Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Visit: National Museum of African American History and Culture

The new Smithsonian National Museum of African American  History and Culture

I had the exciting opportunity to visit the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture a week ago with my department. A Washington, D.C. museum on African Americans was first proposed in 1915, authorized by congress in 2003, and was finally opened this year. It's been a long road.

Our ticket entry time was at 2pm. By closing time, I had only seen 2/3 of the History Galleries, and fleeting snippets of the Culture galleries. I missed approximately 3 floors of galleries. I also missed the gift shop, one of my must-do's at any museum I visit. It didn't matter. I loved it.

The Grand Staircase
(taken after the museum closed for the day)

This particular museum has the problem other museums would kill to have: the museum is at capacity every day, with visitors viewing the exhibits for hours and hours.


(SPOILER WARNING: The history itself is available elsewhere, but if you want to wait and be surprised on the museum experience, don't read any further.)

Monday, August 22, 2016

SS United States Silver Screen Review: Dead Man Down (2013)

"Even the most damanged heart can be mended"
                              - Quote from Dead Man Down

Dead Man Down. It's an action drama movie with gangsters, snipers, romance, death, Albanians, and the SS United States! What more could you want during an afternoon escaping the heat and humidity?

Colin Farrell stars as mostly-mute Victor, who is employed in NYC as a gangster and seeks revenge in his spare time. Along the way, he catches the stare of his disfigured neighbor Beatrice (Noomi Rapace). Love, death, and retribution ensue. Terrence Howard and Dominic Cooper also star.

I am so on the fence with this movie. I do enjoy the action and the revenge-seeking, but when it tries for romance, I don't think it knew what to do. I thought there was a little too much focus on the relationship, and not enough fighting taking place. My advice: why not tie the two plots more together?

Speaking of the romance, it was a lot more awkward than it needed to be. I get it, okay? They're both really, really rusty.

A lot of the focus for Beatrice and her story is on her scars from a car accident. It seems to really bother her, but honestly... it's really not that bad. She says she had to have facial reconstruction surgery after the accident, but her face looks amazing except for the lines on her face (which stand out less depending on the kind of lighting). The before-accident photos of her could have been taken after the accident. It could be argued that her perception of her disfigurement is in more in her head, but that doesn't explain the neighborhood kids. They call her "Monster," taunt her, and assault her every time they see her leaves the building (Who raised these kids??). It's a little excessive for a couple faded lines. It's a case of the makeup team failing meet the script's requirements. Also Hollywood afraid that the female lead cannot be too unattractive. It's a shame, and it brings the movie's realism down.

This movie wasn't all bad. The fighting and shooting, while few and far between, were fun to watch. The final one rocked. You have my girl hostage? Okay, I'll drive my truck right through your mansion's front door and crash through to the basement. It's ridiculously amazing.

That ship though? She's the star we're all here for.

Hollywood let all the ship's blemishes show, but that's what helped her get cast in the role of abandoned luxury liner/secret hostage holding location. Victor heads to an abandoned part of the city, driving past abandoned, overgrown piers. Moored to one of these piers is the SS United States (via the magic of CGI). You see an aerial shot and a stern shot while he is driving and walking towards it.

Then, Victor gets on the ship. You see him walking around the ship, first going down the promenade deck, then going down the first class staircase, eventually wandering through the ballroom.

There are some chandeliers and bar props placed in the ballroom. I guess they were added to give some sense as to what that room was, or what kind of ship this was. With the whole ship gutted, it is hard to get a sense of any of the ship's grandeur (other than size). It's probably also there to give people (not obsessed with ocean liners) something to look at instead of bare yellow walls.

Victor then ends his journey through the ship in a hallway to unlock a door. In the next shot, he is in a pool, but it is a movie set. The SS United States' actual pool, deep in the bowels of the ship, is perpetually in darkness. With no power available and no available light like the other locations filmed, the pool was understandably was unusable as a movie location.

The whole SS United States screen time is approximately 25 seconds, but it covers multiple locations. If you include the movie pool location, the time on board is two scenes totaling around 5 minutes.

This is the first time feature film-goers have been given a peek inside the ship after her layup in 1969. The ship's current state helps give the scene an eerie atmosphere. I have seen videos and pictures of the ship, so I wasn't surprised in her condition, but it's still a little sad. I am glad a film studio found value in the ship, even in its current state. It just goes to show, even at the worst she has ever been, she is still usable and still has the potential for greatness.

