Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Introducing the Rau Collection

By Sarah Linden-Brooks
HRNM Curatorial Intern

This image only shows a small sample of the Rau Collection's 75 volumes. (Photograph by Sarah Linden-Brooks)   
In 2013 an extensive collection of memorabilia was donated to the museum. The William M. Rau Collection is impressive in its scope and sheer size—over 75 volumes! Destroyers are often overlooked in the narrative of the United States Navy, pushed aside for stories relating to impressive flagships, dwarfed by aircraft carriers, and not as spicy as submarines.  The William M. Rau Collection does not succumb to this common practice of overlooking the “Tin Can” Navy.  In fact, there are seven volumes filled to the brim with photographs, cancellation stamps and articles which detail the evolution of the humble destroyers of the United States Navy. 
The collection chronicles the transition of destroyers from the modest “Torpedo Boat” designs circa the Spanish-American War through DD-997, the final ship classified as a Destroyer (DD) before the transition to Guided Missile Destroyers (DDGs) during the 1970s. 
One of the color 8X10-inch photographs that has been scanned from the Rau Collection is of USS Spruance (DD-963), which was in active service from 1975 to 2005.
Highlights from the collection include an early postcard, circa 1900, which shows USS Decatur (DD-5). In spite of her hull number, the Decatur was the first destroyer to be commissioned by the United States. Travelling forward through time the Rau collection contains cancellation stamps from several destroyers in the 1930s. One in particular is worth singling out—USS Dewey (DD-349). The cancellation stamp is dated October 17, 1934, just days after Dewey  was commissioned. 

Like destroyers themselves, the cancellation stamp is not flashy; the ship, however, is worth pause. The crew of USS Dewey witnessed significant events throughout World War II. She was stationed at Pearl Harbor during the Japanese attack in December of 1941, witnessed the Battle of Midway, and participated in the invasion of Guadalcanal and Battle of Guam. In December 1944, as World War II raged on, Dewey found herself off the coast of the Philippines. It was the last day of Hanukkah and just a week away from Christmas when Dewey (and much of Admiral Halsey’s Third Fleet) found herself in the middle of a raging typhoon. The Farragut-class destroyer certainly proved her seaworthiness during this storm.  She lost all power, had her number one smokestack torn off, and was rolling wildly side-to-side, reporting rolls of more than 75 degrees!  The men of Dewey could count their blessings following the storm: while hit with severe seasickness, the ship survived.  That same storm, known as Typhoon Cobra, caused two of her sister ships, USS Hull and USS Monaghan, to founder and sink. 

It is stories like this that William M. Rau’s Collection brings to the forefront of history.  One quickly sees that rather unassuming images and artifacts reveal interesting narratives that might otherwise be overlooked. The collection was donated to the Hampton Roads Naval Museum in 2013 by his children: William Rau III, Richard Rau, and Katherine Ellis. 

As part of a grant-funded project, the Hampton Roads Naval Museum is involved in an ongoing effort to assess the Rau Collection and add a portion of it to the eMediaVA platform, a statewide digital media distribution system free to Virginia's teachers and students.  It is backed by the generous support of Virginia Public Media Stations such as WHRO in Norfolk, as well as the Public Broadcasting Service. 

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