A lot of folks went to the movie theatres this weekend to see Jesus.

Me? I got an unexpected dose of the divine by seeing Cold Mountain instead.

It was a fine adaptation of the book – which is one of the most beautiful pieces of literature of recent years that I’ve read. But it wasn’t the story, the characters, or even the music (though the Sacred Harp stuff was divine to be sure).

No – I think it was the awakening of the half-buried memory of my great great great grandfather getting shot by the Home Guard in Yadkin County during the Civil War. I’m not sure whether he was a deserter (though I don’t think so – I’m pretty sure he didn’t join up with either side), a Union sympathizer or exactly what. I just know that he died under a blaze of bullets from the Home Guard’s guns. The family story is that he was in a school house with some other fellows when the Home Guard surrounded them. I’ve heard members of the family refer to him as a bushwhacker. I really don’t know that much one way or the other.

But now I want to.

So I started looking for him on the internet, but not a lot of luck there exactly. But on the way to looking for him, I found my great(x5 or 6)grandfather and a site that took that line all the way back to Wales (which I knew). But the surprise was that a great (x 9 I think) grandfather came from Wales to Jamestown in 1622 on board the Charitie.

Kinda fun – no?

You can find the divine in the oddest places…… it’s just fitting (and a little scary) that I’d find it in the 1860s.


So anyway – today I realized that one cannot bend time without copious amounts of alcohol.

As one is discouraged from consuming said amounts of alcohol in the workplace, time must – in fact – remain a constant and mutually agreed-upon element.

In other words – we have fast-tracked absolutely everything involving the Monitor and hence I am insane.

The new exhibition opens in one month and counting. The last image request came in today, the text is still in the process of being finalized, comps must be turned around in about 24 hours and everything must be 100% accurate.

Did I mention that this is on top of everything else that I have going on? You know – like daily life and such?

Someone asked me today if I could handle all this. Thing is, I think I can – and I even said – “This is what I live for.” And you know – I mean it.

Speaking of coolness – last night we did another Master and Commander program at Ye Olde Boat Museum and it was simply lovely. We had a panel discussion on what the film got right and wrong. I got to rant about how they deviated from the book (which is how I got started in this business, after all….) and we also had one of the consultants from the film there – who was absolutely marvelous and lots of great stories about how he had argued for one thing that was historically accurate and got nixed in favor of Hollywood hijinx.

Well – in the end, we all agreed that even with the few inaccuracies (and there really aren’t that many – so a big ‘huzzah’ to Peter Weir!)we all loved the movie.

So what if there wasn’t a Polynesian lesbian cannibal outrigger in the movie?

I mean, really.

We followed the panel discussion with a reception featuring foods from the Patrick O’Brian books – including frumenty, Plum Duff, cold polenta, kickshaws, port, madeira, ale, and grog (note that this is the recipe for a single serving, and not necessarily the British Royal Navy recipe – but who the heck wants that much grog in their life?).

I am the premiere grog-maker of the museum. I mix it with great abandon and show. And people actually like it. This is a thing that has never ceased to amaze me as I think that it is one of the most vile concoctions on the planet – especially when it’s made with Pusser’s Rum, which is the original Royal Navy rum mix.


Anyway – great turnout last night and great food and fun. We ended the evening with a concert from Bob Zentz. But what a long night!

And right now I’m taking a break from putting together the content for our new website at Ye Olde Boat Museum. It’s due tomorrow.

I’ve miles to code before I sleep…..


I don’t know what it is about this time of year, but it’s always the craziest – and has been for time out of mind. I do think though that it’s even crazier now because of Ye Olde Boat Museum and all the things that go with a summer there.

At least this year there won’t be 235 tons of heavy metal slouching its way up Museum Drive – so one would think it would be quieter.

Not so.

But I’m not complaining – as I’m having an incredible ride.

We’re going to go to Richmond in the next couple of days to see Dublingirl and family which will be lovely. They’ve been out in the wilds of Colorado for a long time and have now migrated eastward – alighting ever so briefly in Virginia. It should be a lovely evening wherever we decide to meet.

I was good and actually didn’t purchase the giant cricket puppet to honour the occasion……

Right now I’m getting ready for a week off from the madness that is work – which is something that I never thought I would need so much. But I certainly do. Before my brain melts.

My mind stays buried in ironclads and columbiads so much at work these days that I have actually taken to seeking out books that have neither in them.

It’s actually not that hard…..

But right now I’m in the midst of Seabiscuit – which is about as far away from maritime history as one can get (though not as far as one would think since the daggone horse is named after shipboard food…..). Anyway – I’m thoroughly enjoying the respite from black powder and steam engines as I lose myself in the world of bug boys and hundred granders.

Well, this is a whole lot of nothing. But I wanted to say something lest folks think that I had been abducted by Civil War reenactors or somesuch.

Not that it would be a bad thing, mind you…….

Happy 200th birthday to John Ericsson tomorrow. Do something Swedish to celebrate!


So things are getting back to normal now at Ye Olde Boat Museum after the excitement of the big weekend. We’ve pretty much decided to do the whole thing again next year – only this time with 12 months of planning! Let the meetings begin….

You know – really wonderful things just keep showing up in my mailbox. The other day I recieved a lovely little Kokopelli figure from Dublingirl – all the way from the wilds of Colorado. In the same package, Jim received some highly fashionable trout items. Sumi was intensely interested in the box they came in and has adopted it at as a summer home.

Then today, a book magically appeared on my desk – sent to me by Tom Campbell. It’s his book on the CSS Virginia that he wrote with Professor Flanders from ODU. Tom’s been working with us on the USS Monitor Center project and took it upon himself to fill a decided gap in my library. He’s just put up a new website for all of his books (I think there’s 14 of them or so) so if you have a chance, take a look. I don’t think it’s even showing up in all the search engines yet, but it’s got information about all of his books there as well as how to order them. Between Tom and John Quarstein, I’ll become quite the fan of the CSS Virginia.

I’m really excited too – because it looks as though we’ll be recreating the forward starboard quarter of the Virginia‘s casemate in the exhibition. When I’m allowed to by the powers that be, I’ll try to post some of the sketches here.

It’s so nice outside – I think I’m going to leave the computer for now and venture out into the wilds of my backyard – before the weather goes totally south. I love days like this…


Today is the 141st anniversary of the day after the Battle of Hampton Roads and boy am I tired.

Let’s see – after working 10 hours each day on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of this past week, I then got the pleasure of working 15 hours on Friday, 16 hours on Saturday, and a mere 7 on Sunday.

I took today off. I hope you’re not surprised.

But you know – I didn’t really mind. The symposium was incredible, hundreds of people were extremely happy, and I really feel as though I accomplished something important.

Of course – I can’t take the credit for the weekend. Though it may have been my concept initially, it quickly grew to a team effort of Herculean proportions. My staff were totally incredible (and cute as all get out in their Silly War costumes and other finery) and so was everyone else at Ye Olde Boat Museum. I hope I’ll have pictures soon. I didn’t have time to take many – but other folks did.

There were so many cool things about the weekend that I couldn’t possibly remember them all. The main highlights for me were talking with Eric Worden on his show Friday morning, and then having him at the event on Saturday, David Mindell‘s lecture on life on board the USS Monitor (and by the way – he’s so very nice that you should go out right now and buy his book), the debate I got to moderate between John Quarstein and Joe Gutierrez (two of my favourite people in the museum world)on which ship won the battle on March 9th (Joe won for the Monitor which is actually surprising since we’re in the South), and Bob Zentz‘s new song that I asked him to write about the Battle.

I also got to see Barbara Architzel and her husband at the dinner Friday night. I hadn’t seen her for about four years – we used to work together at the Moses Myers House – and so it was nice to catch up and find out where all of the good places to eat in Iceland are (her husband was in command of the Iceland Defense Force).

After the whole event was over, Rhonda, Anne Marie and I went and had frosty beverages at the nearby Mexican restaurant, then finally home where Jim was waiting with homemade fish and chips. Yum!

It’s once more into the breach tomorrow – but I think I’ll be OK. I did very little today – and thus feel a bit ready to face the week – a day late.