The Movie: Needed more action, and everything else was problematic. 2/4
SS United States: Used exterior and interior as a filming location relevant to the plot. 4/4

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

DIG! Kids, Dirt & Discovery 2016

DIG! Kids, Dirt and Discovery's dig site

Two weeks back, I volunteered for one of my favorite Colonial Williamsburg programs - "DIG!: Kids, Dirt and Discovery."

When I worked at Colonial Williamsburg, the DIG! site was my favorite site to oversee (you can read some my enthusiasm from last summer at the end of Part 5 of the 35/15 Photo Project). Luckily, they liked having me, so they invited me back this summer as a volunteer!

From the first summer, a lot of progress has been made. For little legs, there are now stairs for entering the site.

Dig site early summer 2015

Dig site late summer 2015

Dig site July 2016

Let's walk through a day at the DIG!. Each day is broken up into four 50 minute sessions. Each session consists of a brief introduction, digging, sifting, and categorizing.

This is pretty self-explanatory. Each archaeologist-in-training is given a pair of gloves, a trowel, and a bucket. Using their trowel, they scrape away the dirt. Everything they find, from dirt to artifacts, goes into their bucket.

Due to site excavations in the 1940's with less-detailed archaeological practices than today's, there are plenty of real artifacts in the soil, with none of the normally-found dirt layers. This site is the perfect place for kids to get a first taste for archaeology.

There are three groups, each one is led by one of CW's archaeologists. Each has their own section of where to dig.

Kids getting last minute instructions before
they get digging!

Dig time!

Looking down the stairs at the dig

One one side of the excavation, you can start to see some of
the higher brick features of the Archibald Blair storehouse
peeking through the soil. The bottom of the foundations
are 7 feet below the ground level!

Once the digging portion has ended, the dirt collected in the buckets is dumped onto a screen over a wheelbarrow. Even if you think you found everything you dug up, there could be something you missed hidden in the dirt. The dirt gets pushed through the holes, while the artifacts stay behind. All the artifacts found get bagged for future analysis.


Pushing dirt through the screen

All the excess dirt from each session is wheeled away to a pile in a corner. Every month or so, a truck comes by to take the dirt away so it doesn't take over the property.

Mount Sifted Dirt. Not a catchy name.

After everything is screened and bagged, the leaders bring the archaeologists-in-training back to a shaded picnic table to go through what was found. They help guide the kids to discover and identify for themselves the different kinds of artifacts that are present.

Sorting artifacts by types

These kids are using wands with magnets in
them to see if any rusty-looking globs have
metals inside.

After the last DIG! session, the site closes down for a quick clean-up, then reopens as a free-flow site for DUG!. As the name suggests, this program centers around things archaeologists do after they dig everything up, so there is no digging during this time. The program is different every day. Sometimes, it's cleaning artifacts, or putting together broken pottery examples. Sometimes, it's a Q&A with an archaeological expert or a special guest (The Father of American Archaeology, Thomas Jefferson, has visited from time to time).  The day I was there, it was cleaning artifacts. Artifacts can be delicate, so wet toothbrushes are used to wash off the dirt. For smaller nooks and crannies, we used a long toothpick-like stick.

Cleaned artifacts!

More treasures found

It's always fun to answer people who ask, "What did you find today?" "Oh, you know," I say, "Lots of broken glass, rusted nails, bones..." And they seem perfectly fine with children handling these normally-abhorred objects because they are artifacts. Ah, well. The present's trash is the future's treasure.

Other objects usually found at the site are pieces of tobacco pipes, oyster shells, broken ceramics and porcelain, buttons, bricks, mortar, and, of course, plenty of dirt.

The Prentis Store next door was a car repair shop before it was restored, so there have been a few automobile items found. It can be an interesting mix. There have been other oddities, but you will have to come by the site yourself to learn about them!

It's like a puzzle with lots of scattered and missing pieces.

After the dig, check out the DIG! artifact display case in the Visitor Center. It has had at least three changes since being established.

Visitor Center Artifact Display
Fall 2015

Visitor Center Artifact Display 
Winter 2015/2016

The latest update has been "Curated By KIDS!"

Visitor Center Artifact Display
Summer 2016

I think this is a great program that allows the future another opportunity to learn from the past.

It's a fascinating site. Most of what you see around Williamsburg is a final product of hours and hours of behind-the-scene work. Here, you get a peek at how it's done. I'm so glad DIG! came back for a second summer. Hopefully, it will continue after the Archibald Blair site has been excavated.

