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“Much Tattooed Sailor Aboard USS New Jersey”

In celebration of American Archives Month, the National Archives is teaming up with the Academy of American Poets. Throughout the month we’ll be publishing original poems inspired by the holdings of the National Archives. To view the poets performing their original work, visit the National Archives YouTube Channel. 

Much tattooed sailor aboard the USS New Jersey. 12/1944. (National Archives Identifier 520883)

Much tattooed sailor aboard the USS New Jersey. 12/1944. (National Archives Identifier 520883)

Today’s poem, “Much Tattooed Sailor Aboard USS New Jersey” by Jehanne Dubrow, was inspired by a photograph of sailors during World War II.

Lt. Comdr. Charles Fenno Jacobs took this photograph of two sailors in December 1944. Jacobs was part of the Naval Aviation Photographic Unit—a group of military photographers, under the command of Edward Steichen, who documented activities of the United States Navy during World War II.

Like other photographers in the Naval Aviation Photographic Unit, Jacob’s photos focused on the human side of war. He captured this image while on assignment to photograph life—both on and off duty—on the ship USS New Jersey.

Here Jacob’s camera captures a sailor tattooing a shipmate aboard the battleship.

For more Charles Fenno Jacobs photos, visit our online catalog.

Much Tattooed Sailor Aboard USS New Jersey

By Jehanne Dubrow

Squint a little, and that’s my husband
in the photograph, the sailor on the left—

the one wearing a rose composed of ink
and the Little Bo Peep who stands

before a tiny setting sun and the blur
on his forearm which might be a boat—

while the sailor on the right is leaning in,
his fingers touching the other man’s skin,

tracing what looks like the top of an anchor
or the intricate hilt of a sword, perhaps

wiping blood from the artful laceration,
in his other hand something crumpled,

his cap I think or a cloth to shine brass,
lights on a bulkhead, fittings and fixtures,

because let’s not forget this picture
must be posed, the men interrupted—

mops laid down, ropes left uncoiled, or else
on a smoke break, Zippo and Lucky Strikes

put aside—the men shirtless on a deck,
legs bent at beautiful angles,

a classical composition this contrast
of bodies and dungarees, denim gone black

and their shoulders full of shadow—
although on second thought how effortless

this scene, both of them gazing toward
a half-seen tattoo so that we too lean in

trying to make out the design on the bicep,
close enough we can almost smell the salt

of them and the oil of machinery,
which is of course the point, as when in a poem

I call the cruiser’s engine a pulse inside my palm
or describe my husband’s uniform,

ask him to repeat the litany of ships and billets,
how one deployment he sliced himself

on a piece of pipe and how the cut refused
to shut for months—Hold still, I tell him,

I need to get the exquisite outline of your scar.


“Catawba Cotton Mill”

In celebration of American Archives Month, the National Archives is teaming up with the Academy of American Poets. Throughout the month we’ll be publishing original poems inspired by the holdings of the National Archives. To view the poets performing their original works, visit the National Archives YouTube Channel.  

Some of the doffers and the Supt. Ten small boys and girls about this size out of a force of 40 employees. Catawba Cotton Mill. Newton, N.C., 12/21/1908, (National Archives Identifier 523141)

“Some of the doffers and the Supt. Ten small boys and girls about this size out of a force of 40 employees.” Catawba Cotton Mill. Newton, N.C., 12/21/1908, (National Archives Identifier 523141)

Today’s poem, “Catawba Cotton Mill” by David Wojahn, was inspired by a Lewis Hine photograph of child workers in North Carolina.

From 1908 to 1912, Hine took approximately 5,000 photographs of children’s working and living conditions for the National Child Labor Committee. Hine photographed children engaged in a variety of industries across the United States.

Hine’s lens captured images of children—some as young as three years old—working in agricultural field work, canneries, cotton mills, factories, peddlers in street trades, and in coal mines.

In this photograph, doffers and their supervisor pose for the camera at the Catawba Cotton Mill in Newton, North Carolina. When the bobbins on the spinning machines became full, doffers were responsible for removing the full bobbins and replacing them with empty ones. This particular mill employed 40 workers; 10 of whom were small children.

Hine’s photographs became influential in the movement to enact child labor laws in the United States during the early 20th century.

To view more of Hine’s photographs from the National Archives, visit our Flickr page.

