By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
Franklin D. Roosevelt aboard the USS Houston, during the Presidential Cruise, 1938
Field notes come in interesting forms – one of the more curious collecting documentation I have found comes from Expeditions with US Navy participation. Naval vessels have daily bulletins or “plans of the day” issued. They include a wide variety of information: uniform of the day, ship-wide schedules, and information about VIP’s or important events. When at sea, they additionally include information about life beyond the ship – current events, sports scores, stock reports. One can imagine that before the internet, this might be the only information sailors received about home beyond letters from family and friends. These bulletins also provided levity for the crew, including stories or jokes. The materials I cataloged from the Tanager Expedition (1923) discussed in the blog “The Dangers of Bunny Rabbits” includes this type of document.
The most recent expedition to include these was the Presidential Cruise of 1938 aboard USS Houston. This highly unusual “expedition” was a fishing cruise taken by Franklin D. Roosevelt to the waters off the coast of Central and South America. Roosevelt extended an invitation to the Smithsonian to send scientific staff along with the cruise to collect a variety of specimens, and ended up including fish, crustaceans, sponges, and botanical specimens. Several new species were discovered, including a new type of palm tree from the island pictured below, the palm tree (Siriella roosevelti) named for the President. Some of the specimen cards can be found on SIRIS for several departments of National Museum of Natural History.
This cruise is a fascinating mixture of social and scientific efforts. Schmitt saved the ship bulletins as well as the attending press releases given out during the voyage. One can determine not just what time of day and where the president and guests were fishing, but also current political events, and naval social traditions practiced by the crew and guests. While on the cruise, they honored a longtime tradition of the Shellback ceremony, commemorating the crossing of the Equator. This ceremony still goes on in various forms, and provides humor and comradery in ship life that is often highly regimented and routine.
Department of the Navy -- Naval History and Heritage Command. (2004). “Casualties: U.S. Navy And Coast Guard Vessels, Sunk Or Damaged Beyond Repair During World War Iist, 7 December 1941-1 October 1945” Accessed on Http://Www.History.Navy.Mil/Faqs/Faq82-1.Htm