Thursday, July 26, 2012

Artifact Spotlight: Bust of John Paul Jones

---Jen Nason, Curatorial Assistant

This plaster bust of naval hero John Paul Jones (1747-1792) is a copy of an original marble bust by renowned sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon. The marble bust was commissioned in 1780 for the Masonic Lodge of the Nine Sisters in Paris, where Jones was a member. Many praised the sculpture for its faithfulness to the subject. James Madison wrote, “His bust by Houdon is an exact likeness; portraying well the characteristic features stamped on the countenance of the original.” Jones himself was so impressed with his portrait that he ordered plaster copies for friends such as George Washington and Benjamin Franklin; men who had also been sculpted by Houdon. The bust would be important a century later when trying to locate the subject's unmarked grave.

Jones, who was just 33 years old at the time the sculpture was completed, died twelve years later in Paris. As he died in the midst of the French Revolution, his funeral did not attract much attention. He was buried in an unmarked, and eventually, forgotten grave in small Protestant cemetery. Fortunately, his body was prepared for burial in a way that made the discovery 113 years later possible. Jones was placed in a sealed lead coffin which was completely filled with alcohol to preserve the body. As some may have predicted, the United States did want Jones’ body back over a century later.  Under the orders of President Theodore Roosevelt, a team was assembled to find the body and return it to the United States for reinterment.  The team eventually found the cemetery that contained Jones’ remains.  They were then able close in on the correct grave through the discovery of five lead coffins. Three of the coffins had their owner’s names.  A fourth coffin was for made for a man over six feet tall, (John Paul Jones was 5’7" tall). The fifth coffin was sealed shut.

When the remains inside the sealed coffin were inspected, facial measurements from an early 1780 copy of the Houdon bust were compared to the remains in question. There was an astounding similarity between the bust and the remains; the maximum difference in measurement being two millimeters. An intensive autopsy and use of the bust of Houdon allowed for researchers and doctors to positively identify the remains of John Paul Jones. With the positive identification, the team of researchers was able to bring Jones back to the United States. In 1906, he was reinterred with full military honors at the United States Naval Academy chapel in Annapolis, Maryland. The original marble bust from the Masonic Lodge of the Nine Sisters is now at the academy as well.

Though a twentieth century copy, the bust on display at the Naval War College Museum was made from a 1780 copy at the Louvre for sculptor Felix de Weldon. de Weldon presented the copy to the Naval War College in 1964. The bust has remained a fixture at the museum to recognize Jones as captain of the Continental sloop Providence during the American Revolution.

Gift of Felix de Weldon                                                                                                        76.49.01

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Artifact Spotlight: Midshipmen Cruise Ceramic Plate, 1947

---Jen Nason, Curatorial Assistant

This decorative ceramic plate commemorates Admiral Richard L. Conolly's visit to Oslo, Norway in July of 1947.  Soon to be President of the Naval War College, Conolly was then Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean. He commanded a task force that carried over 2,000 midshipmen on a training cruise across the Atlantic that summer. Joining the flagship USS New Jersey (BB-62), was the USS Wisconsin (BB-64) and several destroyers. This fleet left the U.S. Naval Academy with its eager complement on June 7 and set to return in late August.  There impressive itinerary for the cruise included Edinburgh, Oslo, Copenhagen, London and Guantanamo Bay. Though port calls offered a welcome distraction, the cruise offered valuable training in gunnery, seamanship, and shipboard operations. Midshipmen learned the tasks of daily life at sea and the skills needed to successfully run a ship during peacetime and in war.
The unknown artisan hand painted the words "Admiral Richard L. Conolly, U.S.N., COMNAVEASTLANT, Oslo-Norway-July-1947" around a scene of the Atlantic Ocean that includes the coasts of North and South America, as well as Europe and Africa. Conolly's flagship, the battleship New Jersey, is depicted along with a Viking ship to tie this visit to Leif Ericson's voyage from Norway to North America in the year 1000. It is conceivable that Norway's King Haakon VII presented this to Conolly during his inspection of the battleship on July 2.

When the division departed for Portsmouth, England, they were reviewed by Crown Prince Olav of Norway.  In their June 1948 National Geographic article documenting the cruise, Midshipmen William J. Aston and Alexander G.B. Grosvenor recalled, “Leaving Norway, we witnessed a magnificent demonstration of seamanship. Crown Prince Olav reviewed our battleship division as we steamed for Portsmouth, England. Rather than use a destroyer or large yacht, he stood in the cockpit of a 50-foot cruiser tossing and yawing in the choppy mouth of Oslofjord. Throughout the passing of our ships, the Prince adhered to the adage of the sea 'One hand for the ship and one for yourself.' Never before had we seen a boat do four-dimensional gymnastics. Yet at all times the Prince had his right hand raised smartly in salute as Wisconsin fired the 21 guns reserved for chiefs of state and royalty.”


