Blog of the Collections Department

Fun Fact Friday


St. Paul figurehead, ca 1875-1900

Fun Fact:  After our figurehead of St. Paul was purchased in 1934 and began the journey to the museum, he got in a little bit of trouble.  To travel he was placed inside of the luggage compartment in a small Ford runabout.  As the roads were rather bumpy, the lid of the compartment opened enough for other motorists to see parts of Paul.  Apparently people thought that the buyers were carrying a dead body and the the police were alerted.  Next thing our buyers knew, they had police pull them over and surround them once stopped.  They had to get out of the car and show the police that it was just a figurehead they were carrying and nothing sinister.

Years later Paul once again got into a little bit of trouble.  He and many other figureheads were attached to the walls in our Great Hall and one of the trustees asked that Paul (whose right arm is extended and pointing) be moved because of where he was pointing.  It just so happened that Paul was directly across from our beautiful, but busty and topless mermaid.  So Paul was moved and a Victorian lady was put into his place across from the mermaid.

Way Back Wednesdays

May 1973 Tour of the museum for Russian Scientists, Captain Yuryi Dimov, Leonid Kryshtyn and Aleksandr Morozov with interpreter Nataly Martin

In May of 1973 we gave a tour for several Russian Scientists, including a figurehead carving demonstration.

May 19,1955, museum photogerapher William T. Radcliffe taking a picture of ship model Susan Constant

William T. Radcliffe was the official museum photographer for a long time and this shot of him (in 1955) preparing a model for photography is great.  Have to love those old cameras!  It also begs the question of, who is taking a photo of the photographer.



This image is a little different than most of the other Way Back Wednesday photos as it shows an object, rather than scene from the museum.  This is probably the smallest model in the collection and is inside a flashlight bulb.  Unfortunately, time has not been kind to the bulb and so now we can no longer see the model, but at least we will always have this image to know what it once looked like.

Opening of Gibbs Gallery in May 1972

I know I share a lot of photos from the Gibbs Gallery, but we have a lot of them and William Francis Gibbs was an interesting man.  This image from 1972 shows the inside of the gallery as finishing touches are being put on it.

Artifact of the Month – dredged anchor watercolor

For December, our artifact of the month is a lovely watercolor of a dredged anchor, the sea life growing on it almost making it look like a holiday wreath.  This piece is new to our collection and the staff were all pretty excited about it as it.  That excitement grew as the piece was further researched.



The image is supposed to be a depiction of an anchor dredged up in 1885 off Cape Ann by Alpheus Hyatt.  To anybody with some knowledge of our institutional history, the name Hyatt should sound familiar.  Alpheus was the father of our founder, Anna Hyatt Huntington.

Alpheus Hyatt, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Alpheus Hyatt, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Alpheus Hyatt was born April 5, 1838 into an old Maryland family.  He gained an interest in zoology early in life and eventually became a custodian and later curator for the Boston Society of Natural History as well as professor of zoology and paleontology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston.  Always curious and desirous to share his knowledge, Hyatt started a marine laboratory in 1880 in Annisquam, Massachusetts.  In 1881 it was formally established as a summer program, Annisquam Sea-side Laboratory, and as a branch of the Boston Society of Natural History, with whom Hyatt was already affiliated.  The program allowed women as well as men to attend and the students were often taken out for dredging field trips on board Arethusa.  It was probably on one of these journey’s where the anchor in the watercolor was dredged up.  The laboratory was later moved to Woods Hole and became an independent operation.  Hyatt passed away on January 15, 1902 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

In the bottom left corner of the watercolor is the artist’s signature and date, George Merwangee White 1885.  White lived from 1849-1915 and has a number of works at the Peabody Museum in Salem, MA.


Fun Fact Friday

This month’s fun fact is about our Great Hall of Steam exhibition, which is our gallery that includes many large ship models.  What many may or may not know is that a good number of the models exhibited were built here at the museum.  On July 19, 1932, we opened a ship model shop for the purpose of creating models that could be displayed.


Ship Model Shop, January 1937

When the work began, they decided to do models of contemporary ships so that the plans from the actual ships could be used.  Most of these ended up being ships that had been built at Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company.  The first model the shop started working on was that of President Hoover of the Dollar Line, although a model of the tug John Twohy, Jr. was finished first.


