Thursday, December 29, 2011

Naval Namesakes: Peary Street

---John Pentangelo, Curator/Registrar

Many streets, buildings, and institutions in Rhode Island are named to honor the Narragansett Bay area’s rich naval heritage. This regular feature to the museum’s blog provides a brief look at the people, places, and events behind the names.

Rear Admiral Robert E. Peary (1856-1920) USN Civil Engineer and Polar Explorer

Peary and his wife in 1888
Peary Street on Naval Station Newport is named for Rear Admiral Robert E. Peary. Peary won international fame for his much disputed claim to have been the first explorer to reach the North Pole on April 6, 1909. Born in Cresson, Pennsylvania in 1856, Peary spent his youth in Maine and graduated from Bowdoin College with a degree in Civil Engineering. On October 26, 1881 he was commissioned a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Civil Engineer Corps. After surveying a bridge in Key West, the young officer reported to Coasters Harbor Island for special duty on September 1, 1883.  The island, recently gifted to the federal government by the state of Rhode Island,  was now the permanent home of the Naval Training Station.  One of his first assignments was to assist Commodore Stephen B. Luce, the station's commanding officer, in writing recommendations for improvements to the island. Fifteen months after his arrival, Peary left to survey a possible inter-oceanic canal in Nicaragua. From the tropics he would head north in repeated expeditions to Greenland and the North Pole. He retired with the rank of rear admiral in 1911 and died in 1920. Though often overlooked in the wake of his subsequent exploits and achievements, this street reminds us of Peary's brief duty in Newport.

Four naval vessels and one Liberty Ship have been named for the famous explorer.

Street Sign Image by Christina Anderson
Peary Image, courtesy of the Naval History and Heritage Command

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Artifact Spotlight: Naval War College Christmas Card, 1929

This Christmas card was sent out by the Naval War College in 1929 during the administration of Vice Admiral Joel R. P. Pringle.  It features a whimsical map of Coasters Harbor Island where the college and Naval Training Station reside. The map is embellished with illustrations of landmarks and nautical motifs commonly found on charts and maps.                                                     The permanently moored training ship USS Constellation dominates the southern end of the island near a depiction of a United States Marine guard at the entry to the base. Counter clockwise from the "Naval War College" are Luce Hall (with Mahan Hall directly behind), The Naval Station Administration Building (now Founders Hall/NWC Museum), Quarters AA (the President's House then designated Quarters B), three buildings for senior officers' quarters (C/D, E/F, and G/H), an unknown building which may be an auditorium, and what appears to be Barracks B (recruit quarters). An unknown building (possibly the chapel) and Quarters A (Commander of the Naval Station) are featured in the center.

Happy Holidays from the staff at the Naval War College Museum!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Artifact Spotlight: Bust of Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, 1946

---Amy King, Curatorial Volunteer

Out of the chaos of the unprecedented attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, arose men of the highest caliber to lead the United States to victory over the Axis powers.  Fleet Admiral Chester William Nimitz, stands out as one of those individuals who became prominent as an exceptional commander in the face of extreme adversity.  His extraordinary career led famed artist Felix de Weldon to sculpt a portrait bust of the admiral.   December was a historic month for Admiral Nimitz's career and presents an ideal time to post on this work of art in the museum collection.                                              
In December of 1941, shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Nimitz was selected as Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet and Pacific Oceans Area.   On December 31, 1941, then Rear Admiral Nimitz was promoted to Admiral. Throughout the war, Nimitz remained in his role as Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet.  On December 19, 1944, he was promoted to the rank of Fleet Admiral, a new rank established by Congress just days earlier. Nimitz, Ernest. J King, William D. Leahy, and William F. Halsey, Jr. were the only four officers to attain this rank. One year later on December 15, 1945, Nimitz became the Chief of Naval Operations, relieving Admiral Ernest J. King.  He retired as CNO exactly two years later.
Dr. Felix de Weldon, VADM Bernard L. Austin, and LTGEN
 Keller E. Rockey, USMC (Ret.) pose with the bust in 1964.
Chester Nimitz was an alumnus of the Naval War College, Class of 1923. His service to his country and attendance at the college were honored on June 5, 1964 when Newport resident, Felix de Weldon, presented the college with this plaster bust.  President of the Naval War College Vice Admiral Bernard Austin accepted the bust as well as a bronze model of de Weldon's Iwo Jima Flag Raising sculpture.  Eight years later when the artist presented a bronze cast of this likeness to CINCPACFLT Headquarters in Pearl Harbor, he remarked, “I keenly felt his [Nimitz's] brilliance and lucidity of mind as well as his simplicity and charm of manner.  He was a man of scrupulous impartiality with a great gift of logic.  His deeply penetrating mind and outstanding leadership left his mark on our Navy for all times.  Admiral Nimitz was loved and respected by all who knew him…” 

