Saturday, November 14, 2015

A Pretty Good Spread: Shipboard Menus from the Puget Sound Maritime Collection

Menu covers of the S.S. Homeric of the Italian Home Lines cruising to the West Indies from Europe in 1957.

Cruise ships and passenger liners have a tradition of fine dining. Menus in the care of Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society bear witness to this tradition. We have well over 1,000 menus in a collection donated by J.A. Gibbs and inventoried by Hal Will. We are pleased to present a selection of these in this web essay.

Ships menu covers often included original artwork evocative of the ships destinations. A series of menus from the passenger liner Denali, in the service of the Alaska Steamship Line, feature Husky and Malamute dogs, a sure crowd pleaser. 

Mother and daughter artists Nina and Josephine Crumrine were commissioned by the steamship line to create artwork for their ships. Full size prints decorated ship offices. A number of their original paintings are in the care of museums and archives. Most of the dogs are named leading us to believe they were painted from life models.

This 1929 menu from the S.S. Dorothy Alexander, en route from Ketchikan to Sitka, converts into a convenient postcard to send to your friends. The Pacific Steamship Company has kindly included contact information should the recipient be interested in cruising. The romantic, tropical imagery would seem to have little to do with the ship's destination; however, the company also served the palmy communities of San Diego and Los Angeles.

This cover from a 1930's shipboard menu reflects the Arts and Crafts aesthetic of the period. Malahat Drive is a scenic highway on Vancouver Island, a part of the Trans-Canada Highway. The ship was the SS Princess Patricia in service of the Canadian Pacific Railway.

Dinner on the Princess Patricia included steamed deep sea cod, prime rib, jelly omelette, whatever that is, and princess ice cream.

The S. S. President Jefferson was one of five liners operated as the Admiral Oriental Line, a concern of shipping magnate Robert Dollar. A Thanksgiving menu from 1930 -- The Captain's Dinner --  included a "Sayonara to our Japanese Passengers," leading us to guess that the liner was about to make port in Yokohama or Kobe. A handwritten note at the bottom reads "I thought this a pretty good spread."

 Robert Service poem graces a summer cruise to Alaska menu, 1979.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Maritime Halloween Trivia


Amateur cartographer William L. Taylor added sea monsters to his rendering of the Yukon River Delta as part of a collection of papers in the possession of Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society -- The "Fragmentary Records of The Custom House of St. Michael, Alaska, 1894-1917."

Fantastic sea creatures are an enduring part of maritime legend and lore. Test your knowledge of these beasts and spirits!

1. I matched wits with a peg-legged sea captain, driving him insane. Who am I?

2. I destroyed the Golden Gate Bridge, the San Francisco Ferry Building, and parts of the Embarcadero with some help from special effects master Ray Harryhausen. What manner of beast am I? 

3. I lure sailors to destruction with my beauty and song and, sometimes, with the smell of coffee. What type of creature am I?

4. I'm a sea witch who gave my name to an atmospheric condition that causes seafarers to see mirages. Who am I?

5. I'm a sea deity discovered by horror writer H.P. Lovecraft. Extra points if you can spell or pronounce my name. Who am I?

If you haven't been scared off yet, revisit our trivia contests from past years.

Nautical spooks and ghost ships

1. What ghostly mariner starred in a Disney movie long before Pirates of the Caribbean?

2. What spectral sea captain starred in both a romantic movie (1947) and a television series (1968-70)?

3.  On Treasure Island, Jim Hawkins and company come upon the skeleton of a pirate. What is the "point" of the skeleton to the story?

4.  Which of the following is NOT a portent of bad luck in sailing tradition or literature: a woman on board, setting sail on a Friday, a black cat, the black spot, bananas on board.

5.  Who is associated with the ship Queen Anne's Revenge?

6.  Who captained the Black Pearl?

7.  In the Movie, The Fog, what manner of men crew the Elizabeth Dane?

8. Who is The Flying Dutchman?

9. And finally, what scene from history was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow recalling when he described
The Somerset, British man-of-war,
A phantom ship, with each mast and spar 
Across the moon like a prison bar, 
And a huge black hulk, that was magnified 
By its own reflection in the tide.

Halloween Trivia Answers


Here follow the answers, more or less, to our Halloween trivia questions, which may be found here.