President Hoover/President Coolidge of the Dollar Line

Once experience had been gained building the contemporary models, the shop began working on models for historic vessels, such as the Monitor and Virginia.  The model shop continued until the early 1940’s, at which point they had built a total of 14 models.  Thanks to them we have some beautiful representations of ships past.


Model makers working on the model of America, 1939

B is for Buttersworth

Although I am a little late with the announcement, we recently had a new art exhibition open, titled “B is for Buttersworth F is for Forgery“.



The idea is that you can wander around the gallery enjoying the art of James Edward Buttersworth, who was a fantastic maritime artist, while also trying to see if you can spot which is the forgery, for there is only one.



Buttersworth (1817-1894) was born in England, but emigrated to the U.S. in the late 1840’s where he settled in New York City.  He is well known for his paintings depicting scenes from the America‘s Cup race as well as scenes from New York’s harbor.  Butterworth’s father, Thomas Buttersworth, was also a maritime painter and you can find two of his works in this gallery as well.

"British Armed Top Sail Schooner off Malaga, Spain" and "Frigate Entering Gibraltar Harbor" by Thomas Buttersworth

“British Armed Top Sail Schooner off Malaga, Spain” and “Frigate Entering Gibraltar Harbor” by Thomas Buttersworth

After you’ve studied the paintings, it is then time to choose which you believe to be the fake.  You get three strikes and then you are out on our computers (shown below), but of course you can try again as many times as you like.


Another really fun aspect of the exhibition is just around the corner from the computers and is a make your own painting activity.  On the wall is a blank maritime scene (if no one else has played with it yet) next to which are magnets.  You can use these magnets to create your own maritime painting (as seen below).  I’m sure visitors have been enjoying this and I know that the staff has.  B is for Buttersworth will be up until April 26, 2015.


Something New, Historic and Fun

One of the latest additions to our collection is a toy which offers a unique view of the Civil War.  It’s a game, a history lesson, a home theater and a farce, all at the same time.  So let me introduce “The Myriopticon, A Historical Panorama of The Rebellion”, its famous creator and how it all came about.

The creator of the Myriopticon was Milton Bradley.  The same man whose name would become synonymous with popular games like Candyland, Twister, Operation, Jenga, Battleship and Yatzee, just to name a few.

Bradley got his start as a draftsman and he worked for a while designing railroad cars.  But in 1860 he set out on a new career as a lithographer, creating and selling prints.  One in particular, an image of Abraham Lincoln, proved to be very popular and profitable.  But alas, Bradley’s Lincoln had no beard, so when the real thing began to grow facial hair, sales of the lithograph faltered.

He then decided to make a lithograph designed like a checkerboard with light and dark squares and gave it the title “The Checkered Game of Life”.    A game with a morality theme where proper living would carry a player from Infancy to Old Age and the wrong choices would lead to Ruin.   The game proved to be extremely popular and profitable with the initial print run selling out within a few months.

Bradley had found a new career path, but within a short period of time, sales began to quickly decline due to the Civil War.  Initially he decided to stop production and turn his attention to making weapons, but advice from others convinced him otherwise.  Soldiers in the field were looking for diversions to keep them occupied between battles and long marches, he was told.  So he decided to make miniature versions of games including checkers, chess, dominos, backgammon and his Checkered Game of Life.   He sold them for $1 each and since they were lightweight and easily carried, they were just the thing to boost sales again.

Another benefit he would get from the war, even if Bradley might not have realized it at the time, was the appearance of the war illustrations in magazines and newspapers.  Views of the battles, participants, weapons and war-torn cities, most of them done by artists who were on the scene during the action or who spent time with troops in the encampments.  Some of the drawings were accurate and others were not, but these depictions captivated readers and Bradley would find them extremely useful for his next big project.

After the war interest in educational pastimes began growing and Bradley took advantage of this momentum by creating a toy based on a popular style of entertainment called the Panorama.  Shown as a theater production with curtains, lights and often music, Panoramas were large rolls of fabric with painted scenes.  During the show, the fabric was slowly unrolled so one image at a time would be displayed while a narrator read a script to the audience.    Some of the most popular presentations were based on battles and stories from the Civil War.

