Friday, April 29, 2016

Photo Gramma What??

No, this has nothing to do with sweet ol’ granny sitting for her family portrait. Rather it has everything to do with taking advantage of new technologies in imaging to give virtual (and actual) visitors a more complete view of an object than they could get seeing it laying in a traditional museum display case.

Photogrammetry is the term. Photogrammetry is a photographic technique used in measuring distances with cameras, oftentimes for aerial maps and the like, but many museums are using the process (in concert with other scanning procedures) to create visual virtual 3-D models of objects.

MSM Accession number 1941.430

If you click on the above image it will take you to a 3-D model created by the Rhode Island company named The Digital Ark. The Digital Ark did some tests using a photogrammetric method to create the image you see. They used well over two hundred images of the piece of scrimshaw and stitched them together with software to make a 3-D version of the tooth that can be spun in space and viewed from all sides, giving us the opportunity to display things in an entirely new fashion.

View the tooth in full screen mode by clicking on the two diagonal arrows. Rotate it in space by manipulating the image with your computer mouse or touchpad.

Given to the Museum in 1941 by trustee and collector H.H. Kynett, the tooth in question has on one side patriotic symbols including an American eagle, a shield and cannons with the motto "E Pluribus Unum" and some stylized roses. The other side has an anchor, a 3-masted ship with guns, and a banner displaying the words "Success to our Navy."

While we are just in the test stages of working with this time-consuming process and technology, we feel it offers tremendous opportunities to show visitors many different types of objects in their entirety that they would not otherwise be able to experience. Wish us luck!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Music Anyone?

Growing up in a small town and attending a two-room schoolhouse as a child, I was fortunate to have some interesting, and interested, teachers. One such was an older woman born a decade or so before World War I who, along with teaching English, Math, Spelling and Geography, inspired her pint-sized students with her avid interest in music. Having obviously learned her repertoire at her parents’ knees, she animatedly played the piano to accompany her singing of a host of songs from the Gay ‘90’s. All of which we learned as well (and sing to this day). Our Miss Gliha would have loved the collection of sheet music housed in the Collections Research Center at Mystic Seaport.

There are over 1,500 pieces of sheet music at Mystic Seaport, ranging in date from the War of 1812’s The Fearless Tar to the Little Mermaid TV series in 1993. Most have been collected for their nautical content, either in the lyrics of the song or the content of the illustrations on the cover or both. Shown here are a few representations of themes included in the collection. Click on the images to get a better view.

The Three Bells Polka was written in honor of Capt. Creighton of the Glasgow Ship THREE BELLS. In 1854, the THREE BELLS was one of three ships that rescued 500 passengers from the steamer SAN FRANCISCO. Unfortunately, another 200 passengers were lost. Creighton received a medal and $7,500 in cash from the U. S. Government for his efforts in rescuing the people that he managed to take aboard. A polka seems an odd musical form to commemorate such an incident, but Capt. Creighton (or at least his remembrance on paper) now lives on in the museum’s temperature and humidity-controlled Collections Research Center. 

MSM Accession # 1993.35.5

Music for Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat was written by William Jerome and Jean Schwartz, popular collaborators in the 1900’s and 1910’s. The song title, best known for the song of the same name in the Broadway musical, Guys and Dolls, is a completely different song, except for the refrain “Sit down, sit down, sit down, sit down, sit down you’re rocking the boat!” The 1913 version seen here has to do with a young woman fending off the advances of her sailor suitor.

MSM Accession # 2002.7.8

A very colorful cover appears on the music for The Ship I Love, written in 1893 by Felix McGlennon and, as can be seen on the cover, “Sung with immense success by Tom Costello.” The heroic Captain intones from the deck of his sinking ship, “I’ll stick to the ship lads, you save your lives, I’ve no one to love me, you’ve children and wives.”  He finishes the chorus with “But I’ll go down in the angry deep, with the ship I love.”

MSM Accession # 2002.103.11

The number of pieces in the collection attests to the popularity over time of sea-related emotions to either tug at the heart strings of the public, or to entertain them with the farce and silliness. Either way, we have been diligently scanning the collection and hope to have it online in the near future if you wish to try your hand at playing and singing such greats as The Midshipman’s Farewell or The Mermaid’s Cave.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

