Today’s post was written by Alan Walker, archivist in the Textual Records Division at the National Archives at College Park.
For Preservation Month, here is a visual story of how the staff of the National Archives once did important work on a small piece of American naval history.
The Union’s shallow draft navy was one of many innovations pursued during the Civil War. Building upon the success of John Ericsson’s pioneering “Monitor,” scores of these small, ungainly vessels would patrol the rivers and bays of the Confederacy to the bitter end. One of the lighter-duty varieties of the breed, the USS Chimo would serve only briefly. Here she is, on the left:
Commissioned in January 1865, “Chimo” was stationed at Hampton Roads, Virginia and Point Lookout, North Carolina as the war wound down. That June, she was ordered to the Washington Navy Yard, where she was decommissioned. She languished, inactive, until 1874, when she was sold for scrapping.
But her engineering drawings survived, and these came to the National Archives early in its first decade.
Photographer Jackie Martin came to the Archives Building in the spring of 1946 to get images for a future photo story. She photographed many staff members working with the wide variety of records in the building. And she took many shots of the preservation of a damaged engineering drawing of the Chimo’s “Motive Engine.”
Martin later gave the National Archives 8 x 10 prints of some of her photographs; these are now in series 64-NA. It was only recently that we discovered that she had created these images. The mounted prints have brief captions and the acronym “I.N.S.” Knowing that this probably stood for the International News Service, and having previously discovered this letter from Martin to the National Archives thanking its staff for their help in her recent visit,
I wrote to Syracuse University Libraries, where Miss Martin’s personal papers reside, and sent along copies of these photographs. They determined that the original negatives and captions are in the library’s collection.
So here is the full story of the rehabilitation of the USS Chimo’s drawing, in Martin’s own words and photographs:
Transcription: “After fumigation, dust laden records are taken to a specially constructed shelf where they are dusted with a blower attached to a pressure hose. The cabinet is so built that strong in-take fans pull the dust laden air from bottom, top, and sides and carry – . Here the roll of drawings from the – somebody has found somer drawings made in 1863 for the Bureau of Construction and Repair – a sub-division which is no longer a part of the Navy’s overall pattern.” That’s Delmar Robb wielding the wand.”
Upon completion, and with approval from Mr. Kimberly, the drawing was sent back to its custodial unit.
Transcription: “Now cured and in good health, the drawing of “Chimo” monitor type Navy ship is sent to the navy section of the War Records Office of the National Archives. Here, up on the 11th stack of the steel and limestone building the drawing finds a permanent home, with its name on the door. Here in its rejuvenated state, it will live an air-conditioned, dust-proof life which will far exceed that of the gentlemen holding it.Here [64-NA-462] George Perros looks over “Chimo” before filing it in drawer for posterity. Here, like the princess in the time-honored castle, it will await the coming of some bright-eyed young naval architect who will see something there, perhaps, that will send him on the way to a great new design. Who knows? Confucius says “Study the Past.” He was a wise boy, they say.”
Preservation methods have certainly changed a lot since the 1940s; we no longer laminate records, for instance, having long ago realized the irreversible damage the process causes. So how has the drawing held up after 75 years? Here it is, front and back. It received all-around polyester encapsulation in 1984.
Here is a listing of other engineering drawings made of the Chimo, which now reside in the Cartographic Branch of the National Archives facility in College Park, Maryland:
And what became of the photos Miss Martin made? Some of them would be published in Parade magazine in July 1948. Three of the Chimo photos made the cut. And the rest of the photos in the Parade article are also here, in series 64-NA.
Jackie Martin Papers, Syracuse University Libraries: https://library.syr.edu/digital/guides/m/martin_cj.htm#d2e58
The author wishes to thank Brandi Oswald and Amy Edwards of the Cartographic Branch for their assistance in locating and scanning the Chimo drawing.