The Port of Call Blog

She Floats!

Well, actually, she doesn’t. The Costa Concordia, that is.

We have been covering the shipwreck and massive salvage operation of Concordia since almost the very beginning of our Port of Call blog. Bill Edwards-Bodmer brought it to our attention in a short post on January 16, 2012 (see it here). At that point, no one knew that 2 1/2 years later, that ship would still be off of the island of Giglio.

It has been a very long road, but this morning crews pumped enough air into the sponsons welded onto the sides of Concordia to float the hulk about 6 ft. off the underwater platform where it had been sitting on its bottom since last September. The sponsons are floating, and they are carrying the ship up with them. The BBC has an excellent time-lapse video at their site now up that shows the entire operation, from refloating to moving the wreck about 30 meters further away from shore, where they have moored her with heavy chains to the sea floor.

With no evidence so far of any quantity of the toxic soup sloshing around inside the hulk leaking out, engineers and the entire island are breathing a sigh of relief.

Now the end is in sight. The National Post reports that towing to Genoa, where Costa Concordia was built and where she will be broken up, will begin next week. Stay tuned!

Charles W. Morgan sails again!

While we are on the subject of important Number 2’s (see our July 2 post here), I’ve been watching with fascination the re-launch of the Charles W. Morgan, the second oldest ship in America, and her 38th voyage around ports in the Northeast. Built in 1841, the whaler Morgan is the last of her kind and is only junior to the USS Constitution in terms of age. She is the oldest commercial ship afloat in the US. See her itinerary here.

Charles W. Morgan

An engraving of the Charles W. Morgan by Charles Wilson, in the collections of The Mariners’ Museum

Many of our readers have probably been to Mystic Seaport Museum in Connecticut and been aboard Morgan for a tour. You may remember her in the days before 1974 when she was partially buried at her dock to preserve the hull. If you have been to Mystic in the past few years, you will be very aware that the Morgan has been undergoing careful restoration work since November of 2008. This has been a massive undertaking for the museum and would have never been possible without the support of a number of committed program partners and individuals. To all those organizations and individuals, we at Mariners’ thank you for supporting our country’s maritime heritage.

Now, here are a few photos from our collection of the Charles W. Morgan during what was thought to be her last voyage afloat, on her way from Dartmouth, MA to Mystic in 1941. Photographs by Joseph Gordon. Enjoy!

Charles W. Morgan

Photo of ship on her last voyage afloat, New London to Mystic, Conn. Nov. 8, 1941, in Fisher’s Island Sound

Captain Sinclair Tucker

Captain Sinclair Tucker of Fairhaven, Mass., manned the pumps on last trip.

Crowds during last voyage

As Morgan goes through a drawbridge, crowds watch. A Bob Hope film is playing at the movies!

Charles W. Morgan at Mystic

Charles W. Morgan at Mystic, close to her new permanent berth.

Captain Tripp and Carl C. Butler

At end of journey Captain Tripp presents ship’s registry papers to Carl C. Butler, curator of Mystic Museum.

Morgan in permanent berth

Charles W. Morgan, detail of stern, November 1950.

Puget Sound in the News

Those of us living around the Chesapeake Bay, the largest marine estuary in the United States, are generally not used to thinking about the existence of the second largest marine estuary in the country, Puget Sound.  The Sound is massive and has incredible bio-diversity, and is a fitting Number 2 to our Number 1. While organizations like the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and their allies in and out of Congress have been staunch defenders of the Bay for many years, less national attention has been given to Puget Sound.  Today, however, members of Congress from the Washington State delegation are announcing their support for a new initiative to create a National Heritage Area in 13 counties along the south side of the Sound.  See the article in the Washington state newspaper “Olympian” here for details.

The designation of a National Heritage Area was new to me, so I had to look it up. According to the National Park Service’s FAQ on them, “National Heritage Areas (NHAs) are designated by Congress as places where natural, cultural, and historic resources combine to form a cohesive, nationally important landscape.” They differ from many such areas in that they are not publicly owned. They are managed generally by public-private partnerships or organizations whose mission is the stewardship of the area in question. Evidently we have one National Heritage Area in Virginia, the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District. It is managed by the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation.

It is remarkable to me that areas of the Chesapeake do not have this designation. Personally, I’d love to see any and all approaches to saving the Bay exploited to their fullest.

Puget Sound ferry Kalakala

Puget Sound ferry Kalakala, from the Harold Huey Collection

New exhibit: “Imagined Depths: Sea Monsters in Cartographic History”

Good afternoon, Readers!

I wanted to share some great news with you today. Do you recall this post from January, “Rare Maps & Sea Monsters“? Well Mariaelena DiBenigno has been very busy since then curating, “Imagined Depths: Sea Monsters in Cartographic History”, an exhibit that is now on display at The Mariners’ Museum Library.

I welcome you to come and play a little “Where’s Waldo” so you can see all of the mythical and fantastical creatures that decorate our rare maps and books from the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. If that’s not enough to draw you in, take a peek at the artifacts on display that incorporate the sea creature motif into their design.

My favorite piece so far has been, “Cuba insula. Hispaniola insula.“, Gerhard Mercator, 1611. Mariaelena managed to find a sea creature that awkwardly makes eye contact with you…

Learn more about these sea monsters and the role they played by stopping by! We are open to the public Monday-Wednesday, Friday, 12p-5p, and on Thursday from 12p-7p.

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!