The Port of Call Blog

Let’s Take a Dive

Good morning, readers!

I wanted to share a few interesting photographs with you today to show you some of the pieces we have on the early diving suit because they weren’t always so sleek and appealing. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if most of you ran away if someone happened to bring out one of these “antique” suits displayed below on your tropical scuba diving excursions…


PSKR381              PSKR382              PSKR386
                      1.                                                                 2.                                                            3.

1. Dunn Diving Head
MS163, Box 16
By Robert G. Skerrett; Submarine Photo. Co.

Side view of the underwater helmet.


2. Repairing Shoe Using Dunn Diving Head
MS163, Box 16
By Robert G. Skerrett; Submarine Photo. Co.

The diving head in action.
Written on verso: Repairing shoe using Dunn Diving Head. Submarine Photo Co. Miami, Fla.


3. The Dunn Diving Hood Makes Diving Easy
MS163, Box 16
By Robert G. Skerrett; Submarine Photo. Co.

A diver getting into the water.
Written on verso: Going down on short notice to untangle a line in a boats propeller.

P924                           PSKR371
                                           1.                                                                                        2.

1. Up from the Bottom
By Daily Press, Inc.

A diver in full diving suit holding onto the steel cable, standing on diving platform.


2. Underwater View of Diver on Platform Being Lowered
MS163, Box 16
By Robert G. Skerrett; Submarine Photo. Co.

View showing diver on platform being lowered underwater alongside a ship.




Frontal view of Leavitt all metal deep water diving suit
MS0163, Box 16
By Robert G. Skerrett; Submarine Photo. Co.

Written on verso:
A frontal view of the Leavitt all-metal deep water diving suit. The only connection with the surface is a special steel cable by which the diver is lowered and raised. This cable has in its core a telephone circuit which permits the diver to maintain vocal communications with person on the salvage craft. This particular suit is equipped with heavy rubbers gloves which could be used up to 150 feet. At greater depths the suit would be fitted with pincers or tongs operated from within sleeves of the armor.

Can you identify this building?

Good morning, Readers,

Today I am hoping that you can help me with something that has been driving me crazy…

As you know, we have been working hard on our IMLS grant that is allowing us to catalog and digitize our archival resources that involve the Battle of Hampton Roads. One piece in series 13.5, the Jerry Lee Harlowe Collection of the Monitor Collection Associated Records (MS0390) has quite a lot of people stumped:

Monitor float
It’s a postcard with an image of the Monitor parade float, but what I have been trying to figure out is where this event took place. Knowing the geographic location will enhance the catalog record that I am trying to create for this piece, so if you know, please leave a comment!

Underwater Photography in 1913

Lately, we’ve been having 70° days here in Newport News and I can’t help but daydream about the beach.
Today, I wanted to share a few of the images that we have on underwater photography, specifically MS0175, the collection of John E. Williamson Photographs.

Collection MS0175 consists of photographs taken by John Ernest Williamson, a photographer for the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot until 1913. Williamson is recognized as the first person to successfully photograph under water and actually went on to work on feature films such as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Mysterious Island. Below I’ll show you some images that were taken to chronicle a dive on the wreck of a blockade runner in the Bahamas.

I hope that this post will make you want to take a dip… Or, at the very least, come by for a visit sometime soon to view the rest of these images in person.


P5000WILLIAMSON              P5013WILLIAMSON

Left:                                                                               Right:
Cutaway view illustrating how the diving  bell  was              Underwater diving bell used by John Ernest
used for underwater photography                                Williamson for underwater photography
MS0175.027                                                                     MS0175.038

Charles Williamson, a sea captain from Norfolk, Virginia, and father of John E. Williamson, invented a deep-sea tube made of a series of concentric, interlocking iron rings, which facilitated easy communication and plentiful air down to depths of up to 250 feet. Originally intended to be used for underwater repair and for ship salvage, his son realized that his father’s mechanism could also be used to obtain undersea photographs.

Above left, an exterior view of the diving bell is illustrated in order to reveal how an operator could use an early movie camera by sitting inside. Above right, a photograph of the diving bell on land.



Underwater wreck of confederate blockade-runner
By John Ernest Williamson and Virginia Ferguson

Written on verso:
Wonderful depth to this. Top of reef is fully 75 feet away from the chamber. Have a fine panoramic view of this in movie with thousands of fish darting around past camera in schools.






Underwater scene taken from a diving bell
By John Ernest Williamson

A peaceful underwater scene taken from the diving bell during the dive on the wreck of a blockade runner in the Bahamas.








Underwater Scene
By John Ernest Williamson

A view of the sea floor as seen from the interior of the diving bell.

Amazing Imagery… Part 2: At Sea

Hello readers!
Here’s part two of my blog featuring stunning images that really caught my eye as I was looking through our photographic collection. This time, I’ve focused on images at sea. Enjoy!






