Knot your usual grounding…

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USS Missouri grounded. MS0228-538A

Many of you probably know the story of one of the most infamous groundings to occur in Hampton Roads—that of the battleship USS Missouri—whose captain merrily drove it onto Thimble Shoals on January 17th, 1950 thanks to sheer arrogance fueled by terrible interdepartmental US Navy communication (read: it wasn’t just bad communication–there wasn’t ANY communication!).

The story has been told well in other places (My particular favorite is:, so I thought I would relate an interesting incident that occurred during the salvage operation that most people haven’t heard; a circumstance that led to Mariners’ having a really odd commemorative object related to the event in our collection.   Read more

Beached whales and bad omens

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Dutch Whaling Scene, Bonaventura Peters, 1645. Accession Number QO 29

On Saturday we hosted a behind the scenes tour for Hudgins Construction (they very nicely re-graveled our boat building shed so we could easily move and store objects in there). There were a lot of families involved so I programmed two different tours in order to show the kids objects I hoped they might find entertaining (an image of seasick passengers, an early 17th century version of a blokart, a Viking sword, you get the idea).

One of the pieces I showed them was our 1645 Dutch whaling painting by Bonaventura Peters which I supplemented with an engraving of a beached whale on the Dutch coast.  As I researched the image, I discovered the reason for its creation was quite fascinating and revealed something I didn’t understand about the weird proliferation of 17th century images of whale strandings.   Read more

Squid pro quo…the effect of lassoing squishy fish

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We accessioned a small book illustration last week that has an interesting, although slightly embarrassing story associated with it—at least for the inept pile of sailors that were involved in the incident!

The print came from the 1887 book “Sea and Land: An Illustrated History of The Wonderful and Curious Things of Nature Existing before and since the Deluge…” by James W. Buel.  It’s titled “The Great Cuttle-Fish as Seen from the Ship Alecto.”  For those of you who don’t know what a cuttlefish is, it’s a cephalopod which is the family of marine animals that includes squids and octopi.   Read more

55th Anniversary of the sinking of USS Thresher

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Today is the 55th anniversary of the sinking of the US Navy submarine USS Thresher (SSN-593).

The first of its class, Thresher was supposed to be an innovative leap forward in submarine design and technology but several test runs uncovered technical problems and Thresher returned to Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine for repairs. By April 9, 1963 the repairs had been completed so the vessel departed for sea trials with 112 crew members and 17 shipyard employees who rode along to monitor the repairs in case additional work was needed.   Read more

Death Rides the Storm: The story of one amazing rescue!

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Shadow box presented to First Officer Robert B. Miller by the Temple of the Brave

While working on an inquiry for Howard this morning I stumbled across an odd object that turned out to have a really cool story attached to it. The piece was a small shadow box that was a presentation piece to First Officer Robert B. Miller, of the United States Line ship President Roosevelt in 1926.  It was presented to Miller by the Temple of the Brave, Hedge End, Hants, England, following his rescue the crew of the sinking cargo ship Antinoe—and it is quite a story!

On January 20th, 1926, the President Roosevelt, captained by George Fried, left New York for Bremerhaven, Germany.  The ship carried several thousand bags of mail bound for the UK and Europe and 200 passengers. Unknowingly, the ship, which left New York in poor weather, was heading directly into a fierce wintertime hurricane.  As the voyage progressed, the weather grew so bad that passengers were forbidden from going outside and the crew rigged lifelines throughout the ship to help people move around.   Read more