1.  Herman Melville's great white whale, Moby Dick, may not have been mythological, but he certainly was monstrous.

2.  The monster in It Came From Beneath the Sea (1955) is a giant octopus somehow connected with H-bomb tests. Skip the rest of the movie and watch the last 20 minutes for Ray Harryhausen's stop motion monster in action. Fun fact: the studio couldn't afford eight arms for the octopus, so the creature has only six!

3.  A number of sea witches and mermaids have been blamed for luring sailors to their death; the two-tailed siren is the symbol of Starbucks. 

4.  The sea witch Morgana (or Morgan Le Fay) gave her name to the atmospheric condition known as Fata Morgana, in which distorted images of boats, islands, or buildings appear in the sky, causing confusion to mariners.

5.  Cthulhu is the center of a literary universe created by Lovecraft. Spellings may vary, and, as for pronunciation, good luck with that! We will also accept Dagon, a Semitic fish god who appears in some Lovecraft work.

Elephant fish painted on a church ceiling.


1. Blackbeard's Ghost (1968) starred the incomparable Peter Ustinov as the notorious pirate.
2.  Captain Daniel Gregg is the titular character in the movie and TV show The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.

3.  The murdered pirate has been arranged by Captain Flint to point to the buried treasure.

4.  Black cats (or any cats) are generally considered good luck on shipboard, probably because of their rat-catching abilities. As with all traditions, there are exceptions to this rule.

5.  The Queen Anne's Revenge was the last ship captained by the pirate Blackbeard, himself a spectre in Disney's 1968 movie Blackbeard's Ghost (see above). The Queen Anne's Revenge ran aground and sank off the coast of North Carolina in 1718; the wreck was located in 1996 and partially excavated. 

6.  The Black Pearl, a fictional ship starring in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, sailed under both Captain Jack Sparrow and Captain Barbossa. And, frankly, maybe others!

7.  In John Carpenter's spooky film, The Fog (the 1980 original, please), the ghost ship is crewed by a group of angry lepers who were lured to their deaths while seeking a haven.

8.  Trick question. The Flying Dutchman is not a who but a what....a ghost ship doomed to sail the seas forever. Legends may vary.

9.  Longfellow cast a ghostly pall over the British ship guarding Boston Harbor at the time of The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere. Paul Revere managed to avoid detection by the Somerset's sentries as he crossed the Charles River to warn the patriots of the coming of British troops searching for weaponry.

Engraving of Blackbeard, circa 1736.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Deconstructing Annie

Promotional poster for Tugboat Annie
Image courtesy of Jerry Murbach,

Filming Tugboat Annie: Fact and Fiction on Puget Sound


In 1933 Seattle played a part in a blockbuster movie. Tugboat Annie, the story of a wise-cracking female tug skipper in the mythical Secoma community on Puget Sound, was the hit of the day, in many cases being held over for a second week at movie houses across the country! It made over a million dollars for MGM, a huge sum in the day.

The movie, starring Marie Dressler and Wallace Beery, appeared in theaters only weeks after filming was complete. Background scenes featured Lake Union, Queen Anne Hill, and Puget Sound. A tugboat crashes into a ferry on Elliott Bay. And a passenger liner arrives at the Bell Street Pier to the cheers of thousands. 

The bulk of the filming of Tugboat Annie took place on sound stages, sound pools, and lakes in or near MGM's Culver City studios. However, enough scenes were filmed in and around Seattle to justify calling Tugboat Annie the first major movie to be shot in  Seattle. (Barring an episode of a Ripley's Believe it or Not filmed in Tacoma in 1932, it was the first film to be shot in Washington State.)


The movie was based on the short stories of Norman Reilly Raine published in The Saturday Evening Post. Raine began writing his Annie stories in 1931 during a brief stint as a writing instructor at the University of Washington. He gathered inspiration for his popular tales from visiting the Seattle waterfront, incorporating the atmosphere and characters into his stories. 

The unsinkable Annie (a widow in the stories, 'though married in the movie) is a tough-talking, late middle-aged skipper who more than holds her own with both the seafaring and landlubbing men she encounters. She is master of the Narcissus, a sea-going tug. The yarns are full of salty language and local color.
"Tugboat Annie Brennan relinquished the wheel to Shiftless. 'When you wake up,' she told him, 'try to remember we're headin' for Everett, not China.' She stood in the wheelhouse doorway for a minute, and pushed back her old felt hat, drawing deep into her capacious chest the invigorating Puget Sound air, fragrant of pines and the sea. 'These is the days I like,' she went on contentedly, half to herself. 'There's a kind of a twang in the air. My goodness, I'm that hungry I could eat a horse and chase the driver." (From the story "When Greek meets Greek")


Legends take shape where history meets myth. The most enduring mythic element of Annie's legend is that her character was based on Thea Foss, matriarch of the Foss Family and founder of the Foss tugboat business (now Foss Maritime). This myth, nurtured over decades, has taken on the status of gospel despite the fact that the women shared little beyond business acumen. 