Holy Cow – we made it into The Wall Street Journal! (I’d include a link, but you have to subscribe to read it – so oh well). Stuart Ferguson, a reported who spent a lot of quality time with us back in the fall, wrote a top-notch article about Ye Olde Boat Museum today and it’s absolutely wonderful. I’ll include it (without the pictures) at the bottom of this entry. It’s pretty darn exciting – and it means that this weekend’s events had better go right!

Of course, as it turns out – I’ll be speaking at a fundraiser for part of the weekend – they told me that today. Seems that I’m “perky” and they need to keep these people awake. I’m hoping that’s a compliment, and that’s how I’m going to take it.

Not much else, though (as if all that isn’t enough) – we received 24 boxes of hardtack today, and I purchased 2 gallons of rum for grog-making purposes. We’ve got beef jerky and goober peas and in a minute I’ll be looking up the recipe for making peanut coffee. (Ever had it? It needs to be experienced).

Today I found a lovely Hello Kitty surprise hanging on my door – a Hawaiian surfer Hello Kitty from my friend Natasha who just got back from Hawaii. My office is quite the Hello Kitty showcase these days. Poor Jim of course has to deal with the plethora of Hello Kitty products we have in the house, but he’s being a pretty good sport about it and has actually accompanied me to the Sanrio store on occasion. I think that deep down he understands my need for Hello Kitty. She’s like the Harlan Ellison story – she has no mouth, and she must scream….

OK – so it’s still nice outside and I’m determined to go enjoy it. Spring can’t come too soon.

Oh – and before I forget – Welcome back to Captain Ron who spent some time on an America’s Cup boat this last week (not one of the ones waiting for wind down in New Zealand – but cool nonetheless.) Speaking of America’s Cup – wonder-sailor and commentator Gary Jobson was supposed to be at my presentation yesterday, but his flight was delayed. Oh well!

Here’s the WSJ article –

An Ironclad Reason To Pay a Visit

The Wall Street Journal


Newport News, Va.

In 1861, when the model for John Ericsson’s Monitor was presented to Abraham Lincoln, the president joked: “All I have to say is what the girl said when she stuck her foot into the stocking, ‘It strikes me there’s something in it.’ “

Abe understood. There was something in the Swedish-born engineer’s innovative design: The 173-foot-long vessel had a shallow draft, allowing it to operate up rivers, yet its engine and living quarters were below the waterline; only the turret presented much of a target for the enemy’s guns. (The turret was revolutionary in both senses: it revolved 360 degrees, and it was the great-grandfather of the giant guns still used on battleships). The crew was protected by the 182 iron plates that formed the turret’s armor.

On March 9, 1862, the Monitor‘s two guns fired their first shots against the much larger Confederate “floating battery” Virginia (built from the hull of the USS Merrimack) at Hampton Roads, the vast anchorage just down the James River from Newport News. (The day before, while the Monitor was still en route from New York, the Virginia had destroyed the USS Cumberland and the USS Congress, killing hundreds of men.) The famous “duel of the ironclads” was a draw, but the Monitor saved the rest of the U.S. squadron. The grateful Yankee sailors couldn’t believe they had been saved by this “tin can on a shingle,” as one of the Virginia‘s crew contemptuously labeled the enemy vessel.

Here at the Mariners’ Museum, they’ve got the tin can.

The Monitor sank off Cape Hatteras on Dec. 31, 1862. The wreck was discovered in 1973, but the turret, that Holy Grail of modern naval architecture, was recovered from the ocean just last summer. Still full of the coal that spilled into it when the Monitor came to rest upside down on the ocean floor, it was brought to the museum, joining the anchor and other objects taken from the ironclad.

The federal government has designated the Mariners’ as the official museum to conserve and interpret the artifacts recovered from the Monitor. In collaboration with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration it will develop the USS Monitor Center (construction to begin in 2003), which aside from being the repository for materials, research and programming related to the ironclad will tell the broader story of the Civil War’s crucial naval component. The total for all this comes to about $30 million, $6 million of which has been raised so far; it’s hoped that $10 million will come from private donors.

