Today I took a tour.

It was a tour that required a Picture ID, a Social Security Number, a City of Birth, a very special Hardhat (complete with logo) and Safety Glasses.

If I told you where I went I’d have to kill you. But it was a Shipyard. On the Virginia Peninsula. Where they build Aircraft Carriers and such.

And I did see them building an aircraft carrier.

I can’t tell you how cool it was to stand on the edge of the drydock and look down.

And down.

And ever further down.

And there were still several stories to go before it was complete.

And while we were there, we saw the beginnings of the replica of the little cheesebox on a raft (which is so very why we were there.)

OK – it was just the raft part, and only a small part – but hey! It was pretty phenomenal nonetheless.

Sabbaticals for research are a nice thing – but being with your friends is even better. I got to see Sara and Jeef and Mary Helen and Justin, and Kimberly and my uber-boss Dave today, along with the inimitable JBH and the most wondrous Nancy Lee on the tour. Then I spent an absolutely glorious hour with Karen and then more fun with Sara and Lyles and Jeanne and Dave which rounded out the day. The snow started piling up as we were talking and made a perfect frame for the scene.

I can’t wait to go back.

There’s some medicine that doesn’t come in bottles – it comes in words and smiles and sights and sounds and acres of steel and ship and water.

But going back to the museum for the day was also bittersweet – as one of the bestest things there isn’t there anymore.

But I know where she lives…and I have a key…



All I can say is that I certainly think that there’s more to being a historian than speaking in sound bites.

Some folks think otherwise.



Is it possible to overprepare for something? I mean totally and completely and obsessively overprepare?

If so, then I have done it.

Tomorrow I’m being interviewed by the History Channel for the show Modern Marvels and in preparation I have stuffed my head so full of information about ironclads that I fear some important stuff may have fallen out.

You know – like my name and address and phone number and such?

Ah – but this is the kind of thing I love, though no doubt I will lose sleep over it tonight (will my alarm go off? will I say something stupid? will I have a wardrobe malfunction? will the car start? will my alarm go off? will there be food? what if I don’t remember something important, like who won the Civil War or something like that? maybe I should set 2 more alarms….)

So – my head is reeling with information and visions of monitors and casemates and rams and tin-clads and Davids and such are hovering around my periphery like so many ferrous little moths.

Somehow, I have to work in a poem written by one of the Virginia‘s crew in the months following the Battle of Hampton Roads in March 1862. The two ironclads glared at each other from across the Roads, but never fought one another again. You can imagine the frustration….

Supra mud-flattibus
Monitoribus juggatibus
Non est come-attibus

Ahh….a little faux Latin humour for a Friday. Let’s hope I can remember it tomorrow!


I’m not sure when we started work on it, really – but I would hazard a guess that it was in January of 2004 when pen began to hit paper – or something like that.

Anyway, a year later, and the USS Monitor Center website is alive, slouching its way towards a browser near you.

It will grow and gain new life over time – I’m sure of that, but it looks pretty snazzy now and I’m so happy it’s there.

The cool thing about it was getting to work with some awesome people in creating it. But I’ve gotta give some serious kudos to Justin ‘Poohead’ Lyons for project managing this thing and keeping all us content provider folks in line. His ability to cuss like a sailor was so very appropriate for this particular endeavor.

I, of course have the same capability – which he got to experience often. Loudly.

And the folks at DallaVilla Design should be worshipped for the godlike creatures that they are. I have no idea how much RedBull or Mountain Dew was consumed in the making of this creature, but my guess is that they won’t be able to fall asleep for a long long time…..

Yow. It’s stuff like this that just makes my day. Take a look at it, y’all.



The weekend is about to end. And it’s been a particularly nice one. Actually, it’s been a pretty good week despite the fact that I don’t think I slept at all.

I had forty ‘leven million presentations this week, including a sunrise lecture at a golf club in Suffolk that was worth getting up before dawn for. The folks were so nice and genuinely interested in the ickle cheesebox and the sunrise over the Nansemond was glorious.

My boss let me go home early on Friday (since I had effectively been at work since 6:15 a.m.) and a good thing it was, because we had folks coming over the next day and the carpets simply had to be cleaned.

JMU was in the playoffs, and lots of Jim’s college buddies, their girlfirends, wives, and kids would be converging on our house to see the game and one simply cannot have ooky carpets. Problem was, I only had a handheld carpet cleaning device, so it took awhile. But the job got done, and the house was passable.

So the next day, I left.

I had already RSVP’d for another party that afternoon, and so off I went, back across the river to a fellow curator’s house which was incredible in the extreme. The food was exquisite and the company wonderful and I was able to do that and still get back to our house in time to see most of the game.

They won, by the way.

Next week is my last full week in the office for quite some time. They’re finally giving me a sabbatical to finish the dissertation. I don’t deny that the prospect is frightening since I have to wrench myself out of the world of ironclads and columbiads and go flailing back into the realm of wooden walls – broadsides, portolans, the smell of Stockholm tar, and life before the mast.

It should be a remarkable time.


The past two weeks could be accurately described by invoking the movie ‘Planes, Trains, and Automobiles’ as I experienced all of those modes of transportation. There was even a point when one of my co-workers realized the similarity between our situation and said film and cried out “Those aren’t pillows!!” in the middle of 7th Avenue in Manhattan.

But let us not dwell on the tortured way in which I moved up and down the east coast. Let us instead think of happier things, such as our vacation to New Orleans for Halloween.