For DIG!, a free ticket reservation can be made the day of at any ticketing location with a valid admissions pass. Ages 5-16 are welcome. Capacity is limited to 20 kids/session, so the earlier you get your ticket, the better. The 9:30am session requires no ticket, it is first-come, first-serve. I recommend coming earlier in the day, as the sun heats things up, shadows disappear, and the soil become harder to dig into.

For DUG!, the site is free-flow 3-4:30pm, no ticket is required.

The official blog for DIG! can be found HERE.

(Want to still dig without getting dirty? Do a virtual dig in the non-CW online game Excavate!)

--  --  --  --  --  --  --  --  --  --  --  --  --  --  --  --  --  --  --  --  --  --  --  --  

A little background on me and Archaeology. I love archaeology. It's still on my list of things I want to do when I grow up. I was a master sandbox digger starting at a toddler age. I proudly boasted I would find the Lost Colony of Roanoke Island (that's still on my to-do list). I was fascinated by Pompeii. Around the turn of the millennium, I did a CW kids dig at Carter's Grove. Apparently I also toured the house, but I can only recall the dig. That dig's artifacts were all planted, and the dirt had layers, so it was a bit different than DIG!.

Me digging at Carter's Grove
June 26, 2000

After that, I don't think I had any other archaeological experience before last summer. It has been great to reconnect to (or should I say, dig up?) a lost part of me.

Me sifting for overlooked artifacts
with CW Archaeologist Libby

Thank you to Meredith, Libby, and Victoria for letting me help you DIG!

Monday, August 1, 2016

The Millennium Stage

Millennium Stage, waiting for the magic to begin!

[Full Disclosure: I am a current employee of the Kennedy Center. Any opinions expressed in this piece are my own personal views and do not represent that of the Center, its management, or its staff.]

I haven't written about my new job yet. I have been working in the Community Engagement department of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Along with various festivals and community outreach, we are the curators and vanguards of Millennium Stage.

What is Millennium Stage? It is probably one of the hardest working stages around the world. Millennium Stage was created in 1997 by then-chairman James A. Johnson to offer the world one free performance a day at 6pm ET, 365 days a year, with each day a different artist. Could it be done? 19 years later, and it is still going strong.

All genres of performing arts are offered, from classical music, to avant garde inprov'd art creation. We have had theater, jazz, hip hop, dance, bboy battles, opera, new works, old works, genre-blending, "How dare you try to label me!" genres, and more. We have had performers aging from elementary school students all the way to 90+ year olds; from local DC-area artists, to international. Up-and-coming and already-there all in one space. It's exciting to say the very least.

Millennium Stage has two physical, home-base stages, but we like to think of "Millennium Stage" more as an idea (The home-base stages are also referred to as Millennium Stage, so it can be confusing). Millennium Stage's mission is to make the performing arts available for everyone, so it's our job to reach our audiences in the best way possible. Sometimes, that means moving the performance into different venues, or even outside. We also broadcast on digital stages. Since 1999, our performances have been live-streamed and archived on the Kennedy Center website (and just recently on YouTube). The stages are our vehicle.

It would be very easy to assume our performances are haphazardly chosen, with no rhyme or reason. To the contrary, most of our events are tied to other programming or festivals, a supplemental in a way. We help celebrate many building-wide and city-wide events and festivals. We also have a few annual traditions that we bring back every year: Merry TubaChristmas!, Let Freedom Ring! MLK Jr. Celebation, Page-to-Stage, and Conservatory Projects performances are a few of those. Then there are our own festivals we bring into the mix. Just this summer, we held American Acoustic with Chris Thile and partnered with Youth Speaks to host Brave New Voices 2016.

The list of examples could go on and on. Over 6,700 performances and counting worth of a list. Yet all of these are how we reach out to the community, and invite our audience to respond. It's been an honor to be part of such a hardworking and caring team.


What is your job specifically?
I run the show five days out of the week. It's a mix of a role, between stage manager, artist liaison, producer, and staff contact. I make sure everything is running smoothly. I also help out on the administration side with advancing upcoming shows.

Has the show ever not happened?
On occasion. The only reason we might cancel a show is if the Kennedy Center as a whole shuts down. This past winter, the building closed due to snowstorms.

If the artist doesn't show/can't make it, that's a different story. If we have time, we plug in another artist. This can be done with up to a few hours before showtime. If it's very last minute, and we don't have enough time to get anyone else, the show still happens. In the past, we have had talent shows from staff and our audience. Luckily, this scenario hasn't happened to me yet.