It would certainly be money well spent. An institution such as the Mariners’ can do more than simply display historical artifacts. Founded in 1930 to study “the culture of the sea and its tributaries,” it will draw on its vast collections (including ship models, armaments, paintings, sculpture and a library containing thousands of books, manuscripts, letters and photographs, and ships logs and plans) and the knowledge of its staff to provide a fuller understanding of the crucial role the Monitor played in the formation of modern navies. With its 2000 publication of crew member George Geer’s fascinating letters to his wife back in New York (“The Monitor Chronicles”) it has already added to a very short list of books on the subject currently in print. And as word of the Monitor Center gets out, more material is bound to surface.

Indeed, during a visit last fall, Susan Berg, the museum’s librarian, showed me some recent acquisitions: two of John Porter’s designs for converting the Merrimack into the CSS Virginia. Porter took the drawings with him to Richmond to show the Confederate government what he had in mind; this set in motion the race to launch the first ironclad. The previous owner of these rare drawings contacted the museum on learning it now had the Monitor‘s turret. In return, of course, possession of the Monitor artifacts puts the Mariners’ on the map for anyone interested in the Civil War.

A taste of what’s to come can be had during the “Battle of Hampton Roads Weekend” symposium beginning on Friday. “Battle of the Ironclads: Eyewitness to History,” a new exhibition of paintings, engravings, blueprints, newspapers and first-hand accounts, opens to the public this Saturday, accompanied by three days of events that include lectures by noted historians, concerts, a Civil-War era dance, childrens’ activities and a memorial service for the sailors who died at Hampton Roads and when the Monitor foundered. Also on offer are behind-the-scenes tours of the museum’s collections and the Monitor conservation area. (Go to www.mariner.org/battle/. From there one can access the Mariners’ main site, a vast repository of ironclad history.)

But museumgoers can view most of the Monitor‘s remnants at any time. A boardwalk behind the museum allows visitor to look into tanks where recently recovered artifacts sit in electrolytic baths of sodium carbonate or sodium hydroxide that slowly leach the salt from them. Objects that have been fully stabilized are always on view in the main galleries.

And let me recommend one of the tours — the museum staff is unfailingly engaging and just about to burst from all the information they have in their areas of expertise. When I visited, archaeologists were still excavating inside the turret, which is kept in the largest of those holding tanks; portholes in the wall allow visitors to see the turret contained within. It took four months to remove 140 years of debris. Even when it was ship-shape, the interior (20 feet in diameter and nine feet high) must have been close quarters, what with the two 11-inch Dahlgren guns sitting in the middle.

The cannons were still encrusted in silt and coal when I climbed into the turret. Seashells cascaded down the sides of the wall where Wayne Lusardi, Jeff Johnston and John Broadwater were “digging” (sometimes with chopsticks) as they looked for artifacts. A dent in the armor caused by an enemy cannon ball was visible. (The Virginia‘s shots bounced off the Monitor “as though they were spit balls,” a grateful George Geer wrote to his wife.) Mr. Lusardi told me he had helped dig out two sets of human remains, which were taken to the Army’s Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii for analysis. The turret is truly a time capsule.

Turns out it was a lucky thing that the coal — the ship’s fuel — spilled when it sank. Its protective covering allowed for “phenomenal organic preservation,” Mr. Lusardi said, as he warned me not to step on a rope that looked as if it might offer some traction in the slippery soup at the bottom of the tank — a c. 1861 rope only partially dug out. Mr. Lusardi also pointed out an original leather strap. While I was in the turret he found a uniform button made of Goodyear rubber. And as they worked, the archeologists were able to spot subtle design differences between the ship’s plans and the space they actually find themselves in. When conservation is finally completed in 10 to 15 years, we may know more about the USS Monitor than John Ericsson himself did.

Mr. Ferguson works on the Journal’s Leisure & Arts page.


Help! I’m trapped in 1862 and can’t seem to get out.

All day today I’ve tried to make it to 2003 and forces beyond my control kept insisting that it was 1862.

At one point I had a reporter on the line asking about what was going on 141 years ago, a historian on the other line wanting to discuss my omission of John Bankhead Magruder from a list, and a reenactor in my office wanting to know what he and his wife should wear to the upcoming ball, and whether or not he should bring his ropemaking equipment (the dance and ropemaking are tangentially related – but no, they will not be occurring at the same time!).

Then I had someone else wanting to discuss the dimensions of the CSS Virginia‘s casemate, and another person inquiring whether or not it was William Kline or William Cline that served on that glorious vessel.

