How Are We Doing?

How do you know if a museum exhibit is successful?  There’s no “like” button underneath each artifact.  And you can’t click “share” on an exhibit panel.  So, it’s tough to know what people think and feel about an exhibit.
9-28 IMG_20150926_155041575There is one component of our new Colorful Characters exhibit that’s easy for us to assess, though.  As a whole, the exhibit discusses the history of Sailors altering their uniforms for fashion or for function.  A major fashion trend among sailors was purchasing patches, known as liberty cuffs, from foreign ports.  The liberty cuffs were sewed into the underside of the uniform jumper cuffs so they were only visible when the sleeves were rolled up.

9-28 IMG_20150926_154709592Liberty cuffs varied in content.  Some were pretty straight forward, featuring American Flags or Neptune.  Others highlighted rates such as SeaBees or SNIPES.  And many were souvenirs of the ports Sailors visited.

We decided to focus on these souvenir liberty cuffs and ask visitors what a liberty cuff from their hometown might look like.  They can design their own liberty cuff and pin it to our magnetic mural map.

9-28 IMG_20150926_154539373Though we’re still trying to assess the whole Colorful Characters exhibit, this portion has been a big success.  How do we know?  We ran out of pins.


Creature Comforts

When I first started working at the museum, I would bring my dog Benny to the base with me after work and we would go for walks along Pettibone Creek.  Quite often during our walks we would run into sailors.  They always wanted to play with Benny, especially when he was a puppy.  Without fail, they would tell me about their pets  “back home.”

9-21 Kroscher-Album2-011During  World War I at Great Lakes, sailors didn’t have that problem.  While they didn’t have their own pets, the base was home to a “Ravinetta” park in Camp Dewey (where Recruit Training Command’s Camp Porter is located today).  In “Ravinetta” park, along with park benches, flowers and miniature ships, was an actual zoo.

9-21 Kroscher-Album2-023Great Lakes’s  zoo started when the Officer In Command was presented with two big brown bears, John and Susie, and eventually grew to include four bears, deer, three American eagles, mountain goats, badgers, rabbits, ferrets, owls, guinea pigs, a possum, and a hawk.  If that wasn’t enough for the sailors, they could also pet one of the many dogs belonging to the staff or visit the Aviation Camp to see the carrier pigeons.

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While the zoo/Ravinetta Park was dismantled in the post-war downsizing, during its brief existence it served as means of entertainment for sailors and their families stationed at the base.

A Sailor’s “Little Volume”

Sailor’s Attic has dug up some interesting things that used to belong to U.S. Navy Sailors – a football, a jersey, some snapshots, a written account of an adventure. Sure, these things are interesting. But how do these items become “historical” and end up in the archives of the National Museum of the American Sailor?

9-14 verrillo_apology2Sometimes, it’s the most ordinary items that grab our attention. One Sailor, a yeoman aboard the USS McCormick (DD-223) and the USS Black Hawk (AD-9) took advantage of his access to a typewriter and a camera to record his observations from 1924-1926. The Sailor, Fred Verrillo, gives a hint how something personal becomes historical – and how the museum’s archival collection benefits from donations.

He recorded the ordinary experiences of daily life in the Navy. In June, 1925, his ship docked at the U.S. Navy’s summer base for the Pacific (“Asiatic”) Fleet, the Chinese port city of Chefoo (now Yantai), near the Korean peninsula.

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Fred Verrillo also used his camera to freeze in time what he saw that day on the streets of Chefoo. (Note the “Navy Y.M.C.A.” banner, mentioned in his log.)

9-14 verrillo_chefoo1Sometimes, though, a Sailor gets caught up in a storm of larger events. Only with the passage of time does something like “internal trouble” in Shanghai in June, 1925 become “the May Thirtieth Movement,” a series of student-led protests throughout China during 1925-1926 that were sparked by a Shanghai police shooting of peaceful marchers on May 30, 1925.


Yeoman Verrillo and his ship then traveled to Ningpo, where Chinese and French Roman Catholic priests hosted the sailors for Mass and a Sunday outdoor party.

9-14 verrillo_ningopo1Yeoman Fred Verrillo wrote that his “log” did not “expect a place in the Library of Congress or the Hall of Fame.” But nearly 90 years after Fred Verrillo stepped off a Navy ship for the last time, one of his relatives recognized the value of his unvarnished storytelling and discussed donating the materials with the staff of the National Museum of the American Sailor.

Know of a collection of archival documents that might fill in more stories about U.S. Navy enlisted personnel from 1775 to the recent past – from the Mediterranean Sea or the African coastal waters in the 1950s-1960s, or from a Sailor of the 1800s? For more information, view the National Museum of the American Sailor’s donation proposal form and instructions at: