Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Moosevelt gives a big thumbs-up to National Historic Landmarks!

National Historic Landmark, maritime history, Olympia, US Navy
U.S.S. Olympia (Photo by National Historic Landmark Program)
The peripatetic Theodore "Bully" Moosevelt was last seen in Philadelphia sporting a new souvenir tattoo, inspired by the historic evidence that his great-great grandfather once served aboard the U.S.S. Olympia, one of the world's greatest warships, a vessel that straddles the shift from the Great Age of Sail to the massive steam engines of the Industrial Age.

In honor of Veterans Day, it was time to walk in the footsteps of his Moosevelt ancestor, to stand on the very deck where, in 1899, the famous Admiral George Dewey once greeted Governor Theodore Roosevelt.

To get to the National Historic Landmark Olympia, moored on the Delaware River waterfront near the Independence Seaport Museum, he crossed the National Historic Landmark Becuna, a WWII-era submarine.  Becuna was commissioned in 1944 and served in World War II as the Submarine Flagship of the Pacific Fleet under the command of General Douglas MacArthur and received four battle stars for her World War II service.

Once aboard, Bully noted the tall masts that allowed Olympia to operate under sail or steam power.  Instead of the grey color most often associated with naval vessels, Olympia is painted white.  She is the last of the Great White Fleet, the steel-hulled warships that served under Theodore Roosevelt as Commander-in-Chief.

And it all began in San Francisco, where Olympia was built at the Union Iron Works.

Mare Island, USS Olympia, naval history
"Union Iron Works, Engineers & Shipbuilders, San Francisco, 1893"
(Photo by National Historic Landmark Program)
What a beautiful ship.  Bully visits Officer Country (just like his g-g-grandfather did back in the day).

(Photo National Historic Landmarks Program)

(Photo courtesy Independence Seaport Museum)

From here it was time to head to the bridge, where Commodore Dewey gave that famous command, "You may fire when you are ready, Gridley."  The exact spot is marked, so you can, literally, stand in his [brass] footsteps.

full speed ahead, ship's wheel,
Bully checks out the ship's wheel (very like a sailing vessel!) and rings the engine order telegraph
to alert the engine room to power the ship at a certain speed (very like a powerful warship!).
In the background is a schematic of the Olympia, showing the placement of the wheel and the telegraph.
(B&W Photo is of display in Independence Seaport Museum; Bully photos by NHL Program)  

Bully gives the order
Bully imagines what it might be like to give Gridley the order to fire, by speaking Dewey's famous phrase down the brass speaking tube.  You see, there was no radio or intercom then.

This speaking tube seems just a step up from two soup cans and a piece of string, but it worked.

Olympia was the first naval vessel to be outfitted with refrigeration.  The large water cooler (a welcome respite from the tropical heat) was known as the scuttlebutt.  Can you think of a modern phrase that includes that word?
The term corresponds to the colloquial concept of a water cooler in an office setting, which at times becomes a meeting place for "water cooler talk." Water for immediate consumption on a sailing ship was conventionally stored in a scuttled butt: A butt -- or cask -- was "scuttled" because it had a hole in it, allowing the water to be accessed.  Since sailors exchanged gossip when they gathered at the scuttlebutt for a drink of water, scuttlebutt became Navy slang for gossip or rumors.  -- Naval History & Heritage Command

After a drink of water from the scuttlebutt, Bully was hungry.  His g-g-grandfather dined with the sailors (the ropes attached to the tables allowed them to shift with the movement of the ship).

(Photo courtesy Independence Seaport Museum)

He was invited into the junior officer's mess where he was impressed with the fancy table settings.

(Photo by National Historic Landmark Program)

After dinner, he went for a stroll, and marveled at the big guns.  It was one like these that Gridley fired, defeating the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War, establishing the United States as a world power, and making the Olympia, Commodore Dewey -- and Theodore Roosevelt -- famous the world over.  Wow.  That was some gun!

(B&W Photo is of display in Independence Seaport Museum; Bully photo by NHL Program) 

After a long day, it was time to hit the hay.  Or the hammock, in this case, very much like the sailing ships of yore.

Sailors in hammocks aboard U.S.S. Olympia. z z z z z z z z z z...
(Photo courtesy Independence Seaport Museum)

hammock, sailor, Olympia, navy
After a long day, Bully and his bison buddy hit the sack. z z z z z z z z z z z z z z z .........
(Photo by National Historic Landmark Program)
naval history, armed forces, veteran, Olympia
Olympia carried home the body of WWI's Unknown Soldier
(Photo courtesy DC Public Library Commons)
Bully fell asleep thinking about Veterans Day, and how, in 1921, Olympia's last mission was to bring the body of World War I's Unknown Soldier from France to Washington, D.C.

The ship has an amazing history.  How terrible that it's in danger.

In danger?

Yes, Olympia might be scuttled or sold for scrap unless she can be transferred to new owners who can move her and get critical repairs underway.  Even though she's a National Historic Landmark and a National Mechanical Engineering Landmark, the ship hasn't been in drydock since 1945 and needs to be overhauled.  The museum doesn't have the millions of dollars required.

Now engaged in a complicated application process, there are two organizations that hope to qualify to be Olympia's new owner and caretaker.  The Mare Island Historic Park Foundation, San Francisco, California, and the South Carolina Olympia Committee, Beaufort, South Carolina.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has supported Olympia and created a page with more information for all  who want to help save the ship.

Olympia has faced danger before and made history.  Here's hoping both the ship and her extraordinary legacy live on.

1 comment:

  1. Great tour! And I finally know where 'Fire when ready, Gridley' comes from!