This presentation is part of the Proceedings of the Maritime Cultural Landscape Symposium, October 14-15, 2015, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Barbara Wyatt: Next, we’re going to be hearing from Anna Holloway who will be talking about the USS Huron. She’s the Maritime historian for the Maritime Heritage Program of the National Parks Service. In that role she acts as an advocate for and provides expertise relating to NPS maritime history in all of its forms. She also serves as the NPS co-coordinator of lighthouse conveyance by the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act Program and assist in the administration of the National Maritime Heritage Grant Program. Prior to joining NPS she served as vice president of Museum collections and programs at The Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, Virginia.
Among other responsibilities she served as the curator of the award winning USS Monitor Center and became known as one of the leading experts on the union iron clad. So for the sake of time, she’s got an interesting bio here, but I’m going to just tell you one thing, that she was a puppeteer and understudy fire eater for the Colonial Williamsburg foundation.
Anna Holloway: I think we’ve got fire suppressing systems in here, so I won’t be doing that today. Well, thank you all for having me here. I am the new kid on the block with the National Parks Service, I’m still learning all the acronyms. Barbara and Mike asked me to take a look at an existing National Register Property that was already managed and protected as sort of a thought experiment.
Now many of you will take a look at the title of my presentation and know that it is an homage to Richard Lawrence and his work on the Huron. Richard of course being part of the team who wrote the successful National Register nomination for the Huron in 1991, Joe Friday being the other author. Richard and his team at the UAU in North Carolina were also instrumental in having this wreck site designated as North Carolina’s first Shipwreck Preserve, an Underwater State Park if you will, that same year in 1991 on November 24th.
This was as a result of recommendations written into the Abandon Shipwreck Act to offer both access and protection to this site. Now National Register nomination shows that the site of this 175 foot vessel lies 250 yards from shore between Milepost 11 and 12 at Nags Head. Now for those of you who are familiar with the outer banks of North Carolina you know this is precisely where Tortugas’ Lie is, they’ve got a really good Hatteras chowder, just saying. The boundary of this National Register Property, it extends 150 feet from the center of the wreck in a 360 degree circular boundary.
Now, what I’m talking about today, I’m not arguing that the boundary is not correct or anything like that, but I want to apply a more holistic approach to this wreck as I’ve tried to do in my past life with the monitor so we can gain a greater sense of the totality of its particular Maritime Cultural Landscape and ask questions on how best we can apply the idea of Maritime Cultural Landscapes to any property. Does this mean that it needs to be added to the National Register as a category? Does it need to be a trail that we’re looking at for some of these properties? I’m just asking these questions, I’m not necessarily proposing answers.
But the Huron is undeniably a physical landscape, but it has created one that can be apprehended in far found places, not just there of 250 yards of the shore of Nags Head, but in grave sites, front page headlines, in restaurant and museums, in doggerel verse and in Instagram photos. Now our discussions and things yesterday really sparked a lot of thoughts with me that raised important questions and I will repeat some of these, for example, one panelist said, “Does it all have to be physically managed?” Another said, “Can it be intellectually managed?” I add, “Can it be digitally managed?”
“And what about the landscape from the deck?” Thank you Sam for saying that. That’s as important a piece as any. Now while the listing on the Register has long been established, what I’m talking about today is going to be a little bit more theoretical, but it will deal with how she’s been successfully managed and made accessible, but I do want us to take a look how existing sites can broaden our view of what could be a Maritime Cultural Landscape.
Now I got interested in the Huron – and let me see what my next picture here is – in part because of some of the popular culture but, also not because it’s a Naval Historical story, not because of the particular time period, but … first off I got to say, I’m not a diver, I’m a historian, I am a square rigged sailor, I have been grounded before, but I didn’t approach it from any of these. I got into this because I’m studying these guys out of Norfolk wreckers from the eighteenth century B & J Baker & Company and I got to say, they were good at what they did. They were salvage operators all up and down the East Coast.
They rarely left any discernible traces for any archeologist to find, because they were that good. They were the ones that you know, you had all the groundings, you had all shipwrecks, but they refloated them, they took them away. These where the shipwrecks, the phantom shipwrecks that got away. They were really hard to track even through the Archival Record, but the B & J Baker & Company of Norfolk, Virginia, were not know for doing things by half’s, as the newspaper said, but the Huron, she’s different.
She’s more of an anomaly, because they had to leave much of her behind. So I also kind come at this from the perspective of a historian interested in the micro-historical approach. I like to take a vessel, reach out as far as I can, tease out the cultural milieu in which it operated and the cultural memory derived from whatever event associated with it, most resonates with the public consciousness. All of which is still not quite a landscape, but bear with me.
So I started looking at this particular vessel, so we’ll visit her here in happier days. Just to give you a quick overview for those who don’t know the story of the Huron. She was built in Chester, Pennsylvania. An Alert-class, iron hulled sloop rigged, screw steam gun boat commissioned in November of 1875. She would be the last of the class of iron hulled vessels that would carry sail. She is that transitional piece between the old and the new navies. She carried old and new ordinands.
Civil war relics would sit next to brand new Gatling guns on board this vessel. She served primarily to look for navigational hazards, an irony there. She also was part of the survey of the USS Tecumseh in Mobile Bay where over 90 men lost their lives in that vessel, but she comes to us because of this one catastrophic event. So let’s look at it very quickly here. Weather observers began looking … they did three observations a day throughout the country and so they begin tracking a little weather system far out to the North West, and here’s my happy little cloud going across the country, and it makes its way over to the East Coast and forms a low off of South Carolina and Georgia which eventually triggers cautionary flags in Hampton Roads, Kitty Hawk and Cape Hatteras.
This is all occurring by November 22nd, 1877. At that time the Huron is in Hampton Roads, she is ready to head south for another cartographic mission. Those cautionary flags are flying, but the Commanding Officer was given the discretion to go ahead and sail. Let me get her on the way here. You can follow the low as it progresses throughout the day, she leaves Hampton Roads … this is not going very well is it? … she leaves Hampton Roads on the 23rd of November at around ten o’clock in the morning as the low is creeping up the coast and ultimately it will sit here, over the mountains, bringing in a moderate gale off the coast of North Carolina, bringing in a gale that will soon freshen and the Huron is sailing south into this. Actually, more appropriately, she’s steaming, but in any event.
The landscape from the deck, they are looking at the shoreline, they’re keeping close to shore trying to stay away from that roadway that super highway of the Golf Stream and sticking too close to shore. Compass variation, human error, lead to a grounding at around one o’clock in the morning on November 24th, 1877. Here you can see the newspapers likes to make pictures of all of these things, but as they ran ashore, the Commanding Officer cried out, “My God! How did we get in here?”. He had come too close to the shore, they could actually see the smooth water and then the breakers beyond, so they knew that they have come right in to Nags Head.
Many of you know the story, the men send the caution signals, the weather gets worse and worse, the men have to climb to the bow spread and hang on. There are attempts to launch life boats, but the caution signals are going off, the steam engine … the whistle blowing, surely help would come. But the Lifesaving Stations wouldn’t open for another week, because of budget cuts. So not help was available. The view from the deck then was one of hope and belief that help would come. They saw what they thought were masts of fishing vessels, surely one of those would come to their aid, but no, those were telegraph poles. And those very telegraph poles would come to their aid, but far too late.
And here you have from The Eldean, a nineteenth century magazine, another fairly accurate based on the accounts of the men, a fairly accurate view of some of the last moments of the Huron. In the end, of the men onboard, only thirty-four would be saved, ninety-eight would go to their deaths in the sixty-one degree water in the heavy seas and the heavy surf. Help was on the beach to help pull the men out, but no one could get a Lough gun out, not one could get a line to the vessel and so bodies and survivors washed to shore becoming, again, part of this overall landscape.
They broke into a Lifesaving Station, which became a human relief hut and the men were brought back to some sensibility and the bodies stacked inside. And here again some images from Frank Leslie’s, showing the event, which did work its way quite a bit into the public consciousness. Eventually the weather abated somewhat and they were able to get signals to Norfolk to bring help and that is where the B & J Baker & Company comes in, because they bring a wrecking Tug along with several naval vessels.
And here’s the Commander of the B & J Baker Tug, Ebenheazer Morgan Staddordt, who you might know better if you go back in time to this vessel. Anyone recognize it? It’s the Kearsarge, he was Acting Master in command of the aft pivot gun when they encountered the Alabama. So he’s a navy man coming in his civilian role to rescue shipmates, but in trying to launch that surfboat from the B & J Baker, not only to assess the wreck and try to save people, there were none left to save, but also to get to shore to work with the men there that were surviving. The surfboat upends and while Staddordt survived, several of his crew as well as the Commanding Officer of the Lifesaving Service District Seven, JJ Guthrie, goes to his death in the waves.