Why are there two home-base stages for Millennium Stage?
The Millennium Stages are on each end of the Center's Grand Foyer. The Foyer also serves as the lobby for the Center's three biggest performance venues. Millennium Stage's seating blocks access to whichever venue it is next to, either the Concert Hall or the Eisenhower Theater. So, depending on if there is a show in the CH or the ET, the Millennium Stage is able to switch sides without disrupting the other show's audience flow. If there are shows in both the CH and ET, then the Millennium Stage performs next to the venue that has the later starting time, then breaks down the seating as fast as possible after the show.

Let the show begin!

Sunday, July 17, 2016

SS United States Silver Screen Review: No Way to Treat a Lady (1968)

"Morris, look at this apartment! I love it! It's so Jewish!"
               - Quote from No Way To Treat a Lady

Tonight's the night we watch No Way to Treat a Lady! So what is this dark comedy about? The NYC police are out to catch a strangler murdering ladies. The uncatchable fiend has a different accent, costume, and persona every murder. You never know who he will be next!

I made the mistake of reading the book that the movie was based on before seeing the movie. As is the case with so many other adaptations, the book is better. The book was written by William Goldman. It was one of his bestsellers before he wrote The Princess Bride. I felt a lot of the comedy and suspense fell away in the movie adaptation. They also took out a major character and changed the ending to be happier. It was disappointing. It lost some surprises, suspense, and bold character action/choices.

The acting was pretty good. I didn't know any of the actors before I saw this movie. Rod Steiger, Lee Remick, George Segal, all terrific. Eileen Heckart stole the movie as a Jewish mother of Morris, the NYPD Detective in charge of the strangler case. Doris Roberts (who I did know of before watching this movie, but didn't recognize while watching) shows up briefly as a woman with orange hair.

The book didn't mention any boats, so I did not think the ship would impact the movie much. I was correct.

Morris takes his girlfriend onto his "yacht," which turns out to be NY Police Boat No. 1. On their cruise in his "yacht," they pass Luxury Liner Row.

They pass a couple ships. You can see the RMS Queen Mary at Cunard's dock. Moored to the end of the dock is the tugboat Theresa Moran (Still in service, now named Cape Henry). Shortly after, the stern of the SS United States rolls by. Her forward funnel peeks out in the second shot of the couple's first kiss.

How can you hide a ship with funnels like those?
Still from No Way to Treat a Lady (1968) 

And then they sail away, and onto another scene.

The Movie: The book was better. 2.5/4
SS United States: Sailed by, seen in pieces. 2/4

Sources used:
No Way to Treat a Lady IMDB

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

SS United States Silver Screen Review: 2012 (2009)

Guy: "I mean, I don't know, honey. I just feel like there's something pulling us apart." 
Ground: [Opens up between them]
                                                   - Quote/Scene from 2012

So 2012 was supposed to be the year the world ended. It didn't. Back in 2009, when it was still a possibility, Hollywood decided to capitalize in on the craze/fear. Thus 2012 was born.

The Plot? Everything's alright, then it's not. Worldwide disaster ensues.

Why is this happening? Due to planetary alignments and the sun freaking out, the Earth's core destabilizes and the Earth's crust moves around. Volcanoes, floods, rolling cruise ships, collapsing skyscrapers, crumbling monuments, earthquakes, airplanes, cliffs, floods, human nature, this movie has it all to cater to whatever disaster appeals to you.

This was another movie I had no intention of ever watching. It was better than I thought it would be, I'll give it that. The visuals were good, but crazy to the point of absurdity at points. The CGI is holding up pretty well.

The people and acting were alright. Nothing stood out. John Cusack & Woody Harrelson are in this. The deaths got to a point where it was just senseless, but, hey, it's a disaster movie. It wouldn't be much of a world-ending disaster without a mass human extinction. It was pretty suspenseful/stressful.

So how did the SS United States fare?

The ship cameo comes up pretty early in the movie. The movie starts off in India in 2009. A boy is playing with a toy SS United States in a puddle. A car drives past and hits the puddle. The wave created capsizes the boat. Foreshadowing for what is to come later on????????? Probably.

There is a cruise ship in this movie, the Genesis of the fictitious Azure Cruise Lines. The boat is or is based off of Freedom-class cruise ships. It does not fare well and capsizes, Poseidon Adventure-style. It is assumed it does not recover, but a deleted scene taken out of the final cut depicts the boat and its passengers safe.

