Olympia to Keep Floating in Philadelphia
The next phase in the USS Olympia’s life has been decided: She will stay in Philadelphia under the stewardship of the Independence Seaport Museum (ISM). On 2 April, the ISM announced it was ending its search for a new home for the cruiser and launching a fundraising campaign to preserve her.
The Olympia, the oldest afloat steel-hulled warship in the world, will remain in the city she has called home for more than 90 years. In her active-duty life she served as the American flagship in the 1898 Battle of Manila Bay, fought in World War I, and in 1921 returned the body of the Unknown Soldier from France. Following her decommissioning in 1922, she remained in inactive status at the Philadelphia Navy Shipyard, where in 1945 she was dry-docked for hull conservation thanks to efforts by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. When Congress gave the Navy permission to scrap her in the 1950s, Philadelphians stepped into save her, and the Cruiser Olympia Association opened her to the public. The organization struggled, leading the ISM to take custody of the ship in 1996. Troubles continued, and in 2010 the museum announced it could not afford to care for the vessel and the repairs and maintenance she required.
Six organizations applied to have her transferred to them through a process similar to the Naval Sea System Command’s Ship Donation Program. Of these, two were being considered: the Mare Island Historic Park Foundation in California and the South Carolina Olympia Committee. In the end though, the transfer review panel, made up of representatives from the Council of American Maritime Museums, Pennsylvania Historical Museum Commission, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the ISM, with advice from the Naval Sea Systems Command’s Inactive Ships Office, decided that neither group were viable long-term stewards for the Olympia. On 2 April ISM made public its decision to keep the cruiser.
While she is in need of dry docking—her last one was close to 70 years ago—and substantial restoration, ISM has completed stabilization measures, including reinforcing parts of the hull that deteriorated, installing bilge pumping stand pipes, repairing and recoating her hull and rig, and patching her deck. ISM will seek funding through a variety of sources, and has upgraded the ship to be capable of hosting private events. To support the Olympia, donations can be made directly online through the museum’s website, www.phillyseaport.org, or by contacting Jesse Lebovics at (215) 413-8643 or [email protected].
Although the Olympia will continue to float and serve as a museum, other ships aren’t as lucky—particularly the four Forrestal-class supercarriers in the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard’s Naval Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility. Already the Forrestal was towed from Philadelphia to Brownsville, Texas to be dismantled; the Saratoga, Constellation, and Ranger are next in line. Efforts by the USS Ranger Foundation to turn the ship, affectionately known as the “Top Gun of the Pacific,” into a museum were ultimately unsuccessful, and the group shut down its operations in August. An attempt to save the ship, which was commissioned in 1957, has been revived through a change.org petition and social-media campaign, but the Navy says the ship is no longer available for donation.
Bladensburg Bicentennial to Kick Off
Historically inspired events and activities will mark the bicentennial of the Battle of Bladensburg, one of the battles of the War of 1812, in the Maryland town this summer. Americans lost the tumultuous encounter, and British forces proceeded to Washington, D.C., to burn the Capitol, President’s Mansion, and other federal buildings. The Battle of Bladensburg Monument commemorates the sacrifices and bravery of American troops and will be unveiled at 1130 on 23 August 2014 at Monument Park.
The bronze memorial, sculpted by Joanna Blake, depicts Commodore Joshua Barney after taking a bullet to the thigh. Former slave Charles Ball, a member of the flotilla commanded by Barney before and during the battle, and a Marine are shown helping him.
“When the [Aman] Trust initially approached me about this, they wanted a sculpture of Joshua Barney—the central figure in my composition and the hero of the battle,” Blake said. “But the more I researched the battle and thought about it, the story of Charles Ball was so compelling. He was a former slave and a cook in Barney’s flotilla. When the fighting happened, he was manning the cannon.” The composite figure of the Marine represents all of the Marines who fought in the battle.
“It wasn’t just Barney by himself,” Blake said. “Having the three figures together depicts more of a narrative than just showing one person.”
To develop ideas for the sculpture, she studied War of 1812 monuments in Baltimore. “They are towering, triumphant things. But the challenge for this memorial was, how do you commemorate a defeat? . . . We wanted something a little more somber, a little more funereal.”
The figures, based on photographs of models who sat for Blake in period garb, were sculpted in relief and cast in bronze. An interpretative panel etched in granite will be installed on the back of the monument and describe the battle.
A festival and reenactment at Bladensburg Waterfront Park will follow the unveiling of the monument and include historic trade demonstrations, music and dancing, information booths, and games for children. A food-truck rally will begin at 1700, followed by a fireworks show.
