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Funding for the SSHSA educational outreach program is made possible in part by a grant from the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities, an independent affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Highlights from the Collections

A Window into Edwardian Fashion: The Sinking of the SS Merida

A Voyage aboard the SS Transylvania

American Steam Vessels, by Samuel Ward Stanton

Vintage View of Fall River Line Pier

Over the Ocean: A Souvenir of a White Star Line Voyage

SS Olympic: A Peek Inside

SS United States: Items from "America's Flagship"

 


A Window into Edwardian Fashion: The Sinking of the SS Merida

As SSHSA staff and volunteers go through previously unprocessed boxes of archival items, interesting discoveries are being made. One of these discoveries was in a folder innocuously labeled, "Ship Disasters." But in fact, the folder documented one disaster: the sinking of the Ward Line's SS Merida in May 1911 after colliding with the United Fruit Company's SS Admiral Farragut. The folder is stuffed with mostly notarized affidavits testifying the items lost by passengers. These documents give a unique view into early 20th century fashion and economics, as well as a brief window into who these people were.

The SS Merida was built in 1906 for the Ward line by Cramp & Sons in Philadelphia. She was a twin screw ship with triple expansion engines. She was en route to New York City from Havana, Cuba, when on May 12, 1911 she collided with the SS Adm. Farragut in a dense fog. All of her passengers and crew were rescued, with only one passenger injured, according to contemporary news articles. That passenger was the wife of "A. Peon" or Augusto Peon, who together with his family and two maids were sailing to Paris to "await the end of Mexican troubles," most likely referring to the revolution that erupted that year.

The records of the sinking in our collection include the notarized listing of the Peon family, including his injured wife, Jacinta Bolio de Peon. They were clearly a wealthy family. Some of Augusto's lost possessions included a pair of French shoes, a cashmere suit, silk socks, and a case of literature and medical texts. His full list of expenses was $1,064.60. His wife Jacinta's list included corsets, a Kimona (Japanese inspired blouse), several ostrich feathers, and necklaces of black pearls, emeralds and diamonds. Her jewelry alone valued $41,500.

Other passengers did not have nearly as expensive or extensive lists. Most ran up to a few hundred American dollars. Items reflect common early 20th century fashion: petticoats, aprons, watch chains, suits, and handkerchiefs. Others reflect the length and purpose of one's travel: cameras, souvenirs, parasols and walking canes. Or, as from a British couple's list: a Webley automatic pistol, a Lancaster rifle, binoculars, and saddles.

See more photos from the archives of these documents and ships on our blog.


A Voyage aboard the SS Transylvania

This remarkable little photo album was found in a box previously in storage. As we work through and assess our collections, we make small discoveries like this every day.

The album is composed of black & white photographs documenting a voyage aboard the SS Transylvania (built in 1925 for the Anchor Line) to Curacao, La Guaira, and St. Thomas in September of 1934.

The letter tucked into its pages is addressed to Mrs. Bertrand W. Story, from a Mr. Archibald Campbell, and dated January 5, 1935.

In his letter, Mr. Campbell relates:

"It has been my custom in recent years to make a number of such photograph souvenirs for lady acquaintances who have made my voyages more agreeable by their friendliness." He writes that he has made nine such albums for friends made on this trip alone.

This is interesting in light of today's use of the Internet, where people will share photos of trips and events through Facebook, Flickr, Instagram, and Tumblr. How would Mr. Campbell have used these inexpensive platforms? Would he have?

Mr. Campbell was evidently very interested in the art of photography, and discussed specific photos in particular:

"That sunrise picture came out better than I expected. I reckon it one of the few real pictures among the lot, because it complies with the rules laid down by artists for picture composition. If the two silhouetted figures were transposed the picture would not be so good. As it is, the eyes is led from the smaller figure to the larger, and from that to the real centre of interest, the sunrise, while the heavy black bar on the left counterbalances the mass of dark on the right. If you were an artist (perhaps you are) you would take note that the picture possesses the first requisite of picture composition, unity of interest."

He goes on to discuss how critic's natural reaction is to wonder why they aren't looking at the camera, which he shuts down:

"If you tell them the plain truth that by turning around they would spoil the picture they are apt to think you are saying something uncomplimentary about their looks. Whether a lengthy explanation would make the matter clear to them I don't know."