Thea Foss (left) with Mathilda Berg in front of the Foss family home in Tacoma, 1910.
 Image courtesy of Washington State Historical Society.

The reality is that Raine became acquainted with Wedell Foss, one of Thea's three sons and a partner in the family business. The Foss corporate history, written by Michael Skalley, credits Wedell Foss with suggesting the plot for Raine's first Tugboat Annie story. Raine himself identifies Wedell Foss as one of his informants in a telling interview with Pacific Motor Boat magazine (November, 1934):
"With the background for a story developing in my mind, and a tentative character to fit into it, I still had no plot. It was then that I sought the cooperation from the heads of the tugboat lines in Seattle and later with the Wrigley and Red Stack people down the coast. ....I sought out and talked with Wedell Foss, that canny Norse member of the Foss Company, Inc., and with George Cary, the genial partner of the Puget Sound Tug and Barge Company. From the first gentleman I got a stirring and interesting episode around which to build my plot; from the second I got material to supplement it; and so steamed back to my office full of beer and inspiration, and commenced to bang out Tugboat Annie."
Kate Sutton of the Providence Steamboat Company on board the Walter E. Sutton. When asked if she was the inspiration for Tugboat Annie, she reportedly said "I hope not!"  Photo courtesy of Providence Steamboat Company collection, Steamship Historical Society Archives,

So who was Annie? Was she Wedell's mild-mannered mother, who never actually plowed the waters? Was she Kate Sutton, the owner and manager of the Providence Steamboat Company in Rhode Island whom Raine had heard of from a reporter friend? Was she entirely fictional?

The answer appears to be a little bit of each.....along with a large dose of Marie Dressler.

In the Pacific Motor Boat article Raine goes on to explain:
"Then, suddenly, I ran into an obstacle. The good lady in Providence was not, I speedily saw, a sufficiently colorful and definite character around whom to build the story....Then I recollected having seen, some time before in the film "Min and Bill" a marvelous piece of characterization of a waterfront character, played by that grand old trouper, Marie Dressler. I had my answer. I would write Miss Dressler into the character. Not, be it noted, with any idea of motion picture sale or production, but simply as someone whom I could visualize clearly as I wrote; who was rough of tongue and soft of heart; who could be adamant in a business deal, yet hold the affection and interest of magazine readers, as Miss Dressler won the affection and admiration of picture fans."
Thea Foss is not mentioned in the Pacific Motor Boat interview although Raine must have been aware of her through his friendship with her son. Wedell Foss, himself, is sometimes mentioned as the inspiration for Annie's rival in the movie and later her son's boss, Red Severn. Others see Severn as a nod to shipping magnate Robert Dollar.


The bigwigs in Hollywood clearly identified Dressler with the part, as well. Fresh from her Oscar win for Min and Bill, the 64-year old* Dressler's star was riding high in 1933. Unfortunately her health was not. Knowing full well that she was battling cancer, MGM's Louis B. Mayer talked her into a punishing three-film contract over a six month schedule. 

Betty Lee's well researched biography of Dressler, based on primary source material including the diaries of Dressler's close companion, Claire Dubrey, details how Mayer protected his valuable property:
"As he had previously arranged for Dinner at Eight, Mayer ordered that the star's working day be confined to three hours, that stand-ins be used for rehearsals, and that a sofa be available for Dressler's use when the camera's were not turning."

This brings us to a second myth -- that Marie Dressler was in Seattle for the filming of Tugboat Annie. Despite misinformation from director Mervyn LeRoy's own self-serving and inaccurate autobiography, this is extremely unlikely. All scenes with Dressler and co-star Wallace Beery were filmed at MGM studios, even those on the water. There was no need for them to travel to Puget Sound, especially in Dressler's condition. The local newspapers, full of coverage of the film crew on Lake Union, make no mention of the presence of either star. 