Catawba Cotton Mill, 1908 by David Wojahn

                             –a photo by Lewis Hine

Propping his tripod, Hine remembers
Childhood snowfall in Wisconsin,
Flakes careening in prairie wind,

A red sleigh skimming a frozen lake,
Curlicued breath-mist of two dappled drays.
But this is a blizzard of cotton dust

From the looms & thirty thousand spindles,
Gauze-air, whirlwind of innumerable floaters.
The thermometer reads one hundred & three.

& for these seven ten-year-olds, childhood
Is six ten-hour shifts & on the seventh day
They rest, heads nodding over hymnbooks,

The drone of temperance & hellfire.
But this is din, not drone, the spindles’
Manic prayer wheels, the doffers

& the “little piecers,” skittering on hand & knee
Beneath the clatter of the looms,
Patrolling for clumps of cotton waste.

This is weaver’s cough and “mattress maker’s fever,”
The mad percussive shivaree & glossolalia.
But then, for this moment, it ceases.

The foremen have gathered their doffers
& stilled the looms & spindles—
Six boys, a lone girl. The foreman

Adjusts his derby, pointing them toward
the cyclop-eye: Hine’s 5 x 7. They are ordered
To look solemn, as if they could look

otherwise. Pulled slide, the flashpan
Dusted with power, the sizzle as the room
Erupts in light. Where the punctum?

Where the studium? To end your life
At twenty-five or thirty. Missing fingers,
Mangled hands, to walk somnambulant

To a sullen dormitory bunk, picking
Cotton shavings from your hair,
Mattress ticking spat onto a rude pine floor.

But Hine has set his flashpan in its case,
Broken down his tripod. Fiat Lux.
Hine gathers his work & faintly smiles,

Adjusting his bowler & making a fist, as if
To attest that in this foul rag & sweatshop,
In this charnel house of ceaseless

Motion, his lens might render
One fugitive instant of dignity. Light
            Is required, wrote Hine, light in floods.


“The Buttonhook”

In celebration of American Archives Month, the National Archives is teaming up with the Academy of American Poets. Throughout the month we’ll be publishing original poems inspired by the holdings of the National Archives. To view the poets performing their original works, visit the National Archives YouTube Channel.  

Ellis Island, N.Y. Line Inspection of Arriving Aliens, 1923 (National Archives Identifier 6116683)

Ellis Island, NY, Line Inspection of Arriving Aliens, 1923 (National Archives Identifie 6116683)

Today’s poem, “The Buttonhook” by Mary Jo Salter, was inspired by a National Archives photograph of Ellis Island showing uniformed inspectors examining newly arriving immigrants eyes.

In 1892 the Federal Government assumed the responsibility for inspecting and admitting or rejecting all immigrants seeking entry to the United States.

At immigration stations such as Ellis Island, arriving immigrants encountered immigration inspectors, who determined if they met the legal requirements for admission, and medical officers from the US Public Health Service (USPHS), like those pictured here, who examined them for evidence of “loathsome or dangerous contagious diseases,” which could be grounds for exclusion.

During the early years of the 20th century, trachoma, an infectious eye disease that could lead to blindness if left untreated, became one of the leading reasons for excluding immigrants on medical grounds. To check for trachoma USPHS officers would flip back immigrants’ eyelids using their fingers or a buttonhook, an implement originally intended for fastening the small buttons common on shoes and clothing at the time.

Put to a new use on Ellis Island, the buttonhook became a memorable part of many immigrants’ journey to the United States.

This photo is just one of the millions and millions of photographs housed within the National Archives. Many photographs can be viewed in our online catalog and on our Flickr page.

THE BUTTONHOOK

By Mary Jo Salter

President Roosevelt, touring Ellis Island
in 1906, watched the people from steerage
line up for their six-second physical.

Might not, he wondered aloud, the ungloved handling
of aliens who were ill infect the healthy?
Yet for years more it was done.  I imagine

my grandmother, a girl in that Great Hall’s
polyglot, reverberating vault
more terrible than church, dazed by the stars

and stripes in the vast banner up in front
where the blessed ones had passed through. Then she did too,
to a room like a little chapel, where her mother

might take Communion.  A man in a blue cap
and a blue uniform—a doctor? a policeman?
(Papa would have known, but he had sailed

all alone before them and was waiting
now in New York; yet wasn’t this New York?)—
a man in a blue cap reached for her mother.

Without a word (didn’t he speak Italian?)
he stuck one finger into her mother’s eye,
then turned its lid up with a buttonhook,

the long, curved thing for doing up your boots
when buttons were too many or too small.
You couldn’t be American if you were blind

or going to be blind.  That much she understood.
She’d go to school, she’d learn to read and write
and teach her parents. The eye man reached to touch

her own face next; she figured she was ready.
She felt big, like that woman in the sea
holding up not a buttonhook but a torch.