A Tale of Two Launchings

A recent inquiry into the life of Massachusetts mariner Isaac Hinckley once again brought to light his charming watercolor of the launch of his first command, the Brig REAPER. The REAPER was built by Thatcher Magoun in Medford, Massachusetts in 1808. Hinckley, at the ripe old age of 25, became her master and part owner. Hinckley says of the painting, "An attempt to show the Brig Reaper as she appeared on the stocks at Medford-but it is past my Art; therefore here I leave it- Launching Day-." The painting is part of Manuscript Collection 184, the Isaac Hinckley Papers, at Mystic Seaport. From the written description of the collection: "Isaac Hinckley, born in 1783, was a shipmaster from Hingham, Massachusetts who had gone to sea as a young boy, and acquired his first command at an early age. These papers indicate that during the years 1809-1810 he was master of the brig REAPER for a trading voyage from Boston to Aden and Calcutta. He was then master of the ship TARTER, 1812-1813, for another voyage to Calcutta, and then commanded the ship CANTON for three voyages from Boston to Canton, China between 1815-1818. It was during the homeward passage of this last voyage that Issac Hinckley died (58 days out of Macao), leaving a widow in Hingham and six children, 2 to 11 years of age." Hinckley was 35 years of age at the time.

Launch of Brig REAPER, 1808, by Isaac Hinckley.
Manuscript Collection 184, G.W. Blunt White Library, Mystic Seaport.

Thirty-three years later, in 1841, and again 205 years later, in 2013, another ship was launched. The site of the first launch was also in Massachusetts. The CHARLES W. MORGAN, now the last remaining wooden whaleship, must have looked very similar to the REAPER as she slipped into the water at the shipyard of the brothers Zacharia and Jethro Hillman in New Bedford. Then, in 2013, under the watchful eyes of many hundreds of attendees, she gently dipped her hull into the waters of the Mystic River to commemorate her arduous and successful  restoration. This ceremony was the culmination of years of planning and hard work and the preamble to a successful voyage the following year that would see the last of the New England whaling fleet make a peaceful visit to the whaling grounds off Massachusetts. The painting below by celebrated marine artist Geoff Hunt captured the excitment of the moment on July 21, 2013.

Launching of the CHARLES W. MORGAN, by Geoff Hunt.
Mystic Seaport accession number 2014.54

Thursday, January 21, 2016

A Whaling Odyssey

For the last five years or so, Mystic Seaport has been the temporary home for one of the most amazing murals ever painted. When Benjamin Russell and Caleb Purrington finished their masterpiece in the late 1840’s, the result, known as the Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage ‘Round the World, was celebrated as a realistic depiction of the whaleman’s life in pursuit of the leviathan. Just recently, Mystic Seaport staff members assisted New Bedford staff in removing the second of seven rolls from our Collections Research Center for its trip back to New Bedford where it will undergo long-anticipated conservation work. The first roll was retrieved last year and the first phase of its conservation is nearing an end in public view at New Bedford under the watchful eye of the half- scale whaling bark LAGODA. This oversized painting stands nearly eight and one half feet tall and if opened up to its full length it would stretch for approximately a quarter of a mile. It may very well be the longest painting in the world.  When it was completed it was displayed in New Bedford and then went on a tour throughout the United States. Each roll stood vertically on a spindle on a stage with a take-up reel positioned some feet away. As the panels stretched and rolled between the two spindles, a narrator would describe to the seated viewers just what it was they were observing as they vicariously traveled around the world on a whaleship. You can learn more about the panorama and view a video production about it at the following link. Panorama History. Mystic Seaport is happy to have been of service to our fellow maritime museum while they endeavored to raise funds for the conservation work.

Mystic Seaport and New Bedford Personnel, along with visitors from the Cape Verde Islands,
readying a section of the panorama for travel.

New Bedford Whaling Museum Historian Mike Dyer examining
the first roll in the Collections Research Center.

Monday, December 21, 2015

A Hero's Award

On March 12th, 1904, Andrew Carnegie signed a Deed of Trust in New York City to create the Carnegie Hero Fund to recognize deeds of civilian heroism. Carnegie was inspired by a mine accident near Pittsburgh to create this fund with a beginning corpus of five million dollars. One of the stipulations in the deed of trust states, “A medal shall be given to the hero, or widow, or next of kin, which shall recite the heroic deed it commemorates, that descendants may know and be proud of their descent. The medal shall be given for the heroic act, even if the doer be uninjured, and also a sum of money if the Commission deem such gift desirable.”

A recent inquiry to the Museum brought to light once again that there is a Carnegie Hero Medal in the collection at Mystic Seaport.  There are countless acts of heroism associated with sea rescues over the years, and the Museum has quite a number of lifesaving medals in its collection attesting to that fact. However, the Carnegie Hero Commission was established expressly to recognize such acts and the Commission must agree that the act recognized is worthy, making this medal of particular interest.