Visitors can see the bust of Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz in the museum's second floor exhibit on the history of the Naval War College. 

Gift of Felix de Weldon                                                                                          76.48.01
Images courtesy of the Naval War College Museum

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Artifact Spotlight: Steel Fragment from USS Arizona, 1941

---Amy King, Curatorial Volunteer

December 7, 2011 marks the seventieth anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. This “day of infamy” was experienced firsthand not only by the sailors, Marines, and soldiers stationed at Pearl Harbor, but by their families as well. Particularly effected were the residents of the CPO and Nob Hill neighborhoods on Ford Island, adjacent to Battleship Row.

The primary objective of the attack was to cripple the United States Pacific Fleet. By 1941, the United States had achieved parity almost equal to that of the Japanese fleet. The targets on that Sunday were the seven battleships moored at Battleship Row: The USS California, USS Maryland, USS Oklahoma, USS Tennessee, USS West Virginia, USS Arizona and USS Nevada. The three aircraft carriers, Enterprise, Lexington, and Saratoga were not at Pearl Harbor during the attack.

The USS Arizona, suffered the most fatal damage when a Japanese bomb hit the vicinity of her forward magazines between turrets #1 and #2. The magazine detonated with a “massive blast." The battleship sunk almost immediately and the attack claimed 1,117 members of her crew.

USS Arizona's forward magazine exploding on Decemver 7, 1941

This week’s artifact is a piece of metal, measuring five inches in length by about two and a half inches in height. This steel fragment is believed to be metal ripped from the battleship during the explosion. The blast shook the nearby homes as shrapnel and debris rained down on the neighborhoods of Ford Island. The fragment shown here, reportedly entered the home of Captain Errol Willett, a Navy dentist stationed at Pearl Harbor.

The communities quickly acted to assist sailors who escaped the inferno of burning ships. In fact, Captain Willett's son, Peter and his fellow Boy Scouts rowed small boats out to the damaged ships to help rescue sailors. Many of the families also shared common shelters with badly burned and wounded survivors.  This artifact serves as powerful reminder of the trials endured by both the military and civilian community on that fateful day seventy years ago.


Artifact image courtesy of the Naval War College Museum
Arizona image courtesy of the Naval History and Heritage Command (U.S. Navy Photograph, National Archives Collection)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Artifact Spotlight: Copy Print of Alfred Thayer Mahan Pastel

---John Pentangelo, Curator/Registrar

On December 1, 1914, Alfred Thayer Mahan died at the United States Naval Hospital in Washington, D.C. Mahan gained international fame for his book, The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660-1783, published in 1890. The book, based on his lectures at the Naval War College, was arguably the most influential treatise on naval strategy ever written. Mahan taught seamanship as a young lieutenant while the United States Naval Academy was in Newport during the Civil War. Stephen B. Luce asked him to be the Naval War College's first lecturer of naval history and tactics when the college was founded in 1884. He later served two terms as president (1886-1889 and 1892-1893). His theories on naval warfare and strategy are still studied all over the world.

This pastel, actually a copy print of the original color work of art, was donated by the artist Thomas A. Synnott in 1990. Synnott originally sketched the portrait of Mahan in 1953 at the request of Rear Admiral Richard W. Bates. Bates presented the likeness to the National War College in Washington D.C.

Gift of Thomas A. Synnott                                                                            1990.10.01