Thursday, February 4, 2016

Filthy Sailors Make for Poor Shipmates: The US Navy and Personal Hygiene

By Joseph Miechle
Hampton Roads Naval Museum Educator

Sailors washing clothes on laundry day in the early 1900s. 
For those who have spent any time in the service, you most likely have had personal experience with or have heard about the "dirty shipmate," or one who seemed to think bathing was optional. To those without this experience, it may only seem like a minor inconvenience. However, in tight quarters aboard ship, nobody wants to deal with another person's lack of hygiene. The threat of spreading infectious disease related to poor hygiene is very real, not to mention the pungent aromatics. Sailors during the American Civil War had much the same experiences that still trouble our sailors today. How the crew of the USS Flambeau dealt with an "offending shipmate" may have been slightly different than in today's Navy.

*Note* For ease of reading, punctuation and grammar have been changed, but original spelling has been preserved.

From the diary of Walter Jones, USS Flambeau, off the coast of Florida or Georgia, September 15, 1863:
         One of our recruits don’t seem to realize that he must keep himself clean. In fact he is so lousey that the men sleeping next to him have made a complaint to Jimmy Leggs, who made an examination and found that not only his head was inhabeted[sic] but also his clothing. The matter was referred to the 1st Leut. who gave the order to have him scrubbed and his clothing thrown overboard. Accordingly the victim was taken to the lee scuppers where the ship’s barber cut his hair close to his head. He was ordered to remove all his clothing, which was thrown over the side. Next two [illegible] cooks armed with scrub brushes, soap, and sand under the direction of Jimmy Leggs proceeded as they said to give him a Russian Bath. And such a scrubbing as he received he will probabbally never forget. After Jimmy had pronounced him clean the head pump was [illegible] on him to rinse him off and his appearance was certainly improved. New clothing was given him for which he will be charged. After he had dressed he was given a lecture by Jimmy, telling him of the benefits of cleanliness, and also cautioning him to keep himself clean in the future, as the next time he would be Holy Stoned. It will be a long time if ever that he will have the respect of the ship’s Co. He will ever be known all out as the man that was scrubbed. Double fines, court martial, triceing up has not the terors[sic] to the average sailor that a scrubbing has.

Jones manuscript courtesy the Mariners' Museum, Newport News, Virginia.
*Special thanks to HRNM Educator Elijah Palmer for transcription assistance.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The 5th Annual Brick by Brick: LEGO Shipbuilding Event

Visitors at the 2015 LEGO Shipbuilding event work on building a ship for the contest. (Photo by HRNM Educator Diana Gordon.)
The Hampton Roads Naval Museum is proud to announce that the fifth annual Brick by Brick: LEGO Shipbuilding event will be held from 10 am to 5 pm on Saturday, February 6, at the Half Moone Cruise and Celebration Center, right next to Nauticus at One Waterside Drive in Norfolk. This year's “blockbuster” LEGO Shipbuilding event promises to be the biggest one ever because it will take place in a venue that provides three times the space than in years past. This FREE program invites LEGO shipbuilders of all ages to share their creations with fellow enthusiasts on one exciting day – and compete for fabulous prizes!

This popular signature event is presented in partnership with the Hampton Roads Naval Historical Foundation, the Historic Naval Ships Association, the Naval Historical Foundation, and Nauticus. Children and adults alike can bring their pre-constructed LEGO ships to display and enter in the contest prior to 2 pm on February 6th. There are two separate contests: one for those who make ships at HRNM, and one for those who build their ships at home. HRNM will award prizes for five winning age categories in each competition, along with our fan favorite, voted on by YOU!

HRNM educators will be on hand to share the science behind building ships. In addition, visitors can create historic naval ships from HRNM’s own diagrams. Each year, staff members add new ships to the on-site brick fleet. New ships this year include USS Maine, USS Seawolf, USS Liberty, USS Monitor, and CSS Virginia.
USS Maine in a historic image and in the LEGO version.
This year, we will also be offering STEM activities for elementary and middle school children. First Lego League of Virginia will be on-deck for a LEGO robotics demonstration, to include some hands-on programing, and Engineering for Kids will be providing hands-on LEGO robotics activities as well. Finally, SeaPerch will have a demonstration table for their remotely operated underwater vehicle competitions.

Several LEGO-related activities will accompany the event, so be sure to bring your creativity to the Hampton Roads Naval Museum. We have activities available for all age ranges--from toddlers to adults. Crafts, free-play areas, and more will be open from 10 am to 5 pm on the 6th.