Another fable connected to Dressler's mythical stay in Seattle can be traced to her own autobiography. The story goes that Louis B. Mayer purchased a small cottage Marie had admired and had it moved to Seattle for use as her dressing room and residence while on location. Dressler's use of the phrase "on location" was quickly misinterpreted by some biographers to mean Seattle. A close reading of Lee's biography of Dressler make it clear that the location was a lake near the Culver City studios.

Despite such pampering, the Tugboat Annie shoot was not easy on Dressler and others. In her autobiography, the actress describes filming in MGM’s tank:
“The most grueling piece of physical labor I ever put in was during the filming of the storm scenes in ‘Tugboat Annie.’ One coastwise sailor in the cast told me that in twenty years’ experience aboard tramp steamers he had never encountered rougher seas than those manufactured in our studios. They should have been good. Mr. Mayer spent $30,000 on the dock alone! Able-bodied men were slapped down by waves the script described as mild. There was more than one arm in a sling, and at least one leg in a plaster cast before we got through.” (Dressler, My Own Story, 271-72)


Marie and Wally may not have acted in Seattle, but there were other actors with strong local connections. MGM hired several local boats in starring roles: the Arthur Foss tugboat (then called the Wallowa) played the part of the Narcissus, Tugboat Annie's own boat; the Sea King, owned by the Gilkey Brothers, portrayed rival towboat Firefly; and a cannery ship, the General W.C. Gorges, a former German steamship, stood in for the fictional Glacier Queen, a passenger liner captained by Annie's son in the movie. The ferryboat Washington of Kirkland, sailing under its own name, is t-boned by the Narcissus in Elliott Bay. No fault of Annie's, the accident occurs when her husband is distracted by a cask of bootleg "hooch" floating in the bay.

Originally the Prinz Sigismund, the steamer was seized from the Germans during World War I and became an American troop transport, renamed the General W.C. Gorgas. Later the ship was used for commercial purposes, including salmon cannery work, until World War II when she once again became a troop transport. In 1945 she was sold to the Soviet Union. 
Photo courtesy of Naval History and Heritage Command.

Many other tugs and boats were hired as extras. Employees of Foss Tugboat and Barge were pulled into service by Wedell Foss, a strong booster for the production. 

Mervyn LeRoy came to town to direct his floating actors. The director of Little Caesar was quoted in the paper as saying "I've directed mobs of 'gangsters,' but you can't talk to a tugboat -- you must do it with signals to their pilots." (Seattle Daily News, April 11, 1933.) Crowds gathered on the shores of Lake Union to watch the action.

The tug Sea King played the part of the Firefly in Tugboat Annie.
Photo courtesy of Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society.

Because many of the maritime scenes were filmed in Culver City, it was necessary to build a replica of the Wallowa for exterior shots. Well-known naval architect Carl Nordstrom was hired to prepare plans of the boat. The Seattle Daily Times reports that Nordstrom was to draw up plans for both the Wallowa and the Sea King, but it is possible that the plans for the Sea King were never used. Portions of the Glacier Queen were constructed on MGM's Stage 22. 

That a replica of the Wallowa was built is confirmed by photos in the book M-G-M: Hollywood's Greatest Backlot which show the tug on a studio lake as late as 1970 alongside other famous film vessels including the Cotton Blossom from Showboat

Plans of the Arthur Foss as drawn by naval architect Carl Nordstrom. The venerable tug still floats at the historic ships pier at Lake Union Park. Image courtesy of Northwest Seaport.
Movie magic allowed these boats to change identity for subsequent movies. The Wallowa replica may or may not have been used as an extra in another Wallace Beery film, Barnacle Bill, in 1940. About the same time the erstwhile Narcissus had a narrow escape. According to M-G-M: Hollywood's Greatest Backlot
"In November of 1940, because of falling high-tension wires, fire raged through the area, destroying much of the [Lot One] set and threatening the old Tugboat Annie tugboat. The heat was so intense, and aggravated by a stiff ocean breeze, that windows in the studio's Cartoon Department across Overland Avenue were shattered....The tugboat survived, however, and would finally be secured on the Lot Three lake." (p. 119)

The galley of the Arthur Foss is a bit more cramped that that of the Narcissus in the movie. 
Photo, Alan Humphrey.

Seattleites also had their chance to be extras in a real Hollywood movie: somewhere between "a few score" and ten-thousand locals turned out as unpaid extras for the big scene where the Glacier Queen steams alongside the Bell Street Pier to brass bands and streamers. Other locals were on hand as background characters in the scenes filmed on Lake Union. A local houseboat dweller, Maria Fisk, was hired to double Marie Dressler in long shots on the boat. Seattle Mayor John Dore, enthralled by movie-making, reportedly donned a sailor's cap to appear in some scenes. Of course local pilots and crewmen worked the boats. Captain Clarence Howden piloted the Wallowa/Narcissus.


