Thursday, July 24, 2014

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Digging for gold at the library: Magic Portholes!

(by Gina Bardi, Reference Librarian)

I dropped my pencil in the stacks the other day.  As I bent down to pick it up, I noticed a title that struck my fancy--Magic Portholes.  Magic Portholes!  I’ve been here three and a half years so it’s inexcusable that a book with the title Magic Portholes would escape my attention until now.  All I can say is that it was on a bottom shelf and studies have shown that people are less likely to look on lower or higher shelves than middle ones.  No excuses, though.  Let’s just jump right in, shall we?

This brightly green colored book with a delightful font is by Helen Thomas Follett, a travel writer and essayist.  The first thing that caught my eye as I flipped through it was the wonderful drawings by Armstrong Sperry.  Some of you die hard book lovers might know him from his Newberry Award winning book, Call it Courage, about a Polynesian youth overcoming his fear of the sea.  In Magic Portholes, his woodcut style illustrations are enchanting.  Here are two fine examples of his work:

I was hooked. I turned to read the opening sentence, as any book lover will tell you the measure of most books can be gathered from the opening sentences.  “Magic Portholes” begins thusly:
“Let’s go to sea for a year!”
“Where?  For a what? Come on, Barbara, dry the dishes for me will you?”
“Come on mother, let’s run away to sea”
That’s what I call an intriguing start.  A daughter pleading with her mother to run away to sea with her?  How I wish I would have found this for Mother’s Day! It’s rare to find a sea adventure story that is about women, much less between a mother and daughter. I immediately wanted to know more about this book, so I started researching.  Within a few minutes I had learned an intriguing and terribly sad story, not about this book but about the lives of the women who lived it.

So first, let’s discuss this book on its own merits before getting into the strange facts which surround it. Magic Portholes  is  a true story, or at least based on true events.  The author and her daughter Barbara (much more on her later) did in fact run away to sea. The story starts out in New England with daughter Barbara urging a sea journey. She lays out persuasive arguments:
I want to live at sea much longer than ten days [ed. note: see below]. Oh I’ll take along books and study. Think of reading Virgil up in the crosstrees, or straddling the main book or lying in the fold of a furled spanker in some quiet harbor (p. 2).
 “Let me tell you,” Barbara began, “Just what it’ll be like, that first day at sea. We’ll be towed out, and the tug captain and the master of our sailing ship will call across to each other, in their hoarse voices. We’ll be standing on the poop and you’ll get your first thrill when the little donkey engines start up. But wait until you hear the sounds of the rippling sails in the masts! You’ll hear the skipper call out, ‘Mains’l out first, then fores’l, forestays’l, and jibs; spanker and tops’ls. Lively, boys! We’ll be safely outside and prancing down the harbor under sail, and then we’ll cast the towrope, and the little tug will wheel about and chug back to the city. But we’ll be free! The great white sails will lift and lift and fill and fill, and we’ll be off. Off…” (p. 6).
The two wind up in the West Indies and then onto Tahiti, Fiji, Samoa and points in between.   Magic Portholes is their discovery of those beautiful islands and the adventures they have. It’s not so much of a travelogue as a lively conversation. The two never seem to get down and always face any setbacks with bemusement.  They mostly travel by schooner, their preferred method, with occasional tramp steamers thrown in. Along the way they try to live for six shillings a day or less. They pick up work here and there writing dispatches or doing odd jobs.  Mostly, people seem to be drawn to them and their vivacious way of living.  I should note that there is some inappropriate language in the book that is unfortunately a product of the times the book was published in (1932). It seems out of place with the easy going good cheer of the novel and is a blight on an otherwise charming work.

The real life of Helen and Barbara Follett was short of good cheer.  Wilson Follett, Helen’s husband, left the family for another woman when Barbara was 13.  The blow was shocking both emotionally and financially. Helen and Barbara were left reeling. It most likely was her adventuress daughter’s idea to run away to sea, ostensibly to get material to write books because Barbara, it should be noted, was already an accomplished author. At 11 she had published a book, The House Without Windows which was extremely well received and made something of a celebrity out of its young author.  Lee Wilson Dodd reviewed it in The Saturday Review of Literature said of it, “This is very beautiful writing. But there are moments when, for one reader, this book grows almost unbearably beautiful. It becomes an ache in the throat. Weary middle-age and the clear delicacy of a dawn-Utopia, beckoning…the contrast sharpens to pain.”   Barbara went on to publish one more book, The Voyage of the Norman D. which was about the time she spent, as a 13 year old on a schooner, the Norman D. Yes, you read that right. At 13 she had decided to go to sea by herself and got her parents to book her passage on a schooner where she basically a passenger with chores (which explains the line in the passage above where she wants to live at sea more than 10 days).  Shortly after she returned, her father deserted the family.  Losing both a father and supporter, Barbara was left reeling.  It was then she and her mother decided to go to sea and gathered the material which would become Magic Portholes. Upon returning, Helen and Barbara struggled back in the states, finding it very difficult to earn a living. Barbara moved to LA, hated it, and moved back to New York.  She didn’t publish anything else, although according to an article in Lapham’s Quarterly by Paul Collins, she completed two manuscripts, one called Lost Island and another Travels Without a Donkey but neither was published.  She married very young, still a teenager.  Her marriage was unhappy and she was plagued with worry that her husband was not faithful. In 1939, at age 25, she walked out of her apartment after a fight with her husband. She was never seen again.  The Collins story is wonderful and if you are intrigued by the little I have covered here, I suggest it for further reading.