Visit www.princegeorges1812.org for the most up-to-date event details.
Spanish-American War Slides Rediscovered
While preparing for a major renovation project, Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) photograph archivists at the Washington, D.C., Navy Yard made a significant rediscovery. In February, Dave Colamaria and Jon Roscoe uncovered two wooden boxes containing about 325 glass slides depicting scenes from the Spanish-American War and the Philippine Insurrection.
The slides, mostly black and white but a few hand-tinted in color, include captions and dates. Found wrapped in delicate paper, they likely have not been viewed for decades. Although some of the images may be found in other collections, publications, and the public domain, the NHHC believes many may be unique.
In a release from the command, Lisa Crunk, head of the NHHC’s Photo Archives Branch, explained the significance of the collection stems from the pivotal role the Navy played in the Spanish-American War: “American planners and leaders anticipated that the fight with Spain would be primarily a naval war. The U.S. Navy’s victories at Manila Bay and Santiago de Cuba were pivotal events that turned the course of the war, and joint Army-Navy operations at Santiago, Puerto Rico, and Manila sealed the success won by the U.S. Navy’s command of the seas.”
The story of the slides begins with Douglas White, at one time a war correspondent for the San Francisco Examiner. An inscription on the top of one of the boxes reads:
US Naval Military Activities
In and Around Manila
and Philippine Insurrection
In addition to the images noted above, there are slides of the excavation of the battleship Maine in 1911–12 and of paintings from the War of 1812 for its 100th anniversary, leading archivists to believe that the slides were created around 1912. In 1948 the estate of Lieutenant C. J. Dutreaux, whose image is in one of the slides, donated the boxes to the Naval Historical Foundation. The original correspondence regarding this gift was addressed to Commodore Dudley Knox, who played a key part in organizing the foundation and served as its secretary from 1926 to 1946, then as vice president and chairman of the executive committee from 1946 to 1949. In 2008 the slides were transferred to the NHHC but not processed; instead they were stored along with other backlogged items.
The rediscovery of the slides emphasizes the importance of NHHC’s renovation project. The entire command is working to reduce its backlog of documents, artifacts, and art; renovate facilities; support its museums; and maintain its historic ships and aircraft. In support of this, the Photo Archives is processing years of backlogged material, rehousing the collection, and installing a new shelving system. It was in preparation for this effort that the slides were uncovered.
Since then, they have been rehoused in sleeves and boxes, and an index of their contents has been created. Eventually they will be digitized and available on the new NHHC website, which is set to launch mid-2014, although the slides will not yet be available.
Meanwhile, NHHC art curators have requested creative submissions from sailors after observing a dearth of images representative of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. The NHHC welcomes illustrations, paintings, and comics—even exceptional sketches drawn on notebook paper. “The criteria are that we can foresee a use for it in an exhibit and that it is in tolerably good condition,” said Gale Munro, the NHHC’s Navy Art Collection head curator, in a recent press release. Sailors can submit their artwork by sending an email with their contact information and a photo of their work to [email protected].
CDR John Alden, 1921–2013
The Naval Institute lost a valuable friend on 20 February with the passing of Commander John Alden at age 92. During World War II he volunteered for submarine duty and in March 1944 married Ann Buchholz, whom he had met at Cornell University. He died just three weeks short of what would have been their 70th anniversary. Ensign Alden was in the commissioning crew of the USS Lamprey (SS-372) and went on war patrols that took the boat as far away as Australia. He retired from active duty in 1965 and had a second career as a civilian in the field of engineering. His prolific third career as a writer began with Proceedings articles in the 1950s.
Alden was a meticulous researcher and writer. Some of his books published by the Naval Institute Press are classics, including two beautiful illustrated histories: The American Steel Navy, about the fleet of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and Flush Decks and Four Pipes, the history of the workhorse U.S. destroyers of the 1920s and 1930s. He also wrote a book on submarine design and construction, a biography of Navy salvage expert Edward Ellsberg, and a compilation of U.S. submarine interactions with the enemy in World War II. He participated regularly in Naval Institute events, and in 1998 arranged for his friend George Dyson of Pleasantville, New York, to donate hundreds of superb warship photos to the Naval Institute archive for preservation.
Beyond the contributions he made under his own byline, Commander Alden was blessed with a kind and generous nature. Former Naval History editor-in-chief and current contributing editor Fred Schultz summed it up by saying: “Nobody knew historic submarines like John Alden did. I know he saved my bacon several times and was always very gracious about making corrections to the historical record—a rare breed in this business.”