SS Normandie vs Costa Concordia

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The wreck of the Costa Concordia

The Costa Concordia disaster is not the first time a large cruise liner has come to rest on its side.  To some who are well-versed in maritime news and shipwrecks, the images of the cruise ship Costa Concordia lying on her side off the Italian coast might look familiar.  In 1942, a top-of-the-line cruise ship, the Normandie, was undergoing conversion to become a troop transport ship in New York Harbor when she caught fire and capsized, coming to rest on her side, much like Costa Concordia.

Harvey Ardman’s Normandie: Her Life and Times, from the Library’s stacks, provides a very detailed history of this legendary ship.  Construction began on the Normandie in early 1931.  At the time she would be the largest ship ever built: 1,029 ft. long with a maximum breadth of 119 ft., weighing in at a staggering 27,675 tons.  Compare this to Costa Concordia‘s 952 ft. long and 116 ft. wide.  Normandie was launched in October 1932, then spent three years being outfitted for her maiden voyage in 1935.   Read more

The S.S. Port Nicholson

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The S.S. Port Nicholson

In today’s issue of The Virginian-Pilot, an article appeared about a recent and potentially valuable maritime discovery made off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts.  Treasure hunter Greg Brooks says that he has discovered the wreck of the S.S. Port Nicholson, a British steamship that was torpedoed by German u-boats in 1942.  Brooks claims that the ship was carrying some 71 tons of platinum, valued today at around $3 billion.  Brooks also believes diamonds and gold bullions to be among the cargo some 700 feet underwater.  Salvage efforts have yet to begin, but, as Brooks states, “I’m going to get it, one way or another, even if I have to lift the ship out of the water”.

But Brooks might be in for a big disappointment, as he is apparently not the first to have sought the treasures of the Port Nicholson.  Both an American and a British company have previously searched for the contents of the ship, and some sources say that they successfully retireved a portion of the ship’s cargo.  Others claim that the ship may not have even been carrying valuable materials.  Anthony Shusta, a lawyer representing the British government, states, “Our initial research indicated it was mostly machinery and military stores”.   Read more

Secrets in the Stacks

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Join us tomorrow, Wednesday September 7, at noon for this this month’s Secrets in the Stacks.  Tom Moore, Senior Curator of Photography and Photo Archivist, will share the Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation Collection.  This extraordinary collection of photographs visually illustrates the role of Newport News as one of the major military Ports of Embarkation during World War II.

On December 7, 1941, war came to America with the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.  In a few short months, the Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation was activated.  A giant natural harbor, Hampton Roads served the nation as a military port in the Spanish-American War and World War I.  During World War II, port headquarters was established here in Newport News and the port ranked third in the nation, after New York and San Francisco, in volume of troops and war materiel shipped to both Europe and the South Pacific.  The urbanization of Newport News since the 1940s has erased many of the landmarks that defined the area at the time, and most of us would not recognize very many of those which remain.  The important role of the Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation in the war effort will be highlighted by this amazing collection of images.   Read more