Tugboat Annie had its world premier at the Fifth Avenue Theater in Seattle on July 28, 1933. The city made the most of the honor. The first showing, at 11:30 in the morning, was heralded with a cacophony of ships whistles in the harbor. The big event in the evening involved fireworks, balloons, klieg lights, and many local celebrities including Mayor Dore and Lieutenant-Governor Victor Meyers. Governor Clarence D. Martin sent a telegram, as did the film's stars. The Seattle Star covered the celebrations:
"While a cool evening breeze brought the salty breath of Elliott bay up thru downtown canyons, glaring arc lights swept the faces of thousands who came to watch the first showing of the picture which is to send the echo of Puget Sound towboat whistles around the world." (July 29, 1933)
The ferryboat Washington of Kirkland makes its way through the Ballard Locks in this photo courtesy of Kirkland Heritage Society. The museum ship St. Paul can be seen in the background with an "open" sign attached to its foremast. 


Tacoma held its own premier of the movie three weeks following the Seattle event, rightfully claiming a share of cinema history. "Secoma," after all, was a mash-up of the two port cities. On the Sunday following the opening the first Tugboat Annie races were held on Commencement Bay to great fanfare. Myth has Marie Dressler personally presenting the silver loving cup to Captain Arthur Hofstead of the tug Peter Foss which had nosed out the Captain O.G. Olsen by a scant three feet.

Although the Marie Dressler Loving Cup may have been donated by the actress or her people, the Tacoma News Tribune informs us that the prize was presented by Leroy V. Johnson, general manager of the Jensen-von Herberg Company which owned the local theater showing Tugboat Annie.

Tugboat racing became a staple at maritime events in Puget Sound from that day.

A Tugboat Annie race photographed by Joe Williamson, circa 1940.
The Arthur Foss is in the lead. Courtesy of Puget Sound Maritime.


Marie Dressler died of cancer a year to the day from the Seattle premier of Tugboat Annie. Her character, Captain Annie Brennan, pursued her adventures on Puget Sound in two more movies, a short-lived TV series, and some 75 short stories which trickled out from the pen of Norman Reilly Raine until the author's death in 1971.

Seattle would not see another major motion picture company until Elvis Presley came to town in 1962 to film It Happened at the World's Fair (released in 1963). By that time Seattle was identified more with the aerospace industry than with the maritime. Tugboat Annie remains a pleasant reminder of rough and tumble days in a waterfront town.

Cast and crew publicity photo for Tugboat Annie, 1933. From left front are Wallace Beery, Marie Dressler, Mervyn LeRoy, and writer Norman Reilly Raine. Famed cameraman Gregg Toland leans over Miss Dressler. Image Courtesy of Tacoma Public Library, C157920-3.

Selected sources:  

  • Selected articles from The Seattle Daily Times, The Tacoma News Tribune, The Seattle Star
  • Stephen Bingen, Stephen X. Sylvester, and Michael Troyan, M-G-M: Hollywood's Greatest Backlot, 2011.
  • Norman Reilly Raine, Tugboat Annie (collected stories), 1934.
  • Norman Reilly Raine, "That's How Tugboat Annie was born," Pacific Motor Boat, November 1934.
  • Mervyn LeRoy with Dick Kleiner, Mervyn LeRoy: Take One, 1974.
  • Marie Dressler with Mildred Harrington, My Own Story, 1934.
  • Matthew Kennedy, Marie Dressler: A Biography, 1999.
  • Victoria Sturtevant, A Great Big Girl like Me: The Films of Marie Dressler, 2009.
  • Betty Lee, Marie Dressler: The Unlikeliest Star, 1997.
  • Michael Skalley, Foss: Ninety Years of Towboating, 1981.
  • "The Providence Steamboat Company: Still a Family Business," PowerShips, the Magazine of the Steamship Historical Society of America, Summer 2012.
  • Gordon Newell, ed., The H.W. McCurdy Marine History of the Pacific Northwest, 1966.