Advance registration is available on Eventbrite. You can also purchase t-shirts to support this and future LEGO Shipbuilding events. Contact 757-322-3168 or with any questions. We'll see you here on February 6th!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Cyclops and the Lion

By Joseph Miechle
Hampton Roads Naval Museum Educator

When the Great White Fleet departed Norfolk in 1907 on its around the world voyage, an immense amount of planning was necessarily involved. The new battleships were steam powered and required massive amounts of coal. A battleship traveling at 16 knots required 338 pounds of coal per minute to maintain speed, and the fleet generally consumed roughly 7,200 tons of coal per day. The supply ships of the era could not provide this type of replenishment at sea and the Navy relied on friendly ports of call to meet demands. The Navy concluded that should a global conflict emerge, its ships would be vulnerable should they run out of fuel in unfriendly waters.

In response to these logistical challenges, the Navy developed the Proteus-class of colliers to address the growing demand for fuel for a global fleet and in doing so, unintentionally helped generate some of the greatest nautical mythology of the 20th century. Enter the infamous USS Cyclops (AC-4). She was launched in 1910 and saw service prior to World War I with the Naval Auxiliary Service. The ship's first and only captain was Lieutenant Commander George Worley. Cyclops supplied US warships with the coal they needed throughout the Atlantic area until the United States entered World War I on April 6, 1917.  She was officially commissioned as a US Navy vessel less than a month later but continued to serve the Navy rather ordinarily until sometime after departing Barbados for Baltimore, Maryland on March 4, 1918.  Somewhere along her route she seemingly vanished from the earth.  Speculation about what could have become of the ship and Worley began almost immediately.  
Because the United States had officially entered World War I, and Worley was thought to be of German descent and a known German sympathizer, some speculated that he had sailed his ship (laden with manganese ore) to waiting German agents and surrendered it to them. There were also stories that the collier may have been sunk by German U-boats operating in the Atlantic Ocean or by a bomb being smuggled aboard in Brazil. These theories disintegrated when no U-boats claimed to sink the ship and neither the crew nor ship emerged from Germany after the war.  There was also a theory that the crew had mutinied against Worley because of his abrasive command.  Cyclops was also carrying a few prisoners, and some stories included a prisoner uprising. These theories all failed to hold water. 
USS Cyclops was featured in the movie The Bermuda Triangle (1978). 
Postwar theories as to what happed to Cyclops evolved from the mysterious to the absurd. These included natural phenomena such as cyclones, rogue waves, extreme weather, and methane bubbles from the ocean floor affecting the ship’s buoyancy.  The supernatural theories were some of the most spectacular because the ship was presumed to have been lost in the infamous maritime anomaly known as the Bermuda Triangle.  Theories include alien abductions, gigantic sea monsters, time travel, and capture by citizens of the Lost City of Atlantis. There is little evidence to support such outlandish hypotheses, so what really happened to the Cyclops? No trace of the ship nor crew has ever been found.

When Cyclops departed Bahia, Brazil in February 1918, it is known that one of the ships' engines was not operational.  The ship was also loaded (perhaps improperly) with an unfamiliar, and much denser, load of manganese ore as opposed to the coal it was designed to transport.  Merchant captains operating near the Bahamas, where Cyclops is thought to have been operating, reported heavy seas and a sudden cyclone.  As the Proteus-class ship was reported to list excessively in heavy seas, rough seas and an unstable load probably caused the ship to completely roll over at night and quickly plunge beneath the sea. The theory of rapid sinking is strengthened by the fact that no distress call was ever heard from the ship. The storms might also explain why no flotsam from Cyclops was found, as sailors would have lashed most everything down.
The mysterious George W. Worley.  
To perpetuate the strange history of Cyclops we should mention that all four Proteus-class ships built were lost to extraordinary circumstances.  USS Proteus and USS Nereus were both sold to Canada and disappeared without a trace in the Atlantic Ocean less than a month apart in 1941. The fourth ship of the class, USS Jupiter, was converted to the U.S. Navy's first aircraft carrier, USS Langley, in 1920 and after her conversion to a seaplane tender was lost to enemy action in the Pacific Ocean in 1942.

In 1973, a former Navy diver claimed that while diving in search of USS Scorpion (SSN-589) in 1969, he stood on the deck of USS Cyclops off the coast of Virginia. Was this an exaggeration? Was it Cyclops or perhaps one of her sister ships? The verdict is still open as USS Scorpion was later located at another location and the U.S. Navy ceased recovery operations in the area. This only added fodder to the mystery of Cyclops’ ultimate fate.
Fascination with the Bermuda Triangle and the craft associated with its mysteries continues to grow.  But what has any of this to do with a lion?  To add further controversy to the already epic stories surrounding USS Cyclops, we are presented a fascinating sidebar to history. 

