Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Rescue at Sea

(by Diane Cooper, Museum Specialist)

For the crew of the British cargo transport ship Mary Horlock built in 1919, late January 1924 on the Pacific Ocean 700 miles off-shore of Japan was a nightmare.  Not only were they fighting shifting cargo that caused the vessel to list dangerously, but nature also conspired against them in the form of a major storm growing to typhoon proportions.  On the morning of January 26, the captain ordered an SOS issued in hopes that another vessel might be able to assist them.

One hundred miles away, the radio operator on board the old Pacific Mail steamship President Taft picked up that distress call and passed the information on to Captain Girard T. January.  Immediately Captain January changed course and the Taft began battling her way through the storm to the sinking Mary Horlock.  By afternoon the President Taft reached the Horlock to find her barely afloat.  Without her cargo of lumber she would have slipped beneath the waves long before help arrived.

Watercolor of the President Taft (SAFR 14110)
When the Taft hove in sight, it quickly became obvious that the raging seas made it impossible to close in on the sinking vessel or to ship a gangway as an access point for the rescued men to board the Taft.  At the same time, the crew on board the Horlock determined that lifeboats could not be launched filled with passengers.  In desperation they dropped a boat over the side and, when it remained afloat, half of the crew managed to jump into it as it rose and fell on the turbulent seas and then struggled against the elements and, "...miraculously reached the side of the Taft."  (S. Miller Holland, transcription of newspaper article in Park's accession folder for P05-005.)  According to Chief Engineer Dugan, 2,575 barrels of oil were pumped overboard to calm the turbulent sea next to their ship so that when the lifeboat came alongside, the crew of the President Taft was able to deploy their cargo nets to haul the twenty exhausted members of the Horlock crew from their lifeboat.

S. Miller Holland, a special correspondent for the Universal Service and a passenger on board the Taft, reported that the storm was, "...one of the most terrific storms that ever lashed the Pacific [with] plunging waters of a convulsed sea [and that it] had grown so violent that it meant almost certain death for anybody to attempt to reach the Mary Horlock in so frail a craft as a lifeboat." (Typescript of newspaper article by S. Miller Holland, in accession file P05-005, hereafter "(Holland).")  Captain January called for volunteers willing to brave the dangerous seas as part of a livesaving party.  To a man his crew responded to his request.  Chief Officer Frank J. Sommer, placed in charge of the rescue party, quickly chose six Filipino able-bodied seamen to man the lifeboat and make the journey with him, "...because the American seamen we got in those days were taxi drivers and everything else.  They couldn't handle it.  And those Filipinos were very loyal.  They would do what I wanted them to do.  Strictly obey orders...They were wonderful boatmen."  (Frank J. Sommer oral history interview on April 15, 1965)  

Frank J. Sommer with 6 Filipino crew members, January 10, 1924, SFMNHP, P05-005.1p (SAFR 20643). Frank Sommer donated this photograph at the time of his oral history interview on April 15, 1965.

Sommer and his Filipino crew quickly fought their way across the open sea between the ships and positioned their boat alongside.  One by one the remaining crewmembers jumped into the lifeboat.  With the last of the Horlock's crew accounted for, the lifeboat headed, "...across a fierce, foaming, bursting tide, with every mad wave almost drowning the sky, [as] Mr. Sommer's heroic band fought their way to the side of their own staunch ship the President Taft.  The ocean rolled fiercely and unmercifully, hell opening up every time the lifeboat plunged down from the crest of a billow to the watery valley below."  (Holland)

More than an hour after setting out from the Taft, the last member of the Horlock's crew was safely on board, and Sommer and his crew of Filipino sailors once again stepped onto the Taft's deck, to "...a universal round of applause and cheering from the passengers and others of the crew of the President Taft.  The intensity of the cheering for a moment almost echoed louder than the loud ocean."  (Holland)

The Mary Horlock slipped beneath the Pacific's waves shortly after the completion of this rescue operation, leaving no identifiable flotsam in her wake.

Captain January referred all congratulations to Chief Officer Sommer and his crew.  Sommer, however, stated that Captain January "...was greatly responsible for the success of this rescue oepration.  I am afraid that it would have been a failure, had it not been for his perfect cooperation and handling of the President Taft.  He was very successful in creating a perfect lee for the returning lifeboat."  (Holland)  In addition, Sommer expressed gratitude and praise for "...the six loyal Filipino sailors, who volunteered and almost insisted to man the lifeboat with me.  I will always remember the names of Laxinto, Sim, Demerin, Valencia, De la Cruz and Fernandez."  (Frank J. Sommer oral history interview on April 15, 1965)  

The British Government, under King George V, recognized the efforts of the crew of the President Taft, especially those of Frank J. Sommer, Laxinto, Sim, Demerin, Valencia, De la Cruz and Fernandez, all of whom received a medal for "Humanity and Gallantry."

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Digging for Gold at the Research Center: Valentine's Day the Yachting Way

(by Gina Bardi, Reference Librarian)

It’s Valentine’s season! Can’t you smell the chocolate in the air? You probably think we librarians and archivists are a cold calculating bunch, only thinking about classification systems and preservation methods but we feel love too! Why just the other day I came across a few items in a scrapbook that made my heart go all a-flutter. I’ve written about scrapbooks of the San Francisco Yacht Club  before, but while going through them recently to fulfill a reference request from one of our staff, I came across the drawings below and the poem which were just too sweet not to share with you, my beloved readers, on Valentine’ s Day..

 I’ve posted this photo before, but I’m bringing it back for a special Valentine’s Day rerun. I love the way the two courters  are staring into each other’s eyes. What plans are they making? Perhaps a walk along the boardwalk  later? Or first and last dance at the spring ball? It’s impossible to ignore the direct gaze of the other woman, as  she  beckons  you to sit next to her and have a cup of tea. Maybe you’ll be strolling down the boardwalk arm in arm with her later as well.

