Thursday, April 14, 2016

Artifacts of the Month: "Admirals' Row" Log Books

By Jerome Kirkland 
Hampton Roads Naval Museum Educator

In 1917, the U.S. Navy acquired the land that had been developed for the 1907 “Jamestown Ter-centennial Exposition” at Sewells point, just north of Norfolk, Virginia. This land, and many of the buildings that came with it, including numerous private homes, would become the Norfolk Naval Operating Base. Nearly 100 years later, a set of books discovered in the attic of one of these homes would shed light on the comings and goings of some of the most influential figures in naval history, from 1918 to 1941.

Photograph by M.C. Farrington

The Jamestown Exposition of 1907 was held to celebrate the 300 year anniversary of the founding of the Jamestown settlement in 1607. It was held in Norfolk due to its more centralized location and the deep water ports that would allow the modern ships of the Navy’s all steel fleet to shine among those of other nations gathered for an International Naval Review on opening day, April 26.   About two weeks after the exposition’s conclusion on November 30, the “Great White Fleet” set sail for its historic around the world voyage. 

The planners of the exposition had high hopes for this “worlds fair” type event, but they never realized those hopes. After the exposition’s seven-month run, many of the buildings fell into disrepair.  Developers tried to make the area a profitable venture without much luck until the U.S. Navy stepped in, saving many of the buildings that were left. Many of the so-called "State Homes" were privately owned and escaped the fate that befell many of the exposition buildings, many of which simply ceased to exist.  These were converted to house senior officers and their families.

Photograph by M.C. Farrington

Jump forward 96 years, to 2013, and a set of books would be discovered in the attic of one of these state houses that would document the comings and goings of naval officers from 1918 to 1941, some of them quite famous. A representative of Lincoln Military Housing, the contractor that oversees housing for naval personnel for the base, discovered two books in the attic of the Ohio House. She turned them over to Mrs. Sissy Cutchen, resident of the Maryland House and wife of Rear Admiral Bryan Cutchen, who in turn turned them over to the Hampton Roads Naval Museum. 

Exhibits Specialist Marta Joiner competes the finishing touches on the latest Artifact of the Month display. (Photograph by M.C. Farrington)

One of the notable entries found included “Capt. E. King” occupying the “Commanding Officer Naval Air Station” residence (formally the Connecticut House), from May 4th 1928 to September 30th 1930. Captain E. King would go on to become Fleet Admiral Ernest King.  King started out serving on board USS San Francisco during the Spanish American War, while still enrolled in the Naval Academy. He went on to command submarines before transferring to naval aviation, becoming a pilot and commanding officer of the aircraft carrier USS Lexington in 1930.

Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King. (Wikimedia Commons)

Admiral King’s career almost ended in 1939 with a posting to the General Board but was saved when Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Harold R. Stark appointed King Commander-in-chief, Atlantic Fleet in 1940. A little over a year later, when the U.S. entered WWII, Adm. King was promoted to Commander-in-Chief United States Fleet (COMINCH). Less than three months later, King was chosen to replace Stark as CNO, while still holding the post of COMINCH, making King the only person to hold the posts of CNO and COMINCH at the same time.

Despite reaching the “mandatory retirement age” of 62 in November of 1942, King would stay another three years, seeing the U.S. Navy through the war.  Admiral King was so well respected that even after his retirement in 1945, and several years of bad health, he was recalled in 1950 as an advisor to Secretary of the Navy Francis P. Matthews.

Photograph by M.C. Farrington

The occupancy log books contain many other famous names, such as: Admiral George Murray who commanded USS Enterprise during the famous Doolittle Raid on Tokyo and during the Battle of Midway; Adm. William Parsons, who helped develop the atomic bomb and flew in the “Enola Gay” to arm the bomb after successful takeoff; and Adm. Robert Coontz, executive officer of USS Nebraska during the “Great White Fleet” tour of 1907-1909.  He became CNO in 1925 and a powerful advocate for naval aviation, leading the charge to have the battle cruisers Lexington and Saratoga converted to aircraft carriers.  Another notable former resident was Adm. Joseph Taussig, who served from the Spanish American War to WWII, receiving major wounds while leading land action during the Boxer Rebellion in China, commanded Norfolk Navy Yard like his father before him, and was forced to retire in 1941 only to be called back in 1943.  Even Naval Aviator #1, Captain Theodore Ellyson, who was taught to fly by Glenn Curtiss, appears within their pages.  

A chance find in 2013, now in the collection of the Hampton Roads Naval Museum, has helped illuminate some of the important roles Naval Station Norfolk has played in history by documenting the comings and goings of some of the most respected and influential figures in naval history.

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