Bradley had his parlor-sized version of the Panorama available for sale before the end of 1866.  His Myriopticon contained 22 drawings glued end to end with depictions of the Civil War from the fall of Fort Sumter to the burning of Richmond.   Other images included the battle between the Ironclads U.S. S.  Monitor and  C. S. S. Virginia, camp life, freed slaves and a sharpshooter.   Bradley did the artwork himself but some of the images look almost identical to illustrations seen in newspapers and magazines during the war.

The toy was a small cardboard box with an open back and a viewing window cut into the front panel and it was decorated with brightly colored lithograph paper depicting a patriotic bunting, theater curtains, musicians and two royal figures watching from the sides.   Two wooden rollers inside the box allowed the user to move the drawings past the viewing window and the instructions encouraged them to place a candle or other light behind the Myriopticon to enhance the illusion that it was a theater performance.

Like a real Panorama, the Myriopticon came with paper tickets, an advertising poster and a script.  The script was written by Bradley and it contained factual information as well as sly jokes and comments, and even some warnings to the audience to mind their step through the camp scenes as if they were present when the action was taking place.  And of course, there were pleas for the audience to remain seated until the show was over.

Like most lithographed toys, our Myriopticon exhibits the wear and tear of use and age, but the colors remain bright and the rollers still work properly.   Other examples of these toys are housed in other museums and private collections and they come up for auction from time to time.   It is interesting to note that not all the illustrations are identical in the Myriopticons that still exist.  There are several different versions of the Panorama.  Whether or not this is due to the date of production or a grand scheme that Bradley may have had to encourage viewers to attend multiple Myriopticon presentations, I will leave that for you to speculate.  As of yet, I don’t have an answer.

Another thing that comes to my mind is just how many of these toys may have gone up in smoke during the presentations.  Cardboard covered with paper, wood rollers and Bradley’s suggestion of placing a candle or lantern behind the box during the show and you have the potential for some interesting special effects during the performance.    Which may have been truly effective if it happened during the showing of the last image…the burning of Richmond.

To see our catalog record for the Myriopticon with photos of all 22 of the drawings, visit our website at www.   Click on the Explore button at the top of the screen and then choose Search Catalogs.  You will be able to view our collection by putting in search terms or merely browsing.   Thanks for reading our blog.



Firing on Fort Sumter

Burning of Richmond

Burning of Richmond

Ironclad Action

Ironclad Action



New Findings in the Ronson Ship Collection

Over the past three months, I have encountered all different types of findings within the Ronson Ship collection. So far, I have primarily worked with pipe stem fragments and tablewares.

Currently, the boxes that I have been working on have included various types of tablewares. The most predominant types that I have encountered thus far have included red earthenware, salt-glazed stoneware, Westerwald tankard rims, scratched-blue stoneware, Delftware, English yellow slipware as well as some  blue hand-painted Chinese porcelain.

While I have come across a wide variety of tableware types, there have been some pieces that have been more challenging to accurately determine. Each day that I am working with the collection, I never know what I am going to stumble upon so it has been exciting to be able to date and pinpoint some of the household tableware that were found in the ship.

Here is a brief look into how some of the tableware pieces look:


Here are some fragments of Westerwald stoneware. It primarily dates back to 1650-1775.


Here are some larger pieces of Westerwald tankard rims.



This is an example of trailed slipware. Slipware is broken into three different categories: trailed, feathered, and dotted.



These are other designs that can be found on slipware. It typically dates back to 1580-1795. It was predominantly used for tableware.


This picture shows three separate Westerwald pieces that I was able to put back together. This type of stoneware was used mainly for mugs or jugs.



Hopefully I will have some more updates to share soon!



Raft Dance – Illustrated London News

From the Illustrated London News comes this amusing image of people dancing on a raft amidst a group of ships and boats.  According to the text on the side, this occurred during the Squadron Regatta in Cork, Ireland in July of 1851.  Those on the raft were sailors from the HMS Leander who has dressed up to perform various dances on the raft for the amusement of all at the regatta.  As a finale, the performers jumped into the water and then continued to amuse onlookers with their antics.