Friday, July 13, 2012

Artifact Spotlight:Chevalier du Tastevin Badge, c. 1947

---Jen Nason, Curatorial Assistant

Admiral H. Kent Hewitt, a 1929 graduate of the Naval War College, famously commanded U.S. Naval forces at the amphibious landings in North Africa and Southern France during the Second World War. As he played a central role in the Allied victory in Europe, he was decorated numerous times by the U.S. and Allied nations. He received the badge, pictured left, on May 14, 1947. However, this is not a medal relating to his distinguished military career. It honors the appreciation of Burgundy wine. On a trip to Paris in 1946, Admiral Hewitt was approached by his friend, Jacques Moreau and invited to become a member of Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin.  The fraternity, translated as Brotherhood of the Knights of Wine Tasting Cups, has roots in the early eighteenth century but was organized formally as the Confrérie in 1934. The purpose of the Confrérie is to celebrate the wine, food, and culture of the French region of Burgundy.  Moreau, a member of the group, was a vice admiral in the French navy who Hewitt befriended while stationed in Morocco in March, 1943. Hewitt recalled, “I said I would be honored, but having in mind that I might be asked to pass judgment on samples of wine, I doubted my ability to meet the test. [Moreau’s] reply was that my only test would be to go down into the [basement of chateau Clos du Vougeot] and know to enjoy what you drink.”

Hewitt receives his tastevin badge at a formal ceremony in
New York City.
Hewitt accepted the invitation and received his  certificate in November of 1946. The following May he attended a branch chapter meeting at New York City's Waldorf-Astoria hotel. After swearing to defend the wines of Burgundy and being dubbed on each shoulder with a the root of a Burgundy grapevine, Admiral Hewitt received his tastevin badge. The tastevin is a shallow silver cup used by wine tasters to test wines drawn from the casks in cellars. A taster may use it to judge the bouquet and color of the wine before sampling the contents.  The badge incorporates the silver cup suspended from a red and gold ribbon which symbolizes red and white wines. 
The certificate and tastevin are part of a large collection of Hewitt's medals, uniforms, and personal items at the museum. The Naval War College archives holds an equally impressive manuscript collection of Hewitt's personal papers, memoirs, appointments, and photographs. As a graduate, staff member, and advisor to the Naval War College, his service and accomplishments are emblamatic of the role of the college in United States Naval history.

Gift of Mrs. Floride Hewitt                                                                           73.01.23;51

Photograph, Naval Historical Collection. Naval War College Archives

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Artifact Spotlight: Navy Day Medal, 1913

---Jen Nason, Curatorial Assistant

A medal donated to the museum a few years ago tells an interesting story about one of Theodore Roosevelt's many visits to Newport.  The obverse of the medal features the image of a battleship, a fouled anchor, and the words, "NAVY DAY." Once containing a ribbon (not included) the medal was worn in commemoration of a two-day celebration held from July 2-3, 1913 in Newport, Rhode Island. Former President Theodore Roosevelt, hosted the event, held on Easton's Beach, as a political rally for the Progressive (or Bull Moose) Party he had formed the previous year.   An immense clam bake that boasted two hundred bushels of clams and hundreds of pounds of potatoes, corn, and watermelon, was served in a large tent constructed on the beach. Though the tent could shelter up to four thousand people, only twelve hundred attended the feast. The political leaders of the Progressive Party spoke to the crowds over the two days. Roosevelt gave a powerful speech regarding the importance of the Navy, in which he proclaimed, "The United States Navy is the best insurance against war, and the only guarantee of national honor if war comes.” The words were inscribed on the reverse of the medal.  The former President of the United States and Assistant Secretary of the Navy followed the great success of this speech with a review of the apprentice seamen at the Naval Training Station.  These celebrations of the nation's sea service earned this Progressive political rally the title of "Navy Day." This local event for a national political party should not be confused with the Navy Day celebrated on October 27 from 1922 to 1949.

The Newport Mercury called the Progressive party’s rally a “fizzle.” Thousands of visitors were anticipated to arrive within the city, yet smaller numbers attended. Still, the medal demonstrates the importance of Newport as a home to the U.S. Navy during its long history.  Theodore Roosevelt had visited the Naval War College and Naval Station on many occasions and would return again before his death in 1919. The medal is just one of many artifacts in the museum collection that represent the naval history of Narragansett Bay.

 Gift of Dr. George Linabury                                                                                                  2008.17.01