“Woman Lashed to the Mast in Schooner Wreck,”; “Lashed in Rigging Seven Hours, 15 Owe Lives to Brave Fishermen,”; “The Heroic Fishermen.” These are a few of the headlines in January of 1910 after the Captain, his wife and crew of 12 (not 13 as reported) of the six-masted schooner MERTIE B. CROWLEY wrecked on the south coast of Martha’s Vineyard. The captain of the CROWLEY sealed the schooner’s fate when he mistook the Edgartown light for the Block Island light and ran the vessel aground. Captain Levi Jackson and his crew of four of the fishing sloop PRISCILLA set out from shore and managed to brave the storm and the waves for 13 miles and then retrieve the imperiled group from the schooner using the sloop’s dories before the CROWLEY completely broke up.

The medal, as can be seen here, has a likeness of Andrew Carnegie on the front and the following appears on the back: "AWARDED TO LEVI JACKSON WHO HELPED TO SAVE WILLIAM H. AND IDA M. HASKELL AND TWELVE OTHERS FROM DROWNING  EDGARTOWN, MASS. JANUARY 23, 1910."

To see a more detailed account of the rescue, see the account by Levi’s great-grandson on the Carnegie Hero Foundation site at

Carnegie Medal Awarded to Captain Levi Jackson in 1910.
Mystic Seaport Accession # 1984.48.3

Monday, November 30, 2015

Washington Irving and the U.S. Navy

Quite a number of years ago the Museum was given a collection of naval papers pertaining to the Newman family. William D. Newman (ca. 1800-1844) and his sons, Langford Howard Newman (1830-1866) and William Bogert Newman (1834-1912) were all U.S. Navy officers. William met a tragic death in 1844, but his sons went on to follow him into naval service. Last year a second gift of papers was given to bolster the collection, adding new information about the family. Additionally, the Museum was able to purchase a letter written by Washington Irving in 1847asking New York Congressman Moses H. Grinnell to arrange an appointment to midshipman for seventeen-year old Langford. Irving had previously attained the same appointment from Grinnell for Langford’s father, William. In a snippet from his letter to Grinnell, Irving points out the specifics of the matter regarding William and his son:

His [William’s] melancholy end you may recollect when in command of the UStates Brig Bainbridge at MonteVideo. It is supposed he drowned himself from a too morbid sensibility to his professional reputation; apprehending he might incur popular reproach for his conduct in a transaction in which his superior officer acquitted him of all blame.  He left a family with, I apprehend, but very moderate means; I heard there were, I believe, three or four boys, who when I visited him some few years since appeared to be in excellent training. I now come to the point of this long story.  It is to interest you in favor of his eldest son, about seventeen years of age, apparently a very fine lad, who had recently finished his studies and is bent upon a sea faring life.  I have applied for a midshipmans appointment for him; but as vacancies are rare and applications many, and as in nine months he will be past the limits as to age (18 years) exacted in such appointments, I fear his chance as to success is but small.

The Museum also owns the letter from Langford to Irving requesting this action from the famous author. Langford did indeed get appointed and served aboard a number of ships before, during and just after the Civil War. Unfortunately, he died at an even younger age than his father while in command of the U.S.S. NYACK while the ship was patrolling the west coast of South America in 1866, protecting the interests of Americans during Spain’s conflict with Peru and Chile over the Chincha Islands. He was not yet 36 years old.

Langford Howard Newman, upper right, shown aboard the U.S.S. MONITOR
during the Civil War. From The Photographic History of the Civil War in Ten Volumes.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Commanding Lieutenant William Bligh Comes to Mystic Seaport

The most famous mutiny in history and the extraordinary small boat voyage that resulted are retold in William Bligh’s A Narrative of the Mutiny on Board His Majesty’s Ship, Bounty and the subsequent voyage of part of the crew in the ship’s boat from Tofoa, one of the friendly islands, to Timor, a Dutch settlement in the East Indies. This account was published in London in 1790, within a year of 
the debilitating seven week open-boat voyage that covered over 3,500 nautical miles. Bligh’s narrative of the voyage includes descriptions of the privations the crew endured, including the difficulty of catching fish, necessitating the action described  in this passage after about three weeks at sea: “The weather was now serene, but unhappily we found ourselves unable to bear the sun’s heat; many of us suffering a languor and faintness, which made life indifferent. We were, however, so fortunate as to catch two boobies today; their stomachs contained several flying-fish and small cuttlefish, all of which I saved to be divided for dinner.” Yum.

Title Page of the newest addition to the G.W. Blunt White Library

This volume, as well as A Voyage to the South Sea…. ,an ensuing book written by Bligh to relay in more detail the story of the overall expedition of the Bounty and the mutiny, were recently donated to the G.W. Blunt White Library at Mystic Seaport as important parts of a larger gift. These two rare examples add to the wealth of an already strong research collection and will find a new, secure home for future researchers in maritime history.