But back to Magic Portholes, so as not to end in sadness but rather excite you to take your own adventure (Perhaps with your mom? Call her!) this is another excerpt from the book:
That night, our first at sea, we lay awake in our bunks a long time, listening to the ocean outside our portholes. Fragments of talk floated around the little cabin, up from one bunk and down from another. 
‘Hear that voice outside? That’s the voice that’s been haunting me for a year.  Feel that wind? No breeze on land so fresh as that. Look through the porthole! See the dome sand callous ocean rising falling- stars riding the waves… I’m at sea again.  Am I? It smells like it; it looks like it; it sounds like it. To-morrow we’ll be at sea- the next day -the next- and we’ll sleep to-night with the sound of the ocean in our ears, of wind in the sails- no, you know what I mean- the sound of engines- throbbing sound, not like sails, though.  But it doesn’t matter- not much… Good night’ (p. 31).

So, all of you library browsers out there take note- drop a pencil once and awhile and see what you find. If you’d like to see this book or anything else in our research center, just drop me a line.

Dodd. lee Wilson. “In Arcady.” Saturday Review of Literature (1927). Web. 28 May 2014.
Collins, Paul. “Vanishing Act.” Lapham’s Quarterly. 18 Dec. 2010. Web. 28 May 2014.
Follett, Helen. Magic Portholes. New York: The Junior Literary Guild, 1932. Book.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

New Research Center Hours

Due to changes in staffing levels, effective July 7, 2014 the Maritime Research Center will be open by appointment only, Monday through Friday 1:00pm-4:00pm.  Appointments must be made at least twenty-four hours in advance.  (Closed most federal holidays.) Please contact us to make an appointment with a reference librarian, for assistance with your research, or for more information.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

It's 1877--how much would my ticket cost?

(by Heather Hernandez, Technical Services Librarian)

What might your journey cost when you disembarked from your steamer in 1877?  Now that we've digitized a joint circular from the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads, you can see the "booked through" fares for different passenger classes from many different steamship lines.  Here's the first page--check out both pages online at the Internet Archive or in our Keys Catalog:

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Hooked on the American Dream: a Fish Story

(by Diane Cooper, Museum Specialist)

One San Francisco day in the mid-1860s, an Italian immigrant fishing for his supper caught two fish on one hook.  When a passing gold miner offered to purchase the extra fish, the enterprising young immigrant suddenly found his version of the American dream.  A native of Ancona, Italy, born in 1843, Achille Paladini immigrated to San Francisco in 1865.  With little formal education, he used his determination, drive, and vision to create A. Paladini Inc.  Over the years the company Achille Paladini started became the west coast's largest wholesale seafood distributor and Achille became known as "The Fish King."

A. Paladini, Inc. sign from the 1920s or 1930s (SAFR 20154)

Paladini always maintained his headquarters in San Francisco, but with time he added branch offices in Oakland and Los Angeles and built processing plants in Eureka and Fort Bragg.  He also had twelve receiving stations located up and down the coast from Crescent City, in northern California, all the way south to Mexico.  A fleet of six company fishing trawlers supplied daily fresh fish, which the company sold to restaurants, hotels, and markets throughout California and the western United States.

Envelope from Oakland office (SAFR 20180)

San Francisco office letterhead (SAFR 20182)
Santa Cruz receiving station letterhead (SAFR 20179)

Company truck outside the San Francisco office (P93-001)

By the 1990s the Paladini family donated a 1927 GMC truck, restored to replicate the original trucks used by Paladini, to the Park.  It can be seen on board the Park's historic ferryboat Eureka berthed at Hyde Street Pier.  The truck and one of the original Paladini fish carts, both of which are currently on display, are among a number of artifacts in the Park's collection from the A. Paladini Inc. wholesale seafood company, a business that played a major role in San Francisco's fishing industry.