Sweet and simple. There is nothing half so much worth doing as messing about in boats with someone you love… and a cherub.

Not quite sure what all is going on here, but hey, a heart made out of rope! I guess there’s a man with a terrible haircut being hoisted aboard and some people singing and a pair of women’s legs. The couple in the middle seem to like each other though.

After looking at these images of happy couples perhaps you to now would like to woo someone.  Here’s a maritime themed love poem to help you out.

 San Francisco Yacht Club. Scrapbooks. 1883-1885. Print.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Digging for Gold at the Research Center: Movie night!

(by Gina Bardi, Reference Librarian)

As winter has descended upon us (or so I am told- it’s still around 60 degrees in San Francisco) people start looking for more indoorsey activities. As the months of forced home imprisonment grow longer, your entertainment options run out.  Can you really watch that same action film one more time without screaming? Will your spouse make good on that threat to walk out the door if you rewatch that beloved tv show from the 90’s from the beginning for the third time? Have you really watched everything in your queue even the things that you just put there to impress other people, never actually intending to watch? Well, then we here at the Maritime Research Center have a real treat for you.  A search of our catalog turns up 27 movies available for streaming for free. That’s right 27 movies you can watch right now for free and I can almost bet anyone that you haven’t seen most of them. Ever wonder what Fisherman’s Wharf looked like in 1897? I bet you do because you are reading a maritime themed blog!  So check out this Edison film of a felucca taking in her sail. Need something a bit more substantial? How about a film that shows World War II tankers built here in the Bay Area at Marinship?  Something lighter? Why there’s always Mabel and Fatty Viewing the World’s Fair at San Francisco, Cal? A Mack Sennet production staring Mabel Normand and Fatty Arbuckle made in 1915, this film features many maritime topics such as the battleship Oregon, a Crowley ferry (#17), the former prison hulk, the Success and the Ferry Building.

Almost all of these films are on the Library of Congress website or the Internet Archive. If you are a fan of motion pictures, I highly recommend checking out the sites and just browsing. What else are you going to do? Pretend you haven’t seen every single British detective show on TV already?

So go make that popcorn! Or, if you really want to be authentic, make some hardtack to gnaw on and sit back and enjoy some good maritime entertainment. 

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Digging for Gold at the Research Center: National Maritime Day

(by Gina Bardi, Reference Librarian)

Did you know I take suggestions for posts? Especially ones that come from my boss, Keri! While digging through one of our “pam files” (you oldsters might remember them as vertical files from back in the day) on National Maritime Day (Friday May 22nd) she came across an article about the Queen of the Day contest at the National Maritime Day Program at Aquatic Park.  Now, as an American, I don’t know much about royalty, but I’m pretty sure Queens aren’t forced to swab decks or other any laborious tasks (although the image of Queen Victoria climbing the rigging of the Cutty Sark is an interesting one).

Crowning a queen wasn’t the only activity that day. Other articles mention events such as a life boat races, a Coast Guard rescue performance and something called “water clowns”…

Did you or your family attend any of these events back in the 60’s? Were you a Maritime Queen or a even a Water Clown (it’s ok, you can admit it)?  Let us know!  Any ideas for how we should celebrate National Maritime Day in 2015? We’re all ears. Just drop us a line. I’ll check back when I’m done doing my practice swabs on the deck.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Holiday 2014-2015 schedule

The Research Center's winter holiday 2014-2015 schedule will be:

Monday, December 22:  regular services
Tuesday-Friday, December 23-26:  closed

Monday-Tuesday, December 29-30:  regular services
Wednesday-Thursday, December 31-January 1:  closed
Friday, January 2, 2015:  regular services

Questions?  Contact us!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Research Center closed, Thursday Dec. 11, 2014

Due to severe weather and power outages, the Research Center, along with all Park facilities, has had to close today.

We will resume normal service tomorrow, Friday, December 12, 2014.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Panama-Pacific International Exposition, 1915

(by Heather Hernandez, Technical Services Librarian)

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Panama-Pacific Exposition in 1915, we're digitizing and making freely available online some related items from our collections.  We're thankful for our intern Ellen Mizuhara's hard work on this project, ranging from researching relevant items and resources to the long hours spent scanning this scarce and fragile items.

Cliff House and Seal Rocks from Beach
From "Souvenir of San Francisco"

But wait--what does this have to do with maritime history?  A lot!  From images of the waterfront contained in publications to sponsored races, the Exposition was rich in maritime interactions.

Ocean Boulevard and Bathing Beach from Cliff House
From "Souvenir of San Francisco"
So we're proud to announce that with Ellen's assistance, our first offerings to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Exposition:

Mechanical Engineering at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition by G.W. Dickie: read the online copy or locate the hardcopy book in the Research Center

New York to San Francisco Power Boat Race Under the Auspices of the Panama-Pacific Exposition:  read the online copy or locate the hardcopy book in the Research Center

Official Souvenir view book of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition at San Francisco 1915: read the online copy or locate the hardcopy book in the Research Center

Seeing San Francisco, California: read the online copy or locate the hardcopy book in the Research Center

Souvenir of San Francisco, California, the "Queen City:"  read the online copy or locate the hardcopy book in the Research Center

Want to learn more?  Search the Keys Catalog for materials related to the Exposition, check out an online map of the Exposition from the Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco, explore online titles about the Exposition from Project Gutenberg, from the Internet Archive, and from Books About California, and stay tuned--we'll be digitizing more items related to the Exposition in 2015!

February 4, 2015 update:  New PPIE Centennial website from the California Historical Society.