New Letters from Titanic Survivors

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RMS Titanic
"The Largest Vessel & The Largest Floating Crane in the World, the White Star Liner 'Titanic'". From the Eldredge Collection at The Mariners' Museum.

Today, Archives staff has put up on the web finding aids for letters in our collections from two survivors of the Titanic disaster.  Have a look at the finding aids for the Mary Lines Letter and the Helen R. Ostby Letter under Special Collections and choose the category “Shipwrecks, Collisions, Salvage and Underwater Archaeology.”

Both these young women were first-class passengers on Titanic.  Mary Lines, Paris-educated daughter of the president of the New York Life Insurance Company, boarded at Southampton, England.  Helen Ostby, travelling with her father, a jeweler, came aboard in Cherbourg, France.   Read more

Library receives major donation of steamship ephemera

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R.M.S. Aquitania
From a 1930 cruise, signed by a boy who was in Grade 2 that year.

Last week, a very large collection of items relating to passenger liners from the late 1800s up to the 1980s landed at the Museum.  Besides a large number of artifacts, over 14,000 archival items, ranging in description from menus to brochures to stationery to family snapshots, were donated by Mrs. Norma D. Beazley from her late husband Herbert Beazley’s collection.  Archives may have gotten the lion’s share of the gift, but the book collection too is now adorned with beautiful volumes on the Golden Age of Steamships.  By our measure, the amount of steamship ephemera at the Library (anything archival that isn’t a book or a photograph, for our purposes here) has increased by about 60%, conservatively speaking.

The long road to making this massive collection available to the public has begun, but this author cannot resist the temptation to give you a few sneak-peeks below.  These are items from the file on the beautiful RMS Aquitania, sister to Cunard’s Lusitania and the last of the four-funnelled liners to grace the ocean.  Enjoy!   Read more

New Civil War letter

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We recently unearthed another Civil War letter in our archives.  The letter was written by Charles Pye to Colonel Thomas Millar on October 4, 1862.  In the letter, Pye requests that his slave, oxen, and cart be returned to him after they were confiscated by Union cavalry.  Pye lived near Port Tobacco, Maryland and his slave was caught transporting supplies to a landing on the Potomac River in an apparent attempt to send them across the river to Confederates in Virginia.  A Union cavalry patrol seized Pye’s slave, cart, and oxen.  This letter represents Pye’s attempts to have his property returned to him.

Pye’s letter opens up many questions regarding the confiscation of slave property by Union forces.  This is especially true considering that Pye lived in Maryland which never seceded from the Union.   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

Two Lives Aboard the USS Nantucket

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USS Nantucket in a post-Civil War image.

Join us at the Library next Wednesday May 4, 2011 at noon for our next Secrets in the Stacks.  This month’s presentation will feature two journals kept by sailors who served on the ironclad monitor Nantucket during the Civil War.

First we will look at the journal of Walter Jacobs, a Union sailor during the Civil War.  A recent acquisition, Jacobs’ journal covers the time period of August 1863 to December 1864, during which he served on two ships: the screw steamer Flambeau and the Passaic-class monitorNantucket.  Jacobs served on the ironclad from February 1864 to December 1864.  Besides accounts of naval action, Jacobs offers rich detail on life aboard Civil War ships and ironclads, as well as a sailor’s opinion on everything from the Union war effort to politics to African Americans serving in the Union navy and army.   Read more