The weather (until we got on the airplane….) was incredible. Jim and I met up with Melody and Rich for four days in the Big Easy. We rambled the streets of the French Quarter, sampling all manner of tasty foods and drinks (the Bloody Marys at the Old Absinthe House won the prize for tastiest (and sadly, most expensive) – and as I promised, we raised a glass to Raven72d.

Jim learned last year in New Orleans, that Pirates get beads. Especially well-dressed pirates. So, that’s what we did…

But Catholic School girls and Priests get even more beads….especially when they are Melody and Rich…

In the end, a splendid time was had by all.


So very tired….

But ground was broken (and no chickens were present, more’s the pity…), dignitaries have spoken, and 715 visitors later (and I feel like I spoke to all of them) we have a project from which there is (blessedly) no return.

To those of you who have been with me so very long – Addie, Melody, Anneliese, Lexy, Richard, Adrienne, the folks at Frank’s APA and the denizens of Diaryland, et alia…had I known how monumental this day was going to be, I would have extended to all of you an invitation. Sadly though, when one is right in the thick of it, one does not realize how important some events can be.

But in any event, 143 years after the keel of the Monitor was laid at Greenpoint, we have turned earth at the Monitor Center.

There’s no turning back now, kids….


Well – it’s almost here. Tomorrow at 2 p.m. we will break ground for the USS Monitor Center.

Of course, there are some who contend that it is not a “groundbreaking” at all, but rather a “groundbeaking” – based on a typo that apparently made its way into some version of the invitation. And of course, it then begs the question – “what does one wear to a groundbeaking?”

I am glad that I’m not in charge of invitations…..

Ah well – it will all happen regardless of the lack of spellcheck. Dignitaries will arrive, speeches will be made, and the ground will either be broken or pecked at, depending on which invitation one received.

I’m sure that I’ll have some pictures from tomorrow’s festivities.

Then the long countdown begins to March 9, 2007 (mark that date on your calendar, kiddies).

Another part of my exhibit opens this weekend. We’ve moved the Dahlgrens and their carriages to a more pleasing space and have installed some temporary panels (better ones on their way, to be installed after the groundbeaking – erm…breaking).
Oh and the exhibit just got reviewed in Archaeology magazine. Hey…it’s the little things….

Well, I’ve hardly been home to care for and feed this thing lately. I promise Captain, I’ll try to do better!


I am right now running on two hours of sleep.

I am also sitting in a hotel in Portland, Maine – where I’ve been since noon today. By noon tomorrow I will be gone.

I had to get up at 3:30 this morning in order to catch my flight – which through no apparent logic – connected through Detroit. I really had no sense I was in the Motor City as Wayne Kramer was most decidedly not waiting for me at the gate.

But in any event – we went to a meeting – that is, Len, Jeef, Dave and I – along with Robin, Matt and Doug(names that I’m sure mean nothing to many of you – but as my friend Ian would say – I’m *tired*…)

Jeef and Dave and I checked into the hotel at 5, went to the rooftop pub for drinks (’tis the season for Pumpkinhead Ale!!!), then had dinner at this cool ‘floating’ restaurant called DeMillo’s which had really good ‘Lazy Lobster’ (remember – I’m not just tired, I’m *tired*. There’s a difference). The really coolest thing about the place though is that it’s an old ferry boat that for about 5 years (starting in 1947)ran between Norfolk and Hampton Virginia – before coming back to its home in Maine.

I talked to Jim for a brief little bit just now – and now I have simply got to go to bed as the screen is beginning to wiggle and the keys just don’t do what I’m wanting them to…

Anyway – wish I could stay longer in this most lovely part of the world – but alas, it is not to be.



Deary me, but I’ve spent two full work days in a design charette.

We answered such burning questions as “Should the theatre be permeated with the smell of tallow, pork fat and black powder?” and “If we find the cat – where do we put it?”

I’m not entirely sure that these are questions that most museum folks have to answer – but nonetheless, answer them we must.

I’m thinking that the answer is a definite “no” to the first question – but the second one is far more difficult.

If you don’t know the story of the cat in the Dahlgren, you can read a full account (complete with theories about it) written by my buddy Jeff here.

But the quick story is that one of the crewmembers of the USS Monitor claims to have stuffed the cat into the barrel of one of the guns before the ship sank. No one knows if it’s a true story or not, but nonetheless, we are searching for the historical (hysterical?)kitty now at Ye Olde Monitor Museum. But I have to quote Jeff directly, because I think he makes a strong argument against the kitty being there in the gun – “As the proud owner of four cats, I can believe that the act of placing a scared, wet, and agitated cat into the 11-inch opening of a Dahlgren cannon for its protection would certainly have been a noble act. It also most certainly could have provided a bit of comic relief in a very serious situation. In fact, I think of Francis Butts every time I try to place one particular black cat into the kitty carrier with a 15-inch opening just before a routine trip to the vet.”

Anyway – be assured that if we find the kitty – y’all will be among the first to know.

As for the smell of tallow, pork fat and black poweder……I think we’ve decided that the answer will be a resounding NO on that score.

Not too much else going on. My mother continues to learn how to send email on the laptop we gave her. My father continues to hover over her as she works on the computer, but as far as I know has yet to actually touch it. She has successfully sent 4 emails now and is proud that she has not committed any “illegal operations.”

In other words, she hasn’t encountered the blue screen of death whilst working on the laptop.

We had dinner with Homer and Kate and Bob and Allison and Hank last night – and the ickle cousins Collin and Owen were also in attendance. Sigh…. the old ship’s crew back together again….

That’s about all I can think of. More anon, I am sure.