Nevertheless, his letter shows that certain concerns persist today: how to share memories of events and experiences, and how to adequately capture them. He closes his letter by relating with some disappointment that the photo of "First Sight of Curacao" would have been much clearer, "but the mists came down so fast that what I got was quite different from what I tried to get."

How different would these photos be if they were in color, especially the admired sunrise image? Like much of history, we can only make an educated guess.

 

View more images from this photo album on our Flickr page

 


 

American Steam Vessels by Samuel Ward Stanton

Samuel Ward Stanton was a maritime artist, famous for his elegant and exact sketches of American vessels. His body of work includes all kinds of steam vessels, from ocean liners to riverboats, excursion vessels to steam yachts. On April 10, 1912 he departed Cherbourg aboard the Titanic as a second class passenger, and was among the hundreds of people who perished in the cold Atlantic.

This hardcover compendium of his work, was meant, as stated in his preface: "to bring together in compact form, for the first time, correct illustrations and descriptions of the various types of American steam vessels from the beginning of their successful construction up to the present day."

"Present day" of course, being 1895 when Branchard Press in New York City published the book, copyrighted to Smith & Stanton. Though it is unclear who Smith was, it may have been Alexander R. Smith, to whom the book is dedicated "as a slight token of [Stanton's] esteem." It's quite a token! Each ship has two pages dedicated to it: on one page is an accurate black & white sketch, and on the other an illustrative, colorful and intricate depictions that also contains information about the vessel. It's a testament to Stanton's talent as a maritime artist.

SSHSA has copies of paperback compilations of Stanton sketches, organized by region, which were published in the 1960's by Meridan Gravure Company, copyrighted to Elizabeth Stanton Anderson. They are available for sale for $5.00 each. Contact info@sshsa.org to order!

View selected pages from this beautiful book on our Flickr page.


 

Fall River Line Pier: Vintage Photograph

This photograph was found among SSHSA collections (to see a larger image, click here). It is an albumen print, a photographic process common from the mid 1800s and into the 1930s. Though unfortunately quite faded, the photo is a noteworthy broad view of the Fall River Line's pier, number 28, in New York City, and a unique look at how steamship terminals and offices were set up.

Note the ticket office in the center of the image, where men wearing bowler stand outside the doorway, and the numerous cross supports on the pole in the foreground to support electrical wires. Also, notice the horse drawn carriages and evidence of traffic in and out of the broad doorways, including the Freight Receiver doorway. Beyond that doorway one can see the ghostly stern of a steamship with an American flag that appears gigantic.

The heavy cardstock on which the photograph is mounted indicates a name, "Kimball" and Concord, New Hampshire. This is most likely where the photo was printed. An interesting note on the back of the card is a stamp from the Baker Library in Boston, MA, dated May 26, 1936. This date most likely indicates the day it entered the library's collections, which also coincides with the same time frame in which the company ultimately closed.

Running between the 1840s and late 1930s, the line was a popular source of transportation and freight service between Fall River, Boston, Providence and New York. Some of the iconic ships belonging to this line include the Commonwealth, Pilgrim, and Puritan. The line was such an established part of New England culture that a song was written about the line and its ships, titled "The Old Fall River Line" which topped the Billboard charts in 1913. You can listen to an original recording of this song through the Library of Congress's website: http://www.loc.gov/jukebox/recordings/detail/id/3124/

Have a closer look at this photograph and much more on SSHSA's Flickr page


Over the Ocean: A Souvenir of A White Star Voyage

The tragic tale of the Titanic and her passenger's demise have been portrayed in film and been the subject of songs and countless stories in print. So perhaps it isn't all that surprising that SSHSA has numerous files on the White Star line, Titanic's parent company.

Many of the items in SSHSA's collections were picked up by the donors themselves during travels aboard steamships all over the world. These items, whether ephemera like baggage tickets, dinner menus, or souvenirs, can often provide a unique and interesting window into a time long since gone.

In the spotlight is a souvenir booklet from a voyage of the White Star vessel Germanic. The booklet was published by the Ocean Publishing company and copyrighted to John Gould in 1894, and contains contemporary ads, cartoons, articles, images and even maps. The paper bound book cost 25 cents. It was printed probably with similar content, though certain sections and cover art altered depending on what line the book was printed for. These lines included Cunard, Guion, American, Red Star, Hamburg-American, the French Line, the Netherlands Line, and North German Lloyd.

