Miscellaneous interests and peeves. About as exciting as standing all day at a yard sale collecting used hearing aids.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Stacks and Other Disposables

While I desperately want the SSUS refreshed and saved for posterity, it seems to be something that will not happen because of the practical realities of the world. (She is not just a webpage.)
Perhaps more managable would be the saving of her stacks to some appropriate locale--Mariner Museum property in Newport News, VA--for example, or anywhere in the city where she was built.
The best thing is to start collecting money for this to be accomplished now while those who built her with pride still live. They are becoming fewer daily.

I am always expending concern about things that probably cannot happen. As examples, I want to save the Chamberlain Hotel in Fort Monroe, VA and all of historic Fort Monroe, for that matter. It is terribly impractical to save the hotel but we all have to dream about something.
I do not want to save these buildings just because I am trying to save memories of a long lost youth. They are actually designed with some knowledge of classical proportion, crafted in an age when workers took pride in their work and from a time when companies valued their employees enough to reward their pride with at least some concern for them and their futures. These things represent the good that comes of not allowing the bottom line to be an architectural entity.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

What's In Your Kunstkammer?

Most of us collect things. We may keep small things in a shoe box, such as shells, arrowheads, Matchbox Toys, or buttons. We may collect for our larger spaces and have a house full of furniture, ship models, Hopi jars or whatever catches our fancy. Our garages may be filled with classic cars, our barns with early tractors.
These collections and/or the things that contain them may be called Kunstkammers. This German word means arts chamber or cabinet. The original Kunstkammers were formed to display
(1. Naturalia) oddities from nature--human freaks (preserved), weirdly shaped deer antlers, exotic shells, coconuts or unusual types of wood.
(2. Artificialia) Items acted upon by man--A chambered nautilus, gold encrusted and bejeweled; coconut half bowl covered with intricate gold work displayed on a stand of ebony; carved ivory tusks.
These rarities were kept in cabinets until the collections grew large enough for rooms, then whole buildings.
In the 15th century, Germanic rulers developed this collecting to the ultimate degree. Their accumulations became spoils of war. European museums today display some of these early items. If we are unable to travel to foreign lands, we are able to view many of these collections via the internet.
How fascinating it is to view their items from the perspective of their time!



Link http://kunstkammer.dk/GBLav_din_udstilling.shtml
Link http://kunstkammer.com
Link http://ArtLex/K.html

Monday, November 07, 2005



She was framed symmetrically in my rearview mirror, an elongated picture post card hanging above my dash board. I drove as slowly as possible to keep her there as I headed south across the James River on Interstate Highway 664 and she traveled east into Hampton Roads. The alignment was perfect for over a mile. The time was ten minutes to nine on the morning of June 4, 1992, and that was the last I saw of her.
Looking back, she was mine. What a sight! There was no bright sunlight to show her streaked paint and faded stacks. They and the rake of her hull gave the illusion of speed. She was every inch the Blue Riband winner. The tow bridle was not visible and to my mind she moved under her own power. It was not the first time she brought tears to my eyes.
For young teens in the early fifties in Newport News, Virginia, things were pretty ordinary and dull, except for the fantastic ship being built in the local shipyard. We read her specifications (those that were not top-secret) in the paper and marvelled at her size. She was a frequent topic of conversation in families because most fathers worked on her or close by in the Yard. We all had the feeling she was ours. We heard details of the construction of her all-aluminum superstructure. We heard the rumors and speculation about her potential speed and her ability to be quickly converted for use as a troop ship by the Navy. "The fastest ship in the world," we heard. She was said to be virtually fireproof and built with watertight compartments so she couldn't be sunk (at least not by an iceberg). We were so proud when famous government people came to the Yard to look her over. (These days we call that a photo-op.)
She made us feel improtant. On the way to Sunday school each week we checked on her progress as we drove past. After school on Tuesdays, she was the topic of our Mariner Scout Troop meetings. We had chosed her to be "our" ship and eventually, because of that, we attended her christening!

We stood warm in the crowd in our long-sleeved sailor dresses and hats, thrilled and excited. During our tour of the ship our guide pointed out that each of the forty-eight states had contributed something to the ship. We remarked on the blue and green decor, noting smugly that usually those colors "didn't go together," but that they were used with distinction on our ship. To our minds the etched glass and aluminum artwork represented "modern art," but we were able to appreciate its classical deep-sea themes. We knew what we liked.
Enthusiasm for the ship was a community thing, but it probably never entered the minds of most of us to ever hope to sail on her. And most of us did not. She left us for her home port in New York City, a world apart. We later shared the excitement when she returned to the Yard for yearly maintenance. She was still our ship.
I foolishly continued to feel personally connected to her when, in later years, I saw her docking or leaving Pier 86 at the west end of 46th Street in New York. But I was not the only one. She attracted attention with her coming and going even in Manhattan. Her deep-throated whistle rattled windows. Tugs tooted, bells rang, and people stopped to watch her when they could. Who doesn't stop to watch a parade?
We don't like parades to end. We are forced to leave the euphoria behind with the ticker tape and horse do. After her parade it was no different. In her case the clean up crew shamefully cleaned her out and stripped and sold most of her insides when she was retired in 1969 after 400 voyages.
People who wanted to get across the ocean in a hurry were becoming jet-setters. American union maritime workers wanted higher hourly wages than workers from other countries. It became impractical to run her.
In later years while she sat docked in Norfolk or Newport News I'd sail close for a look with a horrible sense of her defenselessness. I would helplessly moan something about somebody should do something and shrug my shoulders.
On that day in '92, somebody did something. They had her towed for 36 days across the ocean to Turkey, where she was to have her super fire-retardant asbestos removed and be refitted as a cruise ship. The refitting never materialized and now she is back in this country, thank goodness, and docked at a private dock in Philadelphia with paint peeling. For some reason it was not to be prosperous to run her on the Bosporus.
Now her fate is largely in the hands of at least two organizations--seemingly at odds over her future. One, the S. S. United States Foundation, wants her to be docked somewhere meaningful to her history, designated a national monument, and maintained as a museum.
The other, the United States Conservancy, is working with her current owners, Norwegian Cruise Lines, exploring the possiblity of having her refitted and put to sea once again, this time as a cruise ship.
That company at least offers some validity to the dream. They have recently launched a ship, The Pride of America, and developed on-board a library dedicated to the memory of the sister ship to the SS United States, the SS America. NCL apparently has an interest in preserving the maritime heritage of these ships, whereas no one in our country can afford it. (NCL is receiving a subsidy from our government enabling The Pride of America to be the first cruise ship to sail under the American flag. As part of this arrangement workers on board must be American, thus allowing this ship to cruise the Hawaiian Islands).
Personally, I'd probably be more likely to visit her again as a museum than to go on a cruise on her, so I lean more to that outcome. I'd prefer either result, though, to thinking of her being totally dismantled and sold off as just so many tons of scrap.

Thursday, November 03, 2005


In an unprecedented moment of hubris I thought I could have a blog if anyone else could. There is so little I know about how to do this but others are able to so maybe--- I am feeling like an idiot here.
I thought I had something to say but the blank screen cleared my mind. Think I'll have a nap.