in the war in the way that a submarine or battleship would have been, she still transported troops to and from Europe to aid the war effort. Her size made her hugely effective in moving large numbers of troops, and for a German luxury liner, it helped the American war effort effectively and efficiently.

 

May Artifact of the Month – Box from the USS Cyclops

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One of the greatest unsolved sinking mysteries of the U.S. Navy is the story of USS Cyclops, a steel twin screw collier that went missing during World War I, rumored to have disappeared within the Bermuda Triangle. Our Artifact of the Month is actually a chest from Cyclops, which was donated to the museum in September 1941. Unfortunately, nothing was found within the sea chest, which was found under the donor’s home in Norfolk, Virginia in 1926.

One of the greatest unsolved sinking mysteries of the U.S. Navy is the story of USS Cyclops, a steel twin screw collier that went missing during World War I, rumored to have disappeared within the Bermuda Triangle. Our Artifact of the Month is actually a chest from Cyclops, which was donated to the museum in September 1941. Unfortunately, nothing was found within the sea chest, which was found under the donor’s home in Norfolk, Virginia in 1926.