At the time, it was not unusual for U.S. Navy ships to have mascots.  Cats, dogs, and goats typically filled these roles.  There were, however, more exotic mascots representing our warships and shore stations a century ago.  USS Langley featured a honey bear (also known as a kinkajou), a turkey kept watch with a goat named Billy aboard USS Louisiana, and a black bear going by the name of Whiskey could once be found at Naval Air Station Norfolk.  But perhaps the most outrageous ship mascot of them all sailed aboard USS Cyclops.  Lt. Cmdr. Worley apparently obtained a lion in Rio de Janeiro at some point prior to December 1910, which he then brought aboard ship.  The Navy did not approve and Worley advertised in newspapers for a zoo to take custody of the 150 pound beast that, “[P]lays with the men like a kitten would.”  It is unknown whether there were any takers, or if the lion ultimately went down with the ship.  

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Artifact of the Month: Our Bicentennial Chart

This chart, complete with the Old Point Comfort Light (which began operating in 1803) was completed by Chaplain David P. Adams in 1816 from surveys he conducted throughout Hampton Roads during the latter half of 1815. (Photograph by M.C. Farrington, HRNM)
From deep in our archives comes an extraordinarily precise rendering of what Hampton Roads looked like two hundred years ago.  Normally, the chart is behind several layers of physical security and is available by appointment only.  As our featured Artifact of the Month, however, it can now be seen by any visitor to the Hampton Roads Naval Museum.
During the construction of the current Naval Station Norfolk Chapel in 1941, then-Command Chaplain William W. Edel discovered the chart.  He taped it together and had it framed for display, subsequently obtaining permission from then-Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox to name the chapel for Adams.  The chart remained mounted to a wall to the right of the sanctuary until 2013. (Photograph by Diana Gordon, HRNM)
Ironically enough, for three-quarters of a century the chart was available for viewing to anyone who chanced upon it, mounted upon a wall at the David Phineas Adams Chapel at Naval Station Norfolk.  Unfortunately, it was also exposed to a host of threats to its existence during that long period, including ultraviolet light and every barometric and humidity change, with nothing to protect the chart except for the ordinary glass covering the ordinary frame enclosing it.  That all changed in 2013 after Commander Denis Cox, who was command chaplain at the time, made it his mission to save the chart.  Through the assistance and support of the Hampton Roads Naval Museum, the Hampton Roads Naval Historical Foundation, and Conservator Pamela Young, the chart has been conserved and now has an infinitely greater chance at surviving for centuries to come.

The 1816 Hampton Roads Chart as it now appears inside a display case at the entrance to the Hampton Roads Naval Museum. (Photograph by Michele Levesque, HRNM)
It took thirty hours of meticulously removing adhesive tape that had been indiscriminately applied to the chart.  New “rag stock” paper also had to be created from scratch to replace its missing cotton fibers.  The efforts brought the chart back from the brink of destruction, yet the restored artifact is faithful to the original.    

The chart's creator, David Phineas Adams, was a man of numerous talents.  He had risen from humble origins in Lexington, Massachusetts to graduate from Harvard University and for a time edited a literary magazine in Boston. He had also been a professor of mathematics and astronomy at Columbia College (now Columbia University) in New York before serving under Captain David Porter aboard the frigate Essex as chaplain on his epic voyage to the Pacific during the War of 1812.  When not battling the Royal Navy or capturing British merchant vessels, Essex and her small squadron of prize vessels engaged in exploration and discovery, and Adams became one of the first Americans to explore and chart the Galapagos Islands, decades before Charles Darwin and HMS Beagle would make them famous.   

After USS Essex was ultimately cornered and captured by the British on March 28, 1814, Adams was sent by his captors on an arduous journey from Chile all the way to England bearing affidavits concerning the capture. It was not until February 24, 1815, that Adams finally reached home soil here in Norfolk.  

Although the war was over, Adams stayed in the Navy as a chaplain, taking up an assignment by then-Captain Stephen Decatur later that year to undertake a survey of Chesapeake Bay for the Board of Naval Commissioners.  "The well known talents and precision of this gentleman leaves no doubt of the accuracy of his lines of bearing, distance, and soundings," wrote Decatur of the completed chart.

We think you will agree.