Fish cart in the Visitor Center (SAFR 21245)
A. Paladini truck on ferryboat Eureka (SAFR 11919)

In addition to the artifacts mentioned and pictured above, other artifacts from A. Paladini Inc. donated to the Park's collection include a typewriter and adding machine from a company office, two A. Paladini Inc. wooden boxes (one labeled "Kippered Cod" and the other labeled "Boneless Salt Cod"), two labels (one for Paladini's Dungeness Crab Meat and the other for Paladini's Shrimp Meat), a sign stencil, a memorabilia display, a photographic collection, and an archival collection containing original business correspondence for A. Paladini Inc. as well as some information on the family.  These artifacts help to tell the story of Achille Paladini, a young Italian immigrant who, by lowering a single hook onto the Bay, caught not only his supper but his part of the American Dream and became an integral part of San Francisco's fishing community.

Canned shrimp meat label (SAFR 20162)
Canned dungeness crab meat label (SAFR 20163)
Kippered cod box (SAFR 20152)
Office adding machine (SAFR 20149)

Achille Paladini died in 1921 at the age of 78, leaving the family business to his sons.  In 1974, after the passing of that second generation, the company was sold to a group of outside investors unfamiliar with the world of wholesale seafood and, approximately four years after the purchase, the 110-year-old business closed.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Maritime Metaphors: Collecting Memories

(by Lisbit Bailey, Archivist and Pop Music Aficionado)

This edition of Maritime Metaphors is about collecting memories.  The song lyrics to Bookends by Paul Simon conjure treasures of the past, the halcyon days perhaps.  Photographs are the iconic form of "memory," but we collect many other things to remind us of shared experiences of all kinds.

What do you collect?  What are the stories you tell?


Time it was
And what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence
A time of confidences

Long ago it must be
I have a photograph
Preserve your memories
They're all that's left you

Check out the YouTube video of Simon & Garfunkel performing Old Friends and Bookends in medley, 1977.

Here is a variety of items selected from the Collections at San Francisco Maritime NHP evocative of the past, memories, and souvenirs.  Enjoy!

Photograph: This portrait of the Rasmussen family is a shipboard souvenir with hand coloring. Shown are Captain Rasmussen, his wife and children arriving in Honolulu aboard a Matson Lines vessel, taken between 1925 and 1935. (SAFR 22239, P09-011)

Bookmarks: These hand-painted lanceolate-type leaves are from an unidentified plant from Cape Town.
(SAFR 8680)

Christening Bottle: This square-section short-necked bottle is wrapped with blue and gold ribbons.  Inscribed on a brass plaque:  "Presented to SALLY ZUCKERMAN, sponsor / Rechristening S.S. HAWAIIAN MOTORIST / Honolulu, November 7, 1962." This vessel was originally a freighter built in 1945. It was rebuilt as a containership in 1960-61. (SAFR 20573)

Souvenir Handkerchief:  This item commemorates the Great White Fleet visitation to California in 1908. There is a starboard view of the flagship Connecticut at center and portraits of President Roosevelt above and Rear Admiral Evans below. (SAFR 17014)

Uniform Hat: An Officer of Matson Navigation Company wore this cap. (SAFR 19825)

This is a menu for the Aquatic Park Casino, circa 1940. (SAFR 15567)

Cocktail Napkin: This is a souvenir of Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco, California, with drawings of the Golden Hinde (II) and Balclutha, circa 1970. (SAFR 19933)

Pillowcase:  Made of pink fabric with fringe and printed in blue. There is a spread-eagle symbol, a picture of a liberty ship and the legend "Souvenir of Kaiser Ship Yards, Richmond, Calif., Liberty Ships, Victory by Production,” circa 1943-1945. (SAFR 19364)

Postcard: This is a First Day Cover commemorating Drake’s vessel the GOLDEN HIND, 1580. (SAFR 15568)

Souvenir Program: Liberty Ship JIM OTIS was launched from Richmond Shipbuilding Corporation, Richmond, California, on December 31, 1941. (SAFR  17005)

Purse: A small purse or etui made from a coconut shell with hand-painted decoration, undated. (SAFR 3394)

Photograph: This is one photo from the William A. Dougan collection of albums and loose prints dating from 1916 to 1935.  Dougan, a Chief Engineer compiled the albums, included family, and voyage photographs aboard the steamer Roanoke. (SAFR 22304, P92-083)

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

New in the Library: Color your 1946 world

(by Heather Hernandez, Technical Services Librarian)

Now available in the Library, Pittsburgh Marine Finishes is a full color catalog of the marine paints and coatings that were available from the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company in 1946.  Sleek vessels illustrate the front and back covers:

Front cover

Back cover

And inside you'll find full color illustrations of the possible applications for many types of vessels, large and small, showing vessel exteriors as well as interiors:

And, of course, no catalog would be complete without the swatches.  The catalog contains page after page of samples of colors and finishes such as this one:

For the vessel or the home, this volume is a wealth of inspiration for anyone seeking color inspiration--especially mid-20th century color inspiration!