Do I think the SS United States could survive, even if it was fully functional? I know there are some who would say so, but I don't think so. The waves depicted in 2012 are super strong and huge. They show the aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy at the mercy of the waves, pancaking the White House. That ship was built in the 1960's at Newport News Shipbuilding, where the SS United States was constructed. Two huge ships in this movie, Genesis and JFK, are pushed around like playthings. These craft were built for regular weather, not these freak waves. The Big U wouldn't have done any better than its toy model.

What do you think? Could the SS United States could take on 2012?

The Movie: Disaster movie. Great visuals. 3/4
SS United States: It's a model of the ship. Used for heavy-handed foreshadowing. 1/4

Sources used:
USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67) Wikipedia Page
2012 IMDB

Sunday, June 19, 2016

SS United States Silver Screen Review: Sabrina (1954)

"...And you're still reaching for the moon."
"No, father. The moon's reaching for ME."
- Quote from Sabrina (1954)

Sabrina is the story of Sabrina (Audrey Hepburn), the daughter of a chauffeur for a vastly rich Long Island family. Sabrina loves the family's youngest son David Larrabee (William Holden), but he barely acknowledges her existence. Sabrina's father sends her to Paris to go to cooking school for two years. When she returns, she finally is able to catch newly-engaged David's eye. But through mishaps and circumstance, she starts to also catch the attention of the family's older son, Linus Larrabee (Humphrey Bogart). A star-studded love triangle romance ensues. Who knows what will happen??

Sabrina was a pretty fun movie to watch. The person I was watching this with wasn't sure they were going to be able to stay up to watch the whole movie [we started the movie later than we expected], but we were both glued to the television from start to end.

The movie had great little lines throughout. David asks, "Where have you been all my life?" Sabrina coyly responds "Right over the garage." It was fun and witty. 

I didn't really feel any romance between Bogart and Hepburn. Bogart seemed to just be there. According to the movie's IMDB page, Bogart didn't like working with her. Holden and Hepburn had great chemistry, probably due to their off-screen romance.

(I have a great theory on how this movie could have turned out. It's a little long and a big tangent, but if you want to see it, it's below the Final Thoughts.)

Let's go find that ship!

There are four ocean liners seen in this movie.

As soon as I heard Sabrina was going to go to Paris, I thought, Ah, we'll get a nice 'Going to Paris by Boat' montage. Not so. She instantly appears there. Two years later, she says she'll be taking an airplane back home, and a second later instantly appears across the pond. Well okay, Sabrina, someone clearly doesn't understand that getting there is half the fun.

When Linus wants to go to France, he buys tickets for a ship. The SS United States? No, the SS Liberte, a well-known French Line/CGT ship (originally the German SS Europa). This becomes the main ship spoken about in the movie and is featured prominently in the climax & end.

The night before the Liberte sails, Linus and Sabrina are in Linus's office. What do they see out the window? The huge forward funnel of the SS United States!

Still from Sabrina (1954), featuring the SS United States

This was the ship's first cameo in a movie. She is not mentioned, but what needs mentioning when you have the most iconic funnels any ocean liner could have?

In the shot above, it looks like another night on luxury liner row. On the far right are the funnels of an unknown Cunard liner. In-between the United States and the Cunard ship is the SS Liberte. I didn't catch her here upon first watching because her dark funnels blend in with the background.

That's a great view our your window, right? Well, it's brought to you by the magic of film. From prominent exterior shots taken, Linus's office building is 30 Broad Street in Manhattan, aka the Continental Bank Building. This building is smack dab land-locked in the middle of the financial district. The United States Lines' pier (86, where the USS Intrepid is currently docked) is in Hell's Kitchen, almost in line with Times Square. About five miles away. That's some view without any skyscrapers in the way. Or, his office is actually on a soundstage and the "view" was another film overlaid on the background.

Still from Sabrina (1954), SS Liberte sails off in the distance.

The fourth ocean liner is a model in Linus's office. The Larrabee family is involved in numerous industries, including owning a shipping line. I assume the ship model is either a prominent ship in the line or a future endeavor Linus is planning. The model is never referred to, and the corner it inhabits rarely gets screen time.

The model ship in Linus's office in Sabrina (1954). This is the
best screen-grab, David (Holden) walks in front of it, so two
shots had to be combined.