*In good Hollywood tradition, Dressler's age is uncertain. Dates for her birth range from 1865 to 1868 to 1871, the date that appears on her grave marker.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Into the Surf: The Point Reyes Historic Lifeboat Station

From 1927 until 1968 the Coast Guard maintained a life-saving station at Point Reyes, California, in the shadow of Chimney Rock on Drakes Bay. The station house, with its marine railway, still stands, although it is used only occasionally by nonprofit groups. Recent visitors to the shoreline witnessed some restoration work going on and were allowed a glimpse inside the structure.

The road to the Lifesaving Station is a ten minute walk from the public parking lot at Chimney Rock. Look for signs pointing to the station (to the right as you face the sea) and to the Elephant Seals (to the left).

The tracks leading from the station directly into the surf by means of an incline plane are probably the last existing marine railway on the Pacific Coast. Motorized lifeboats were assured a fast launch into the surf in times when every minute counted.

The cradle that held the motor lifeboat  waits in the ground floor boat bay for the last lifeboat, currently undergoing restoration. Living quarters for crew were on the second floor.

The names and relics of wrecked ships adorn the walls of the ground floor boat bay: the cargo ship Munleon, lumber steamer Hartwood, the oil tanker Richfield were three of the lucky ones among many wrecks during the 1920s and 1930s. All lives were saved. During this period a shipwreck and rescue often drew crowds of spectators to the station grounds.

By the 1950s technological advances in lifesaving began to put the Point Reyes station, with its 36-foot lifeboats and breeches buoy, out of business. In 1968 the station was closed; in 1989 it was declared a National Historic Landmark. A modern Coast Guard rescue, complete with helicopters, now operates out of Bodega Bay. 

Accidental tourists were treated to the release of rehabilitated sea mammals: three juvenile California sea lions (Carmella, Mariachi, and Leeward, above) and one young female elephant seal (Rail Buddy below), restored to health by the Sausalito-based Marine Mammal Center. These guys heard the call of the sea and knew exactly what to do.

The U.S. Life-Saving Service (USLSS) was founded in 1871. In 1915 the service merged with the Revenue Cutter Service to form the modern Coast Guard.

The Point Reyes Lifeboat Station was originally established on another spot on the peninsula (the much less protected South Beach) in 1888. During this period, surfmen went out in man-powered boats. (Point Reyes National Seashore photo)

The life-saving station at Point Reyes has a connection to another landmark in the district....a tiny cemetery overlooking Drake's Estero on the road between the coast and town. For photos of the gravestones of some surfmen see the author's own blog, Remnants of the Past.

Thanks to park ranger Sarah at the Lifeboat Station for information and to Alan Humphrey for photography.

-- Eleanor Boba

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Picnic Point Mystery Revisited

Several months ago we posted Joe Baar’s query about a mystery hull at Picnic Point. Since that time Joe has pulled together information from a number of sources to provide this likely solution to the mystery.

A lot of information has come in recently about the hulk beached north of Picnic Point. This vessel’s final name was MV PACIFIC QUEEN, official number 257731. Eight ships of this kind were built as “Auxiliary Rescue and Salvage” vessels (ARS) during 1942 and 1943. Three of these wooden vessels were originally authorized for construction under Lend-Lease contracts with Great Britain as “British Auxiliary Rescue and Salvage” ships (BARS) to help stem the rate of merchant ship losses due to U-Boat attacks in the North Atlantic. Other methods for preventing such losses proved successful more rapidly than the rescue and salvage vessels could be put into service, so all these lend-lease agreements were cancelled before any of the ships were completed. Anticipating a need in the Pacific Theatre, the U.S. Navy continued construction begun under lend-lease and obtained authorization for five more vessels of a similar design.

NOAA Chart showing location of the hulk.
Using tabular information collected from Silverstone’s US Warships of World War II, the U.S. Bureau of Customs’ Merchant Vessels of the United States, and on the internet, I was able to organize data about the eight ARS vessels to give what I believe is a definitive answer about the true origin of the hulk on Franzen Beach. My findings are summarized here.

Two ships were lost in 1945 due to accidents. Of the remaining six ships, three are positively identified in multiple published sources as having been sold into mercantile service after 1946. A fourth ship was transferred to the government of Denmark in 1947. Of the remaining two ships, only one was constructed with twin screws (two propellers). That ship was USS WEIGHT, ARS-35, ex-PLYMOUTH SALVOR, BARS-7. This exercise specifically rules out USS ANCHOR, ARS-13, as the original identity of MV PACIFIC QUEEN.