The image to the left features a view of three jibs on the mast of the Enterprise. This photograph was taken by Edwin Levick in 1930.














Here is another image of the Enterprise, but from a different perspective. This is a view of the deck taken from the mast.











Here, soldiers and sailors are seen climbing down the side of the President Coolidge as they abandon the ship on October 26, 1942.











Here, the Heron Neck Lighthouse is shown with the ocean splashing on the rocks. This photograph was taken by Ralph Smith and his notes state that this lighthouse in Maine was built in 1854 and stood 28 ft. high.










Here, the Black River (West Breakwater) Lighthouse is shown. The notes state that it was built 1909, rebuilt 1919, and stood at 51 ft high.


Amazing Imagery… Part 1: On Land

Hello readers!

I thought make a little two-part blog featuring some stunning images that really caught my eye as I was looking through our photographic collection.






This photograph of the Biloxi Lighthouse in Biloxi, Mississippi, was taken by Ralph Smith. Don’t you just love those clouds?










This photograph, also taken by Ralph Smith, features the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse in Cape Canaveral, Florida. According to Smith’s notes, it was built in 1848, then rebuilt in 1894. The perspective almost gives me that feeling of falling.









I seem to admire Ralph Smith’s work because I also love his photograph of the Cape Henry Lighthouse, built in 1881. Here he has perfectly captured the image that I think we’ve all attempted during lighthouse tours. I say “attempted” because I know all of mine have hands and peering heads in them.









Ralph Smith also captured an image featuring the keeper of the Cove Point Lighthouse adjusting the lens. According to Smith’s notes, this lighthouse was built in 1828 and rebuilt in 1857.











In this photograph, taken by Edwin Levick, Harold Vanderbilt, and W. Starling Burgess, an interior view of sail loft shows people busy making sails.




BOHR, IMLS, and Jessica

Good morning, readers!

Jessica Eichlin is our guest blogger today and she’s here to share the unique experience that she’s had with the Monitor, the Library, and the Monitor Center over the past few months. Read on to see what she has been up to!


IMLSOne of the ongoing projects here at The Mariners’ Museum Library is the Collections Access Project, an IMLS grant whose focus is on the cataloging and digitization of archival resources that have to do with the Battle of Hampton Roads (BOHR). I was a cataloging intern for the project last summer but thanks to my experience at the Library, I have a new-found appreciation for the Monitor and the BOHR project as I spend my time now as an intern for the Monitor Center of The Mariners’ Museum.

For those of you who aren’t familiar, the Battle of Hampton Roads was fought on March 8-9, 1862 at the confluence of the James River and the Chesapeake Bay. It was the first battle fought between two ironclad ships-a new technology at the time. The USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia (formerly the USS Merrimack), clashed and fought to a draw. Neither ship won, but since the Virginia was thought to have retreated first, the Union considered it a victory and a morale booster.

As I worked on the project last summer, I read through a constant stream of names. John Lorimer Worden, Alban Stimers, John Ericsson, David Dixon Porter, and many others filled the pages of the collection I was assigned to catalog. I worked with MS0013, the Isacc Newton Jr. Collection, and cataloged a variety of manuscripts which included military documents, personal letters, and photographs. Isaac Newton Jr. was the First Engineer on the Monitor, but I didn’t know much about him at the time. 

After spending 120 hours over the summer working on the Isaac Newton Jr. Collection, I knew a lot more about the Battle of Hampton Roads and about the Monitor than when I started and my experience truly came full circle when I started interning for the Monitor Center. I was taken on a tour of the facilities on my first day and I was able to see the Wet Lab that has now been temporarily shut-down. I got chills viewing the tanks which contain parts of the engines. These engines were the same ones used every day by First Engineer Newton during the Battle of Hampton Roads so it was truly incredible to view the artifacts first-hand.

Textbooks and dates can only tell us so much, but these artifacts truly speak for themselves.
Newton’s list of crewmembers lost on the Monitor MS0013.

Jessica has been a wonderful intern for the Library and we know that the Monitor Center is lucky to have her. The BOHR grant is scheduled to be completed this year so we’ll keep you posted on the progress!

Chris-Craft Exhibit Now Open

PI932-ExhibitPoster (2)


Our latest exhibit is now open in the Library. American Classics: The First Half Century of Chris-Craft will be on display through May, 2014.


The legacy of Chris-Craft is rich in both tradition and innovation—the glossy mahogany hulls they built remain instantly recognizable as the epitome of classic pleasure boats. And with additional model lines that eventually included aluminum, plywood, steel, and fiberglass hulls—as well as kit boats and sailboats—there was a Chris-Craft designed to meet the needs of a wide variety of buyers around the world.



The story of Chris-Craft is one of originality, of business and industry acumen; it speaks to meticulous attention to detail and a commitment to craftsmanship. Using photographs, advertisements, and other materials drawn from our extensive Chris-Craft Collection, American Classics follows the trajectory of this unique corporation during its first decades—the evolution of a small-town, family-owned business which became the world’s largest builders of pleasure boats and drastically changed the industry.


The Library is open Monday-Wednesday and Friday, 12:00 pm-5:00 pm; Thursday, 12:00 pm-7:00 p.m.

We hope you’ll stop by to check it out!


Rare Maps & Sea Monsters

Good afternoon, readers!

Mariaelena DiBenigno is a special guest blogger today as a graduate student in the William and Mary American Studies Program.  She has been an intern with us for a few months and she has been working exclusively with our rare map collection. In addition to cataloging these resources, she’s been on the hunt for something more…
Read on to see what she has been up to!

While cataloging The Mariners’ Museum Library’s collection of sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth century maps, I have also been scanning the illustrated seas for the unusual, the astonishing, and the monstrous. Part of my current project involves searching for depictions of sea monsters in the oceans, near land and along the edges of the maps. Fortunately, this rare map collection contains a multitude of sea monsters, as you’ll see below.

In the map, Septentrionalivm regionvm descrip. (MSM0125) by Abraham Ortelius, 1592, there is a colorful ichthyosaur gracing the waters off the coast of Ireland as he plays a mandolin in the lower left corner. There are also images of the whale-like physetera, or spouter, and its counterpart, the large-bodied cetus.

MSm0125-jpg635174338040000000  MSm0125Detail_01-jpg635174338280000000
MSm0125Detail_02-jpg635174338560000000  MSm0125Detail_03-jpg635174338740000000

All manner of mermen and mermaids decorate seas. On several cartouches, like the ones below, strangely cherubic creatures with fish tails romp about.

Below, the map Tvrcici imperii descriptio. Concordia parue res crescunt, discordia maxime disabunter (MSM0115), by Abraham Ortelius in 1592.

MSm0115-jpg635174337240000000  MSm0115Detail-jpg635174337450000000

Below, more cherubs are featured in the map, Typus Universalis (MSM1712) by Sebastian Münster, 1540.


Very few maps in the collection depict menacing sea monsters, although one seventeenth century text, Architectura Navalis, shows sailors shooting galley cannons at three threatening sea creatures from the map Nova Totius Terrarum Orbis Tabula (MSM0001by Frederik de Wit, 1660.

MSm0001-jpg635174336190000000  MSm0001Detail-jpg635174336440000000

I have learned that sea monsters serve three purposes on maps:

1. They display the great oceanic unknown to audiences with atlas access.
2. They demonstrate a community’s desire to frighten away enterprising foreign fishermen.
3. They simply help decorate large swathes of sea.

While we can’t always be sure what each individual sea monster represented, we do know that these illustrations were replaced with ships in the early eighteenth century. As the seas became more and more charted, the age of the map-based sea monsters came to an end.

I am sure that Maria will uncover several more sea monsters in our rare map collection during her stay with us. Just keep in mind that you are always welcome to drop by the Library to see them in person!

New Year… New archival projects!

Happy New Year, readers!

It has taken me some time to get back into the swing of things here at the Library, but I am happy to deliver some exciting news… We have created our own digital library, The Mariners’ Museum Library Gallery, in order to shine a spotlight on some of our rare and unique resources that have been digitized. This ongoing project will allow our patrons to view our online exhibits, our digitized manuscripts, journals and logbooks, our rare maps, and eventually, some of our photographs. Click the image below to see what we have so far!


Also, with the new Library Gallery, we have the ability to begin crowdsourcing our digitized manuscript materials. This means that you can select a page from one of our handwritten archival resources and type what you see. This kind of transcription project would be a huge undertaking for our small library staff, but with your help, you will be practically making our never-before-seen manuscripts “findable”, searchable, and readable for our international researchers. If you’re interested in becoming involved with this project, all you need is a transcription account, access to the internet, and patience/familiarity with reading 19th century handwriting.  Also, be warned… It can be addicting!


Holiday Wishes from The Mariners’ Museum Library



The minutes are ticking away here at the Library because the holiday break is upon us yet again.


Just so you know, we will be closed, and services will not be available, beginning December 20, 2013 to January 5, 2014.


Before I leave, I just wanted to thank you for a great year and to wish you all a safe and happy holiday! Enjoy this last post of 2013!








In this image from our HRPE Collection, Santa poses and receives bags of mail and packages for the soldiers at Newport News, VA on November 21, 1945.











In this next image, also from our HRPE Collection, Brigadier General John R. Kilpatrick is shown standing beside a Christmas tree before making a statement at the Christmas gathering on the Norfolk Army Base on December 24, 1942.









Finally, some more festive images from the HRPE Collection to get you into the spirit of the holidays.
Clockwise from top left: P0003.J11419, P0003.E5710, P0003.E11232, P0003.E11373

J11419J5710HRPECHRISTMASE11373               E11232