“The Posner Affair”

Continuing our celebration of American Archives Month, today’s post comes from Christina James, an intern in the National Archives History Office.

As the inscription on the west side of the National Archives Building reads, the National Archives is home to “the chronicles of those who conceived and builded the structure of our nation.” Primarily thought of as a place where history is preserved, one can easily overlook the ways in which historical events have directly affected the National Archives.

Ernst Posner, undated. (Records of the National Archives)

Ernst Posner, undated. (Records of the National Archives)

During World War II, the National Archives found itself under attack by the Senate Subcommittee on Independent Agencies regarding ties between the National Archives and German archivist, Ernst Posner. A short chapter in National Archives history, this incident is recorded in the Personal Files of Solon J. Buck as “The Posner Affair.”

Born in Berlin in 1892, Ernst Posner was a German citizen who had served in World War I and later became an archivist at the Prussian State Privy Archives. Prior to the start of World War II, Posner eagerly sought to leave Germany and hoped to relocate and secure an archival position in the U.S. He first met Solon J. Buck in 1938 while visiting and lecturing in the United States. Shortly after his return from this trip, Posner was arrested and imprisoned following the Nazi Kristallnacht attacks on Jews in Germany. A Christian of Jewish descent, Posner spent six weeks in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp.

After being released, Posner managed to return to America where he secured a position teaching archival administration at American University. Through his friendship with Archivist of the United States Solon J. Buck, Posner alerted the National Archives of the importance of safeguarding records for defense purposes shortly before the United States entered World War II. The issue caught the attention of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who requested that necessary actions be taken to ensure records were protected.

Posner’s ideas inspired and influenced the American Council of Learned Societies’ Committee on Protection of Cultural Treasures in War Areas and led the National Archives to prepare a comprehensive directory of the archival facilities in war-torn Europe.

Dr. Solon Justus Buck, Second Archivist of the United States, ca. 1941. (Records of the National Archives)

Dr. Solon Justus Buck, Second Archivist of the United States, ca. 1941. (Records of the National Archives)

On his way to becoming a naturalized American citizen, Posner’s German heritage raised suspicions of many government officials. On February 16, 1944, Archivist of the United States Solon Buck appeared before the Senate Subcommittee on Independent Agencies for a hearing regarding funding for the National Archives. Solon Buck described the hearing as “devoted entirely to an attack upon Dr. Posner and [himself].”

Senator Kenneth McKellar questioned Posner’s relationship to the National Archives and demanded to know why Posner had been given a desk in the offices of the National Archives Building. Buck held that the attack was “utterly unjustified.” Nevertheless, McKellar saw Posner as a threat to the United States and suspected that he was involved in plots which would make the United States and the Archives more susceptible to bombing. These alleged plots included the switch to cardboard records boxes from steel ones.

Letter from Solon Buck to Justice Roberts, 2/29/1944. (Records of the National Archives)

Letter from Solon Buck to Justice Roberts, 2/29/1944. (Records of the National Archives)

Buck appeared before the Subcommittee again the next week and was later visited by an investigator of the Civil Service Commission. The suspicions deeply troubled Buck, leading him to resign from the Subcommittee on Archives and Libraries of the American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in Europe. Posner also resigned from his recently appointed position as secretary to the Commission’s Committee on Books and Manuscripts, pending a thorough investigation of his “activities and loyalty.”

Throughout this attack and investigation, Solon J. Buck stood by and defended Ernst Posner. The suspicions surrounding Posner and Senator McKellar’s attack on Posner as an “alien from Germany” constituted what was arguably the worst attack by a Senate committee in the history of the National Archives. Despite the personal attack on Buck and Posner, Ernst Posner’s contributions to the National Archives led the government to ultimately recognize the importance of archival institutions both at home and abroad.


Rita Moreno, first Hispanic actress to win the Academy Award

Concluding our celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month, this post comes from Idaliz Marie Ortiz Morales, intern in the National Archives Office of Strategy and Communications.

English Version: 

Rita Moreno has inspired many people throughout her celebrated career as an actress and stage performer. As the first Hispanic actress to win an Academy Award in 1961, she opened the door for hopeful Latinos in the entertainment industry. Moreno is also one of a select group of performers to have won all four of the most prestigious show business awards, two Emmys, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony. This is known as the EGOT.