Movie: It was pretty enjoyable, pacing holds up well for today. 4/4
SS United States: It's the actual ship. It's just there because it was in town the night they filmed. 2/4

-  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -

*My crazy tangent: Sabrina's character was kind of creepy at first. If the beginning of the movie was kept and the rest of it was rewritten today, let me tell you, this would be an entirely different movie. It has the whole setup for a crazy thriller. Sabrina spies on David at the family's party from a tree. She's able to be invisible until she wants to be seen. She follows David, and keeps spying on his romance with a random girl. She's so devastated he's going after the random girl, she tries to commit suicide in the most dramatic way possible - turning on the Larrabee family's 8 cars and closing the garage doors. She goes off to Paris for two years, and comes back an entirely new person. She's fine David is engaged... or is she?

Watch the video below of Sabrina's narrating at the 1:36 mark, and watch for her glance up.

It's exactly the moment when someone with a devious revenge plan would look up.

From there, the 1954 movie takes a romance route. A 2016 movie would have Sabrina take revenge and terrorize (possibly murder) David and his fiancee. Sabrina is clearly an unstable person, ready at a moment to explode her fury. 'If I can't have him, no one will!' Madness would ensue.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Return to Windmill Point of Nags Head

Windmill Point, 2016. Just a decade ago, a windmill would have
dominated this view.

Short story short, I went to the Outer Banks for vacation. And I found myself out on Windmill Point, the fabled former SS United States mecca.

For those who didn't read the overview of Windmill Point in my post about the ship's bell, here's a brief recounting: Windmill Point Restaurant was owned by SS United States collector Dr. Sarah E. Forbes. She decorated the whole place with furniture and artwork from the ship. Outside the restaurant was the Point's namesake windmill. Over the decades, both windmill and restaurant became local icons. In 2007, the restaurant closed. The property was bought by the Dare County Tourism Board and the town of Nags Head. In 2011, having found no one to use the building, they let local firefighters purposely burn the building down to practice their fire skills.

I put aside some time during my vacation to find the old point. As the restaurant's still-active website states, it was located at milepost 16.5, 158 on the Bypass in Nags Head.

The property is now called The Soundside. It is "one of the largest event sites on the Outer Banks." The Windmill Point property was combined with an empty northern lot, offering almost 10 acres of outdoor event space. On the morning I was visiting, they were getting ready for the last day of the OBX Brewfest. Luckily for me, the festival was using the other side of the property, with the Point's side as overflow parking.

OBX Brewfest 2016 at The Soundside

Windmill Point is now a grassy field. Nowhere is there any mention of a windmill or a point. There is mention of a restaurant, but only because there is one next door.

Facing the Roanoke Sound, towards what once was
the front of the Windmill Point Restaurant and parking lot.

So what remains?

I'm actually a little proud, I did find something on property. Pieces of the restaurant's parking lot asphalt are still there!

Bits of asphalt in the grass at former Windmill Point

Better known and more exciting than asphalt, the windmill of Windmill Point was saved from destruction. It moved in 2010 to Island Farm, an outdoor living museum on 19th century coastal farming.

Windmill Point's windmill at Island Farm

And, of course, all of the SS United States memorabilia was removed before the building burned. That all exists, with most of the collection going to the SS United States Conservancy.

Visiting the Point, I wish I had gone when the restaurant was still there. It felt like I was trying to find a fleeting glimpse of a ghost. For a place that was/is so revered by Big U aficionados, it felt physically very blank and empty.

(Is it fitting/ironic that once the fireproof ship's artifacts were gone, the wooden restaurant went out in a blaze of glory? Like only the most worthy structure to hold these items can stand the test of time?)

The Windmill Point Restaurant was as much a celebration of the ship's legacy as it was its first museum. It was filled with love, laughs, and lobster. Now, it only exists in the minds and memories of those who visited so long ago. May we toast to the good times that were had on the Windmill Point.

Roanoke Sound from former Windmill Point

Monday, May 30, 2016

Visit: Tazewell Hall & Mellow Mushroom

Lions Bridge at Lake Maury, Newport News, VA

I took a trip a couple weeks ago to Newport News to look up a little bit of research on Ferguson Hall. On the side, I visited some new places and old haunts.

I finally decided to find the original Williamsburg building that got away - Tazewell Hall. Tazewell Hall is an original 18th century building that was located in Williamsburg. It was owned by the Randolph family. Due to its complex past and it had been moved off its original foundations (and could not be put back due to a road), John D. Rockefeller sought to get rid of it. Lewis A McMurran, Jr. (who was, among other things, influential in shaping Christopher Newport College, and was the man McMurran Hall was named after) decided to buy it. He had it shipped out to Newport News, and rebuilt right on the banks of the James River.