As I said, some of this landscape occurs throughout the country really, in terms of how people are accessing this information. In 1877 the headlines in Montana, in Pennsylvania as you see here, all across the country were screaming “Wreck of the Huron, ashore off the Carolina Coast”, the details, they could not get enough detail. This wonderful image here, I think I wish I had a better version of it, but this is at the New York Public Library showing Commander Ryan of the Huron and you see these concentric circles. These are what the people of the day in 1877 perceived as the landscape of the Huron. Where she left from, where she wrecked, where the bodies were found later.
The bodies in that current that heads to the north up the coast of North Carolina, were found 40 miles up and down the beach, and their positions marked by the telegraph poles and their distance from Norfolk, Virginia. Again, all of this becomes part of a greater landscape, and I’m almost done here. I would be remiss if in my pop culture role, I did not point out the wreck of the Huron song sheet here that was put out to raise money for the survivors of the wreck. I would have sung it for you, but it’s a really dreadful song. Really dreadful melody. The words are good, but the melody is horrible.
But here you have the “toll toll, the bell for the loss of the Huron’s crew. Morning weep for the sad sad fate of the noble boys in blue”, and of course we know that the Huron and two months later the wreck of the Metropolis off North Carolina do lead to more reforms in the Lifesaving Service. This Thomas Nast cartoon from Harper’s Weekly in December of 1877, showing a cynical view of how the United States was loathed to spend money on the Service, but figured they might have to.
The bodies were eventually moved, either to the care of their families or to the grounds of the US Naval Academy. Here the Huron monument stands at US Naval Academy. Items from the wreck, salvaged by the Baker Company are taken back to Norfolk and dispersed into homes, into museums and back to the Navy. This particular piece, taken off of the Huron by one of the divers of the B & J Baker Company, lives at the Mariners Museum in Newport News and one of the old Dahlgren’s lives at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in their trophy area.
But ultimately, the ship is a small boundary, a small property under water. Here you see one of Joe Friday’s photos from the 1980’s and here Google Earth shows you exactly where it stands today. The Shipwreck Reserve, I’ll zoom in on that so you get a better feel for where the vessel lies, you can see I’ve superimposed Joe’s piece, his wreck map on top of it there, to get some scale. But there are ways to access this wreck. It is a shore dive, people can go in from the beach. If you can’t dive or you don’t want to go out there, you can read about it through historical markers, through a gazebo on the beach there with some interpretation. It is something that, because it is a Shipwreck Preserve, because it is an Underwater Park, people are able to access it.
It is a cooperative or a MOU between the US Navy, which still owns the vessel, through the state of North Carolina as well as the town of Nags Head, they all work together to protect this story and while their focus may be on this very small area within the breakers there of Nags Head, the story itself goes much further. I love this picture here, it’s taken by a dear friend of mine, Mark Corbitt. He studies the near shore wrecks of North Carolina and he’ll take pictures of the Huron wreck site on many days and say, “Everybody, the weather’s perfect. Get out there!”, because it is accessible. It’s marked by buoy’s, you can go out there. Most days it’s going to be an intermediate to an advance dive depending on the conditions, however there are some days where you can free dive or snorkel.
So it is accessible to many many people, and so Mark took some of these images from his most recent trip out to the Huron, paddling out on a kayak. So I wanted to get the most recent, he took this picture to show that there used to be a porthole there. So things had been taken, but because of this extra protection it is far less likely, but he took that for me to show the lack of one of the artifacts. Of course pretty fish pictures, but I wanted to end with this, because this is his eleven year old daughter, Ella, snorkeling on the wreck. It is something that has been protected, not just for the memory of these men but for these future generations like Ella here, who is visiting this wreck for the first time in this image.
I haven’t answered a lot of questions, I’ve talked a little bit about how it’s been managed, but I want us to think a little more broadly about what a Maritime Cultural Landscape can be. So what is the landscape of the Huron? I’ve told you the story, I’ve shown you my boundaries outside of the designated site, I’ve gone up into the clouds, following the telegraph poles up the coast to Norfolk, to DC to Annapolis and perhaps far beyond. I ask you, how far is too far to look for a Maritime Cultural landscape, I think Hans said that yesterday. For my part, I want to keep looking beyond the physical, for me that’s just the starting point.