Pacific Queen after her rebuild by Puget Sound Boat Building Corporation in 1949.
 Courtesy Tacoma Public Library.

A number of rumors about this vessel have circulated since 1949, and need to be put to rest. First, the Tacoma News Tribune reported on 5/15/49 that the newly rebuilt ship was “formerly an Army tug,” which is only partly true in the generic sense that a salvage vessel can be used as a tug; and there is no record that any of these eight vessels ever operated under the auspices of the U.S. Army. Second, at least two otherwise reliable sources – Merchant Vessels of the United States and the Marine Digest contain information that this ship was built in Stockton, California, by Colberg Boat Works, but every source agrees that all three of Colberg’s ARS vessels were built to the single-screw design, and this hull definitely incorporates struts for twin screws. Finally, this vessel was never a minesweeper even though it has a wooden hull, whose heavy construction shows its suitability for a much different mission: ocean salvage.

The U.S. Treasury Department assigns official numbers only to yachts and merchant vessels, not to U.S. naval vessels, but documentation required to register the vessel and obtain an official number as a merchant vessel in 1947, ’48 or ’49 should link that number to the builder’s “Master Carpenter’s Certificate”, which will provide absolute proof of this hulk’s identity. Both Merchant Vessels of the United States and a photo of the vessel’s official number and net tonnage carved into her main beam, kindly sent to me by Karl Elder, have identified the hulk high on Franzen Beach as MV PACIFIC QUEEN. In addition, one of Karl’s relatives has recently measured the hulk at 173’-0’, which matches the length given in Merchant Vessels.

Photo, Everett Daily Herald. Date unknown.
Thanks to Karl Elder for supplying us with this image.

Whichever ARS finally became MV PACIFIC QUEEN, Kyle Stubbs and Karl Elder have both provided a wealth of information about the mercantile history of this ship. Karl is the grandson of Arvid Franzen, the final owner of PACIFIC QUEEN. Kyle has fleshed out some of the tabular information I’ve put together above. He reports the vessel was sold to Puget Sound Boat Building of Tacoma and they rebuilt her in 1947-49 as a refrigerated cargo ship. By 1950 Merchant Vessels shows ownership as Pacific Queen Fisheries of Tacoma, and one of the salvors, Dave Updike, informed the Marine Digest via Doug Egan that MV PACIFIC QUEEN remained in the Bristol Bay fishery as a fish packer and processor under this ownership. Thanks to Karl Elder for passing me his extract about this from the Marine Digest dated 2/14/1976.

On 9/17/1957 MV PACIFIC QUEEN sank at Tacoma’s Old Town Dock in about 30 feet of water as the result of a gasoline explosion and fire originating under the afterdeck. According to the Marine Digest, one crew member was killed in the conflagration. During 1958 the wreck was raised by Dave Updike and Jim Vallentyne, floated and towed to Lake Union in Seattle for removal of heavy internal items and the steel superstructure down to the main deck.

Photo,Todd Stahlecker, 8/1/2012.

Information about the sinking appears in Susan Hodges’ Cases and Materials on Marine Insurance Law (Cavendish, London: 1999). Two cases and appeals came before the United States Ninth District Court and all the issues raised were not fully litigated until late 1962. In Pacific Queen Fisheries v. Symes and in Pacific Queen Fisheries v. Atlas Assurance Company, the cases are summarized as follows:

PACIFIC QUEEN was a large refrigerated wooden hulled vessel which was engaged in freezing and transporting salmon catches from Alaska to ports in Puget Sound, Washington State. Unknown to the insurers, because PACIFIC QUEEN supplied fuel to the small fishing vessels operating with her, her [gasoline] carrying capacity had been enlarged from 3,000 gallons to 8,000 gallons. During the currency of the policy underwritten by the defendants, PACIFIC QUEEN suffered a violent explosion caused by the ignition of [this gasoline] and became a constructive total loss. The insurers refused to indemnify the owners for the loss. They contended [among other things] that (a) she was unseaworthy, and (b) she had been sailing in contravention of the Tanker Act.

The United States Court of Appeal [sic] upheld the District Court and ruled that PACIFIC QUEEN had been sent to sea unseaworthy with the privity of her owners; furthermore, as the owners had not exercised due diligence, the loss was not covered by the Inchmaree Clause. However, the Court specifically refrained from ruling the adventure illegal, as [this] was not the controlling issue of the case. It was not the Court’s wish to set a precedent until all the ramifications of the issue had been considered.