With my ties to Colonial Williamsburg and CNU, I really wanted to find it. And I did!

Tazewell Hall, Newport News, VA

I only went on the public road to see it, since it is a private residence. It looks well taken care of. It's down the road from CNU, and a few houses away from CNU's President's House.

Later that night, I went with a friend to a new pizza place in Newport News, the Mellow Mushroom. It's an awesome pizza place, I approved. We ate outside, so it didn't hit me until we walked inside as we were leaving that the restaurant was themed...

Nautical door openings and portholes

Smokestack light fixtures

Very nautical, nice tying the restaurant with its location. And then I saw the back mural, and about died...

SS Newport News mural at the Mellow Mushroom

The SS Newport News! A fictitious liner, but based off the SS America. Very beautiful. I think I will come back there next time I visit.

Also went to Colonial Williamsburg to see some new changes. That will be covered at another time, though.

Prentis Store

Journey of the SS United States' Bell

SS United States' Bell in Trible Library, 2013

Like most items related to the SS United States (including the ship itself), the United States' bell has had a couple of owners and an interesting story along the way.

From 1950 to 1952, the new superliner SS United States was built at the Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock Co. in Newport News, Virginia. Once completed, she hit the Atlantic for a record-breaking crossing and an accident-free service career. Along for the ride was the the ship's bell. It remained on the ship throughout her service career. When the ship was laid up in 1969, the bell stopped ringing, but remained on board.

1984 rolled around, and the ship's current owners were running out of money. They decided to sell the interiors in an auction. This included the ship's bell. The bell was the most expensive item sold, won for $30,000. Its new owner was Dr. Sarah E. Forbes, a Newport News physician, who had bought a huge chunk of the ship's items.

Forbes used everything she bought to populate her Windmill Point Restaurant, which opened 1987 in Nags Head, North Carolina. Everything from the tables, chairs, bar (kidney-shaped), art, railing, signage, a few doors, even some of the kitchen appliances were from the ship. It became a well-beloved spot in the Outer Banks. (See some pictures of the interiors HERE). The ship's bell was placed by the entrance and was one of the first treasures you could see as you walked through the front doors.

(Why called Windmill Point? The building was originally built in the 1970's as a store to help restart the Outer Banks use of windmill power. An 18th century replica windmill was built outside. It didn't catch on. After the the shop closed, the windmill remained and became a local landmark.)

In 2007, the restaurant closed. Forbes sold the property to the Dare County Tourism Board and the city of Nags Head in late 2008, taking the memorabilia with her. In March 2011, after no one wanted to use it and it was deemed being too expensive to renovate ($300,000), the Windmill Point Restaurant was given to the local fire department to do fire training. The building was burned down. (The windmill was saved, moved to The Island Farm on Roanoke Island)

Forbes decided to donate a large amount of her United States items to the Mariners' Museum in Newport News. Some she kept in storage, which was later put on auction in 2015.

One particular item, however, made its way to Christopher Newport University (CNU). Although she never enrolled there, Forbes was a lifelong supporter of her hometown's college. She donated money to start raising money for a new science building and bell tower. Along with it, she gave the school the SS United States' bell to be used in the tower.

Concept Art for CNU's Bell Tower, c. 2011

In the Fall of 2011, The Mary Brock Forbes Hall opened at CNU. Forbes had requested the building be named in memory of her mother. Unfortunately, Sarah Forbes did not live to see it completed. She died in a car accident earlier that year in June.

CNU's Mary Brock Forbes Hall at night

The Bell Tower would come a few years later. Until it was built, the bell was kept in the Paul & Rosemary Trible Library on campus.

SS United States' bell in case in the
Trible Library, 2013

Construction on the tower would start October 2013. In the final stretch of the build, the bell made the move to its new home in April 2014. The whole tower was complete in time for May's Spring Commencement.

CNU's Bell Tower in Hoinkes Plaza

The Bell Tower features clocks on all four sides and a Carillon. The SS United States' bell is only rung for special occasions, such as Commencement, sports wins, or other notable moments. To prevent wear in one spot, the bell's yoke is specially designed to turn the bell every time it is hit.

SS United States Bell in CNU's Bell Tower

It is my hope, if the ship is saved, the university would consider returning the bell to the ship. I believe it is what Sarah Forbes would have wanted. The Mariners' Museum seems to agree, earlier this year donating all of their SSUS collection to the Conservancy.