In this souvenir a traveler could find tips as to how to prepare for a voyage, and what was best to pack. For women: "A dress of dark-blue flannel, serge, or waterproof cloth, with a sacque of the same material, will be found to answer all purposes." And for men: "Gentlemen will find warm clothing and an overcoat in order for an Atlantic passage. A suit of old clothes to lounge around the deck without fear of spoiling, and a soft felt hat, or cap of some kind, will be found serviceable." A black suit or silk dress was recommended for special occasions.

In a world before iPhones and laptop computers, a book like this must have been a fun and useful object. There are song lyrics, portraits, humorous cartoons and drawings. There are also pages of practical information: ads for seasickness remedies, a section devoted to key words in English, French and German, and information on how time is kept on shipboard. Flipping through the pages of this book, one can ascertain what was important to a traveler aboard steamships in the early 20th century; what people may have worn, laughed at, and sang about.

Stay tuned for more spotlights on items in SSHSA's collections. See more pages from this particular book online on our Flickr page.

With your help, we can continue to preserve these valuable portals to our history, and share maritime heritage to all.


SS Olympic: White Star Line Promotional Booklet

This White Star booklet was donated to SSHSA by J. Gommi. The covers are of cardstock, while the inside pages are of smooth paper. This kind of paper makes the black and white images very distinct. It was clearly meant to advertise the ship and entice potential passengers with clear photographic illustrations depicting plush interiors. A traveler contemplating crossing the Atlantic on the Olympic would have been able to see what reception and dining rooms looked like, as well as different levels of staterooms and suites and their accommodations. Additional rooms such as a verandah café, the gymnasium, and the pool, are also shown.

Since the Olympic was Titanic's sister ship, this brochure offers a beautiful peek at what a passenger aboard the ill-fated liner may have seen. That is, a peek at what second and first class passengers would have seen. What is notably absent are photos of rooms reserved for the third class, and so this brochure was most likely marketed towards wealthier customers.

The text in this booklet describes the vessel, her accommodations, her dimensions and construction. Also mentioned is her wartime service, which dates this booklet post-World War 1. Whoever wrote the description could not have written a truer statement than this: "The photographs reproduced in these pages can offer but an inadequate idea of the magnitude, the magnificence and the beauty of the OLYMPIC, a marvel of science and invention."

We hope you enjoy the scanned pages from this booklet, and other windows into our archives! See pages from this booklet and more on our Flickr page in the "From the Archive" photoset: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sshsa/7029731419/in/set-72157625286828637


SS United States: Items from "America's Flagship"

The SS United States was built to be a marvel. Designed by William Francis Gibbs, and financed by J.P. Morgan, Jr., she embarked on her maiden voyage in July 1952 for the United States Lines. Her entire superstructure was constructed of aluminum, and could be converted to a hospital ship or army troop transport with a capacity of 15,000 troops.

To minimize the risk of fire, no wood was used in the interiors of the ship. The only exception was for the butcher's block, and the grand piano. The piano, however, was made of a rare fireproof wood species that was only allowed after being tested with kerosene.

Her entire superstructure was made of aluminum, which made her light and fast with the help of her powerful steam turbines. On her maiden voyage she won the Blue Riband for both the east and westbound voyage across the Atlantic. Known as "America's Flagship," she was a fashionable way to travel that attracted such celebrities as Bob Hope, Salvador Dali, The Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and Rita Hayworth. Unfortunately, her career was short lived.

By the 1960's, traveling by ship was a dwindling business, and many illustrious vessels, such as the America, and Queen Mary, had retired or been sold. The United States was withdrawn from service in 1969, and in 1984 her remaining furnishings and fittings were auctioned off.

The items in SSHSA's collections shown here were donated along with the auction booklet and newspaper clippings. They include plates, cups and saucers with a distinctive gray and white star pattern, as well as napkins, tablecloths, and a woolen blanket emblazoned with the United States Line logo.

Help us better preserve these items and make them available along with our other collections to the general public! Find out how you can help on our website.

The SS United States Conservancy has announced an agreement to explore a $700 million refurbishment to bring her back sailing again. Explore her history, and learn about SS United States Conservancy's efforts to revitalize this unique American flagship.

To view more photos of these items, please visit our blog by clicking here.

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