MEMORABLE SEA TRAGEDIES, AND AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER: RECENT DONATIONS TO THE WOLFSONIAN LIBRARY COLLECTION

Today’s post is really a tale of two donors, individuals who have accumulated some astounding collections, and who are now transferring much of their private holdings into the custody and stewardship of the Wolfsonian-Florida International University library. My own post concerns a substantial gift of more than 270 scarce reference and rare books about the two greatest sea disasters of the early twentieth century: the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, and the torpedoing of the Lusitania in 1915. 

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GIFTS OF THOMAS C. RAGAN

While the Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection at the Wolfsonian library included many rare books and brochures published by and about the great steamship lines during the interwar period, our ocean liner materials have grown exponentially in the last few years. The Laurence Miller Collection augmented our holdings with tens of thousands of cruise line promotional materials covering the post-World War II period, but still we were lacking items documenting the two greatest ocean liner tragedies. The recent donation by Thomas C. Ragan has filled that gap.

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GIFTS OF THOMAS C. RAGAN

Before its fateful voyage, photomontage and photographic images of the Titanic stressed its enormous size and its luxurious first class salons. These features took on new meaning in the aftermath of the accident as the ship’s enormous size contributed to the scale of the tragic losses, and the attention the company paid to interior decoration seemed extravagant compared to their inattention to safety details.

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When it was revealed after the tragedy that the life boats aboard the Titanic were sufficient to hold only one-third of the passengers aboard the ship, editorial cartoons took the industry to task and encouraged “Uncle Sam” to adopt a more aggressive regulatory role. 

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GIFTS OF THOMAS C. RAGAN

The remainder of today’s post also deals with a donation of some ocean liner industry materials to our collection, by Frederic A. Sharf, who over the last few years has gifted large portions of his amazing private stash of rare books, vintage photograph albums, and original journals and diaries. Mr. Sharf has also generously provided us with funding for a librarian position to help us process, accession, catalog, and digitize these materials to make them accessible to the general public and wider community of scholars. With that as an introduction, I turn over the post to Sharf Associate Librarian, Rochelle Pienn:

HISTORIC CRUISE SHIP ARCHIVES FROM THE JEAN S. AND FREDERIC A SHARF COLLECTION

by Rochelle Pienn

Holding back my desire to beep my horn in Miami’s notorious traffic is, I admit, a challenge for me. You might be able to take the girl out of “Queens, NY,” but I guess you can’t take the “Queens” out of the girl—at least as it pertains to sitting behind the wheel in bumper-to-bumper gridlock. There’s a point on the road heading home, however, when even I respect the rubbernecking tourists’ desire to slow down and admire the spectacular cruise ships leaving port at sunset.

The MacArthur Causeway, Miami Beach, Florida.

The MacArthur Causeway, Miami Beach, Florida.

No stranger to ship life myself, there’s nothing more alluring than the call of the open sea, a massive vessel replete with luxurious amenities, and exotic ports of call. Admittedly, my cruising has been more of the middle class, week-long voyage type.

The author on the RCCL Sun Viking, Alaska.

The author on the RCCL Sun Viking, Alaska.

Recent gifts to the Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection at the Wolfsonian-FIU library have given me something to add to my bucket list. Books, brochures, and original log book keepsakes from around-the-world cruises speak toward the classic appeal of extended ocean travel for those with means.

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GIFT OF JEAN S. AND FREDERIC A. SHARF

The Cunard company, founded in England in the early 1800s, is most famous for its doomed ship, the Lusitania. Her sinking by a German U-boat shocked the world. Germany’s resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare instigated the United States’ involvement in World War I. Other famous ships in the Cunard line included the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth. Cunard eventually absorbed the White Star Line.

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GIFT OF JEAN S. AND FREDERIC A. SHARF

Cunard’s Franconia was also no stranger to war. After her glamorous leisure expeditions “across the Southern hemisphere,” she was appropriated into naval service during World War II. Besides bringing troops across the sea and getting shot at by Nazis, Franconia also hosted Winston Churchill during the Yalta conference.

Cruise lines offered passengers makeshift log books as travel guides during their vacations, and as keepsakes for the future. This passenger’s log book is from a 1934 R.M.S. Franconia Southern Hemisphere World Cruise. Inside, passengers could access the ship’s itinerary and port excursion information at a glance.

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GIFT OF JEAN S. AND FREDERIC A. SHARF

Musical entertainment was one of the highlights on the high seas:

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GIFT OF JEAN S. AND FREDERIC A. SHARF

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GIFT OF JEAN S. AND FREDERIC A. SHARF

Other available amusements included betting on horse races …

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GIFTS OF JEAN S. AND FREDERIC A. SHARF

… and attending theatrical performances:

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GIFT OF JEAN S. AND FREDERIC A. SHARF

The ship arrived at fascinating places around the world, including Panama, Hawaii, Tahiti, Fiji and Sydney.

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GIFT OF JEAN S. AND FREDERIC A. SHARF

Perhaps while in Cape Town, passengers appreciated the log book’s suggestions for purchasing souvenirs:

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GIFT OF JEAN S. AND FREDERIC A. SHARF

Before planning an extended stay at sea, the potential ocean traveler might wish to consult The Bon Voyage Book:

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GIFT OF JEAN S. AND FREDERIC A. SHARF

Self-proclaimed “Old Salt” Critchell Rimington gives practical advice on everything from seasickness to wardrobe choices for on board masquerade balls. On the aforementioned nausea at sea, Rimington quips: “The sensible person will do the wise thing and dine lightly the first day, or will refrain from drinking the ship’s entire liquor supply the first twelve hours out …”

Other interesting facts include the distinguishing patterns on the sleeves of the crew:

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GIFT OF JEAN S. AND FREDERIC A. SHARF

“In the Red Star and White Star Lines, for example, engineers are distinguished by purple bands between gold ones.”

The Red Star Line has an honored place in American history. Its ships transported millions of people from Antwerp to America. Before World War I and after, waves of European immigrants landed on Ellis Island via the Red Star vessels.

COURTESY OF

The Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection contains a passenger log book from the Red Star Line’s S.S. Belgenland’s World Cruise 1927-1928:

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GIFT OF JEAN S. AND FREDERIC A. SHARF

The S.S. Belgenland began her illustrious career as a World War I troop and cargo ship for the White Star Line. After the war she was acquired by the Red Star Line. This particular log book was owned and personalized by Roland C. Fenner of Philadelphia, when he served on the Advisory Committee of the University of Pennsylvania in 1920.

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GIFT OF JEAN S. AND FREDERIC A. SHARF

Fenner added photos …

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GIFT OF JEAN S. AND FREDERIC A. SHARF

… and other mementos from his travels.

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GIFT OF JEAN S. AND FREDERIC A. SHARF

There was fun to be had on deck …

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GIFT OF JEAN S. AND FREDERIC A. SHARF

… and amazing cities to explore.

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GIFTS OF JEAN S. AND FREDERIC A. SHARF

Come visit the Wolfsonian-FIU library on South Beach for a more hands-on, in-depth look at these rare world cruise materials. On your way to see us, wave to the excited ship passengers sailing away through Government Cut from the vantage of the MacArthur Causeway. Perhaps you’ll be inspired to embark someday, and your treasured memories could become part of a future educational archive.

~ by "The Chief" on October 10, 2013.

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