At the Coast Guard’s and Seattle Fire Department’s requests the salvors towed MV PACIFIC QUEEN’s light hulk from Lake Union and beached it north of Picnic Point at the burning grounds of Franzen Beach. Karl Elder reports he was 11 years old at the time and watched the tug labor to ground the wreck securely for hours before and after the high tide. This activity left a large prop-wash depression in the beach, which Karl says took several years to fill in. His story continues, “My grampa blew the hole in the port side to anchor the Queen. He paid Updike or Vallentyne $1 to get a receipt.” And finally, “My grampa told me he didn't burn it because they pushed it in too close to the hillside and he didn't want to set the woods on fire.” This is a beautifully clear and concise explanation why the hulk is still visible for us to ponder.

I am deeply grateful to Karl and Kyle for participating in this discussion.    
-- Joe Baar     

Photos of the derelict vessel accompany a webposting and my be viewed here. Note, that some details in the article, including the date of beaching, are incorrect.

Friday, June 26, 2015

What’s the Scuttlebutt?*

There’s a lot happening at Puget Sound Maritime this warm summer of 2015. Listen closely and you’ll hear what’s going on behind the scenes.

But first …
Imagine you are the captain of a Puget Sound ferryboat at the end of the 19th century, part of the famous “Mosquito Fleet.” Your job is to ferry passengers from Tacoma to Seattle, but Oh, No! There’s a log floating right in your path! A storm comes up suddenly! A passenger falls overboard! What’s a skipper to do?

Several new exhibits are in the works for the McCurdy Family Maritime Gallery at MOHAI that will help visitors understand the realities of navigation in the days when water was the primary highway for travelers around Puget Sound.
Our biggest project will be the installation of a large gaming console, referred to as a “touch table,” which will use historic photos and real events combined with modern animation to allow players to navigate Mosquito Fleet steamships around a variety of hazards along their routes.  Tentatively titled “Charting Our Course,” players will choose a course: for example, the Seattle to Tacoma run with the FLYER or the Mercer Island route with the FORTUNA. They will then follow the historically accurate route, making split-second decisions necessary to reach their destination safely in the face of real-life perils. The touch table will have an engaging soundtrack that will enhance the nautical feel of the Maritime Gallery and content that will attract kids and adults alike with its rich but fun presentation.

In addition to the permanent touch table, we plan to add a non-digital interactive mapping station where visitors will learn about and see historical mapping instruments, then use such tools to plot a course around Lake Union. Participants will be able to relate their maps to the panorama of Lake Union right outside the gallery windows.
For those who’d just like to get their hands on a ship’s wheel and steer, we will have a new hands-on helm station complete with ship’s wheel and engine order telegraph. Highlighting the building’s history as the old Naval Reserve Armory and the Maritime Gallery’s original function as a bridge deck mock-up, the helm station should be in place this fall!

The Mosquito Fleet touch table and the mapping station are currently in the planning and design stages. It takes a certain amount of resources to bring exhibits into the 21st Century and these are no exception. The combined cost of the two exhibits will reach over $150,000, of which a large portion is being generously donated by the McCurdy Family. The rest must be made up of grants and individual donations. Details on a campaign to raise funds for these projects will be coming your way soon!


A year ago PSM took possession of a large cache of ships plans drawn by the late, renowned naval architect Edwin Monk Sr., along with a collection of photographs and artifacts. These plans, photos, and objects, while well organized, require proper archival storage and cataloging. It will be a big job! UW Information School interns Jodi Myers and Suzanne LeDoux have laid the groundwork for us by formally assessing the collection and estimating the resources (time, money, personnel) required to complete conservation. They have also drafted a user guide for staff and volunteers working on the conservation project. This work will be a big help to us as we plan our collections work and seek grants to fund it.


Special thanks to the McCurdy Family for initial funding of our exhibits enhancement project; Christina Januszewski, UW Museology intern, for researching and designing the mapping station; MOHAI for donating the touch table console; the Harbor Club of Seattle for donating the ship’s wheel; James McCurdy Sr. for donating the engine room telegraph; Jodi Myers and Suzanne LeDoux, UW iSchool interns, for assessing the archival and cataloging needs of the Edwin Monk Sr. Ships Plans Collection; and students of the UW Museology Program for evaluating our gallery visitor experience and pointing us toward the future.

* Scuttlebutt: a cask of water with a hole allowing sailors to get a drink; a place to exchange news and gossip; news and gossip!