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.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

SS United States Silver Screen Review: West Side Story (1961)


West Side Story. The documentary of the 1957 gang epidemic that hit New York City, where you were not only judged on your fighting skills, but your dancing. Since then, the Sharks and Jets have become one of the biggest gangs in the country. Usually after a set period, the violence subsides, but every few years there is another revival, another uprising. The conflict never seems to end. Unlike other violent groups, parents and schools actively support them to continue on in their communities, even encouraging their kids to join in.

Enough with my dramatics. This movie is an adaption of the hit Broadway musical. The musical is a 20th century adaptation of the play, Romeo and Juliet. It's fun, it's sad, it's long, and it doesn't ever have enough mambo. Never enough mambo. Everyone looks really sunburnt and sweaty.

Did you know the SS United States was in this movie? I didn't. I've probably seen this movie a few times in my life and never picked it out. Want to see the part it appears in? It's actually on YouTube:

0:03 - 0:07, a brief flyover of the ship at its home port. This whole introduction segment in the movie is to cue the viewer into the setting. From well-known buildings and commercial areas that say, "This is New York," the viewer is slowly brought into more residential neighborhoods, until they zoom in and meet the Jets. The SS United States's home pier was Pier 86 (now home to the USS Intrepid), part of a stretch commonly referred to as "Luxury Liner Row." This was where all the great ocean liners docked in New York. At the time this movie was made, the SS United States's funnels would have been a familiar and established landmark at the docks.

Movie: It's a classic. It's a feel-good musical until it literally stabs you in the heart. 4/4
SS United States: It's the actual boat, helping to place the setting. 2/4.