Anybody wanna know about Stanislas Dupuy de Lome?

Good. Don’t ask.


Well I’ve spent most of the day at home today doing very little. And that’s exactly what I needed. I’ve got a huge weekend coming up and I’m going to have to be perky and on top of things in order for it to be successful.

See, we’ve got a whole bunch of Civil War historians converging on the museum tomorrow to go over our historical content outline for the USS Monitor Center.

We will present.

They will bless it.

At least that’s what I hope.

There’s also a treat tomorrow night as Paul Mardikian, the chief conservator of the CSS Hunley will give us an update on what’s going on with that ship! Should be fun.

The early concept sketches of the Monitor Center are looking incredible. I know that things will change drastically over the next few years, but it’s so very cool right now and folks are beginning to get excited. Yay!

I have no idea how Saturday will go – or for how long. I’m supposed to drive up to DC Saturday evening for a Mike and Lexy event, but at this point I don’t even know what time I’m getting off work. I really want to go, so hopefully the meeting will wind down at a decent hour.

The lecture yesterday went swimmingly, by the way. The group was just a crackerjack bunch and they really got into the topic. What made me extra happy is that two folks whose opinions I value highly told me that I did a good job.

One of them was one of our docents – Eric. Eric is one of the most incredible human beings I’ve ever met. He’s in his 80s and is into everything. He is a beekeeper, he has kiwis growing all over his roof, he has a drinking club and he loves his wife more than anything. He is the definition of a curmudgeon and is indirectly responsible for my current wardrobe. (He complains about long skirts. Now mind you, I didn’t go out and buy a bunch of short skirts for Eric – but he made me think about it, so I tried one on and I liked it. So thank you Eric!). I’ve found a picture of him that I’ll try to post here later.

So anyway, Eric approved of the lecture – which meant so much to me. Then today David Jones came in to compliment me on the lecture.

That’s right – David Jones. At a maritime museum. And he does have a locker there.

He’s one of our security officers and he’s absolutely wonderful. His kind words meant a lot too.

Well – it’s time to cook dinner and I think we’re gonna try our hand at dim sum. Could be a comedy of errors – but it’ll probably taste ok.


Good Lord.

Tomorrow I have to give a lecture on the causes of the Silly War and the buildup of the Union and Confederate navies.

Does anyone besides me see the absolute irony of this? I know I’ve probably mentioned it before, but the 19th century and I just never got along before. And yet – here I am.

Ah well – it’s a fun lecture, and luckily I’ve given it before so for once I’m not sweating it out the night before and frantically overpreparing. I’ll be talking to a great group of folks – it’s the LifeLong Learning Society of Christopher Newport University. These are mostly folks over the age of 55 who still want to take classes and learn things. They’re so much more engaged and interested than a class of college freshmen (unless you eat fire for the freshmen – then they’ll follow you anywhere and listen to you lecture on anything – and give you really really good evaluations in the process!) So let’s hope that tomorrow will be as good as my last few times with the LLS!

Gah! I should probably be a good citizen now and listen to the President and watch people leap up out of their seats like prairie dogs each time he says anything even remotely jingoistic.



Today’s rant – The Civil War.

It has increasingly become a part of my life despite my best attempts to ignore it. I tried to stay away, but it keeps coming back to haunt me, rather like broccoli now that I think of it.

Which part of my comps did I do the worst on? The Middle Period (1781 – 1877). What am I doing now? I’m in charge of what goes into the USS Monitor Center. What does my work life revolve around now? The Civil War.

So anyway – I decide to find out why the War is following me around, and I get this book Confederates in the Attic to try to make sense of the whole mess. And it’s got me thinking – why does this war still echo so strongly in people’s lives? What are my own perceptions?

As a historian, I can reel off all of the causes of the Late Unpleasantness – but that’s not what I’m talking about.I’m thinking – Why the romance? Why the still burning resentment over the fact that we lost (yes, I’m in the South). Gone With the Wind can only account for so much. What I’d like to know is why do I feel a melancholy – a sense of loss for something that I didn’t take part in, don’t necessarily agree with, and have tried to avoid for lo, these many years? I think I’ll be having to explore this for quite some time.

Hoop a dooden do!