So far I haven’t been able to find out any more information about the occasion displayed in this piece, but I thought it was probably still interesting enough to share.

raft party

Way Back Wednesdays

Museum building November 17, 1937

This was one of the storage buildings (in 1937) attached to the main museum.  It would later be converted into our library space, at least until they moved over to the Christopher Newport University library.

Museum Courtyard, boats on display January 2, 1940

After they discontinued storing our boats in the lake, they put them into our courtyard where they were more easily visible, as this photo from 1940 shows.  Now they are happily displayed in our International Small Craft Center.

Newport News Boys Club camping in the park July 1947

And here we have an image from July of 1947 from when the Newport News Boys Club camped in the park.  They have clearly been swimming, but the lake is no longer a nice place to do that.

November 1936 Classroom exhibition inspired by a visit to The Mariners' Museum

This photo shows a classroom exhibition that was inspired by a visit to The Mariners’ Museum in 1936. Not sure what school this is from, but the wall looks great!

Artifact of the Month – Galatea

For November I decided to make one of our beautiful figureheads the artifact of the month.  Choosing one was rather difficult as they are all wonderful in their own ways, but eventually I picked that of Galatea.


I’ve found that, like Galatea here,  a lot of figureheads get their names from mythology.  There are two myths that go along with Galatea, the first stating that she was a beautiful sea goddess/nymph who was in love with a man named Akis.  The cyclops Polyphemus was in love with Galatea and jealous of the young Akis, crushed him beneath a rock.  In her grief, Galatea turned Akis into a stream.

The other myth refers to Galatea as a statue that Pygmalion carved from ivory.  Pygmalion’s statue was so beautiful that he fell in love with it and left offerings to Aphrodite asking for a woman as wonderful as his statue.  When he returned home his statue turned into a live woman and they were married.

I imagine that this figurehead was probably based on the latter story as she has been carved so smoothly that she looks as though she has been made of ivory.  Also, when you compare paintings of Pygmalion and Galatea, she is usually shown with that same draping cloth across or around her, as with the image of the painting below.

Depiction of Ovid's narrative by Jean Raoux, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Depiction of Ovid’s narrative by Jean Raoux, Courtesy of Wikipedia

While there has been some confusion as to which ship named Galatea that our figurehead came from, it has been determined that it is from the one built in 1865 in Boston.  She was in American hands until 1877 when she her home port changed to Bremerhaven, Germany.  She remained under German ownership until 1883, which is when she disappears from the European Lloyds Register of Shipping.

An interesting narrative of about the ship and the figurehead come from Captain Yngve Eiserman, a Swedish collector who gained his information from a local man who was part of the last crew on Galatea.  He is stated as saying:

“The ship to which she gave her name was, I believe, one of the early American clippers whose memory is still honoured in the States.  After making her name under the American flag she passed into German hands.  Then one day in 1882, she was badly battered in a gale off Port Elizabeth…so the crippled Galatea crawled into Table Bay and was dry docked…the first ship to use the newly completed dock.  But a sad blow fell upon the captain and his crew.  Their ship was condemned as being no longer fit for sea.  When the old Galatea was condemned she became a hulk in Table Bay.  When she outlived her period of usefulness in even that lowly capacity she was run ashore among the breakers on Blaauwberg beach and broken up.  Her figurehead, I believe, was saved by a Mr. Stevens at Blaauwberg.  Eventually it passed into the ownership of Mr. Charles Bleach who set it up in his hotel at Simon’s Town.  There it was always an object of interest…Now the American Museum has raised the money for its purchase and from letters I have said they are very glad over there to be getting it back.  The figurehead, carefully packed, left in the American steamer West Isleta for New York on Thursday.”

As for who carved our figurehead, that is unknown, although it has been attributed to Herbert Gleason, who was a Boston carver.  The reasoning is that Galatea shares many characteristics of known carvings by Gleason in look and form and because the ship was built in Boston.

In any case, she is a beautiful figurehead and while currently in storage, hopefully she will be displayed again in our Great Hall of Steam with some of the other figureheads.