I couldn't find a video anywhere of the bell ringing. So, I made a quick video from CNU's 2015 Commencement of the bell ringing

Sources Used:
Investor sought to keep N.C. restaurant site going
Windmill Point set to go out in a blaze of glory
Spotlight on Sarah E. Forbes, MD
Sarah E. Forbes Obituary
Sarah Forbes: A lasting legacy at CNU
Forbes Hall officially opens at Christopher Newport University
Goodbye, Windmill Point
Defining Significance: H. Dieter & Mary Elizabeth Hoinkes
Personal CNU memories

(The Windmill Point Restaurant website is still alive! Check it out HERE.)

Sunday, May 22, 2016

SS United States Silver Screen Review: Invincible (2006)

The SS United States Conservancy's Facebook Page announced on May 6th that another movie had been discovered that the SS United States cameo'd in - - Invincible (2006). Of course, I made that movie my next viewing priority.

This movie is based on the true story of Vince Papale joining the Philadelphia Eagles football team in the mid-1970's. Papale is played by Mark Wahlberg with long hair.

Saying this up front, I'm not one for sport movies. I get it, amazing stories can happen. A team isn't doing well, some random person's life isn't going well. Against all odds, that random person join the team. There are struggles.  Then everything starts getting better, the team wins, and everyone grows from the experience. It's very predictable. That being said, I begrudgingly admit I did enjoy the movie. You just can't not get excited when things start going right.

Favorite part was every time Elizabeth Banks' character [love interest] was in-everyone's-face that she was a New York Giants fan. If a list of her character traits were written up, outspoken New York Giants fan would be the first one. I would say half of her screen time was devoted to falling in love with Wahlberg; the other half was Giants pride. She even wore her Giants shirt in the Eagles crowd section of the stadium, cheering on Vince with his friends. She laughed off every Boo she heard towards her, and even instigated some fury when she yelled into the section "GO GIANTS!" It was great. Sure, she supported Vince as well, but that wasn't going to stop her from rooting for her own team. [According to Invincible's IMDB page, this Giants love was made up to add some drama to the movie]


This is the second Disney movie to feature the SS United States. This cameo is very easy to miss, which is why it wasn't found until just recently. It's in the opening credits of the movie, setting the scene for blue collar Philadelphia life. It appears for a few seconds as an anonymous vessel moored at a very active pier.

As the movie takes place in 1976, nothing blatantly recognizable about the ship could appear. When this movie was happening, The SS United States would have been hermetically sealed and docked at the Norfolk International Terminal in Norfolk, Virginia. At that time, it was owned by the U.S.'s Maritime Administration MARAD. The ship below the waterline was still classified, so it could not leave the government's hands. The ship was declassified late 1977.

How can you tell it's the ship? You can see a bit of her promenade deck jutting out from the superstructure, the distinctive white line running across the hull, and the peeling paint everywhere. What other large ship in Philly with these characteristics is always available for a quick shot?

Movie: It's alright. It does what it's supposed to do. 3/4
SS United States: It's the actual boat, helping to place the setting. 2/4

Monday, May 9, 2016

2015 Williamsburg Auction

[Originally posted on my now-defunct Wave Breaker Blog, March 13, 2015]

Panorama from the auction

    I had thought all of the Sarah Forbes' SS United States collection was donated off. Apparently not so. Some of it was stored in her old airplane hanger (of course she had an airplane hanger), and is now being cleared out by her Estate. I read an article from the Daily Press that there would be an auction on February 21st, 2015.

   After some car trouble and falling on my butt on ice in the parking lot (the parking lot had not been cleared of snow and ice. At all), I made it to the auction. It was packed. I was probably the youngest person who wasn't dragged by their parent there. Many items, silverware, chairs, and other odds and ends, were on auction.

   This was the first auction I had ever been at. It was very exciting and stressful at the same time. I was impressed with how fast the auctioneer could ramble off numbers. I could only stay 30 minutes, but I was able to buy some things! There were some early lots with a lot of the same items, so everyone who wanted something got a piece.

SS United States Stationary

United States Lines' Airmail Envelopes

   I am satisfied with my purchases. I just wanted small mementos.

   It makes me a little sad the collection is being separated. This many items will probably never be in the same room again unless the ship is saved. But I am glad the name SS United States can still bring people together.

   They will be having another auction selling more of the Sarah Forbes' Estate on March 21, 2015. I will definitely try to attend, see what else will be on sale!

For more information on the first auction, you can view the Daily Press' article and photo gallery.