Her films include some of the most influential and popular musicals Hollywood has ever produced, including West Side Story (1961), Singin’ in the Rain (1952) and The King and I (1954). In 1955 Moreno received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

She has earned two of America’s highest honors the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Bush in 2004 and the National Medal of the Arts from President Obama in 2009 for her wide-ranging body of work and success in the entertainment industry.

President George W. Bush with Medal of Freedom recipient Rita Moreno.  (National Archives Identifier: 7431430)

President George W. Bush with Medal of Freedom recipient Rita Moreno.
(National Archives Identifier: 7431430)

Born in Humacao, Puerto Rico, she moved with her mother to New York when she was six years old. At age 13 she made her Broadway debut in the play Skydrift. She was discovered by an MGM talent scout when she was 17 years old and was signed for a multi-year movie contract by Louis B. Mayer.

When she won the role of Anita in West Side Story, Moreno was thrilled to play a Puerto Rican heroine. It was only after she won the Academy Award for this role that she was finally recognized as a major talent in Hollywood.

Unfortunately, the Oscar didn’t open the door for more diverse roles and she was constantly struggling with ethnic typecasting. She then decided to take a seven-year break from Hollywood until she could find less stereotypical roles to play. She eventually returned to performing and has since starred on television programs such as, “The Love Boat” and the popular HBO series “OZ.”

At 82 years old she is still busy performing. Moreno’s latest roles have included the sitcom Happily Divorced and her auto-biographical one-woman show at the Berkeley Rep (theater) in Berkeley, California, Rita Moreno: Life Without Makeup. She has also lent her voice for the character of Mimi for the film Rio 2 in 2014. She was presented with the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award in January 18, 2014.

En español:

Concluyendo nuestra celebración en el Mes Nacional de la Herencia Hispana, este artículo proviene de la interna Idaliz Marie Ortiz Morales, de la Oficina de Estrategia y Comunicaciones de los Archivos Nacionales.

Rita Moreno ha inspirado a muchas personas a lo largo de su exitosa carrera como actriz y artista de teatro. Como la primera actriz hispana en ganar un Oscar en 1961, Rita abrió la puerta para los latinos en la industria del entretenimiento. Rita Moreno es también, una de un selecto grupo de artistas, que han ganado a travez de los años los cuatro premios más prestigiosos del mundo del espectáculo, dos Emmys, un Grammy, un Oscar y un Tony. Esto se conoce como el EGOT.

Entre sus películas se incluyen algunos de los musicales más influyentes y populares que Hollywood ha producido, tales como West Side Story (1961), Singin’ in the Rain (1952) y The King and I (1954). Moreno recibió una estrella en el Hollywood Walk of Fame en 1955.

Por su amplia calidad de trabajo y éxito en la industria del entretenimiento Rita Moreno ha obtenido dos de los honores más altos de los Estados Unidos, la Medalla Presidencial de la Libertad por el presidente Bush en 2004 y la Medalla Nacional de las Artes por el presidente Obama en 2009.

El presidente George W. Bush con la receptora de la Medalla de la Libertad Rita Moreno. Identificador de los Archivos Nacionales: 7431430

El presidente George W. Bush con la receptora de la Medalla de la Libertad Rita Moreno.
Identificador de los Archivos Nacionales: 7431430

Rita nació en Humacao, Puerto Rico. Se mudó con su madre a Nueva York cuando tenía seis años de edad. A los 13 años hizo su debut en Broadway en la obra Skydrift. Fue descubierta por un cazatalentos de MGM cuando tenía 17 años de edad y firmó un contrato de varios años para distintas películas por Louis B. Mayer.

Cuando ganó el papel de Anita en West Side Story, Moreno estaba muy emocionada con la oportunidad de jugar una heroína puertorriqueña. Fue sólo después de que ella ganó el Oscar por este papel que finalmente fue reconocida como un gran talento en Hollywood.

Desafortunadamente, el Oscar no le abrió a Rita la puerta para más diversos papeles y estuvo constantemente luchando con el “typecasting” étnico de Hollywood. Decidió entonces hacer una pausa de siete años hasta que pudiera encontrar papeles menos estereotipados para jugar. Con el tiempo volvió a la actuación y desde entonces ha protagonizado varios programas de televisión tales como, The Love Boat y la popular serie de HBO OZ.

A los 82 años de edad continua actuando. Las más recientes roles de Moreno han incluido la comedia Happily Divorced y su monólogo autobiográfico en el teatro Berkeley Rep en Berkeley, California, Rita Moreno: la Vida sin maquillaje. También ha prestado su voz para el personaje de Mimi para la película Rio 2 en 2014. Recibió el Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award el 18 de enero de 2014.