The Unknown Skills of a Curator

Dozer Mannequin

WWII mannequin, Elmer,  working the dozer in the WWII Pacific Roads exhibit (U.S. Navy Seabee Museum)

When you hear the title museum curator, many thoughts may come to mind of the duties and qualities possessed by these museum professionals; preserves and interprets history, handles donations, designs exhibits, and lives a life similar to Indiana Jones or Lara Croft.  Although most of these are true (unfortunately not so much the life of Indiana Jones), did you know that many curators in small to medium sized museums install their own exhibits with the help of other staff members? We do not sit behind a desk all day. We can be found behind the scenes in our storage facilities or on the exhibit floor cleaning objects, mounting label copy, measuring pathways for accessibility, choosing colors, moving cases, and installing objects up until the moment new exhibits open and thereafter! Our work never ceases.

One of the many unknown skills museum curators possess is the ability to work with museum mannequins. This may not sound challenging, but the length of time it takes to undress mannequins, clean historical clothing, redress new mannequins, and pose them is daunting. Some of the tasks include; attaching their arms and legs, dressing the mannequins, stuffing their shirts to give them muscles and definition, and even giving a few haircuts! The hardest part of working with mannequins is posing them to become a part of the exhibit. The process of making a mannequin look natural in their pose is time consuming. Although some mannequins are considered flexible, it usually takes two to three staff members or volunteers to pose a mannequin into a position and then it takes a lot of small movements and different angles to make them look natural in their pose. Other mannequins which are meant to stand must be mounted on platforms with belts around their waists and then attached to the wall behind them so they do not fall over and hurt other artifacts or museum visitors.  

Working with mannequins is fun and entertaining, but also a lot of hard work. Who would have thought I would need to know how to tie a necktie or give haircuts as a curator? Unfortunately, these are not skills usually taught in a master’s program for museum studies,  but these are all great skills I am happy to have! So the next time you visit the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum and notice the posed mannequins around the museum, you now know how much time, effort, and care goes into creating a museum exhibit for our patrons to enjoy.

Archivist’s Attic: Conquering the Cliffs of Despair with the Doodlebug in WWII

What do you get when you combine sugar mill parts, a tactical nightmare and Seabee ingenuity?

You get the Doodlebug!

Now don’t be scared the doodlebug is not an actual bug, lay down the pesticides.

The Doodlebug was one of the “secret weapons” attributed to helping the Seabees overcome the supposed impassable coral cliffs of Tinian during World War II.

Tinian, located in the Mariana Islands near Guam, is an island with two small pinhead beaches guarded by the Japanese during WWII. The rest of the water line was marked by jagged coral cliffs ranging up to 15 feet high. This was not a pleasant picture for the tactical experts on Saipan planning the Tinian invasion. Senior leadership decided that in order to gain control of the island, the cliffs would have to be scaled. The problem of how to overcome this natural obstacle was given to Capt. Paul Halloran, commander of the Seabees.

Halloran set about designing and implementing a Land Vehicle, Tracked (LVT) using surplus materials from a Japanese sugar mill on the island, naming it the Doodlebug. A mere 54 hours elapsed between original conception and the first test!

Capt. Paul Halloran's Doodlebug concept.

Capt. Paul Halloran’s Doodlebug concept.

The reason why the Doodlebug worked was that it carried its own ladder with which to scale the cliffs. Four CEC officers and 30 Seabees joined the assault waves on Tinian, scouting the shoreline for points of landings on the cliffs.

Once those points were identified, the Doodlebugs moved in with their tracks gripping the sand to hold them close to the cliff-side. Hooks caught on the cliff-tops and the Doodlebugs were reversed. As they backed out from under the ramps, one end of the ramp would fall into the water to rest on the coral bottoms. Ramp crews leaped out to determine if the ramps were firmly anchored. Once secured, the Doodlebugs rumbled up out of the water and over the cliffs. Seabees remained to maintain the ramps and to assist in building the access roads to them.

The Doodlebug.

The Doodlebug.

As the ramps were put into place and made ready, a flow of amphibious equipment “walked” up the coral barriers behind them. Soon a steady stream of American motorized might was pouring onto the island spreading out and driving the already frustrated Japanese defenders back from their beach positions. This tactical advantage helped the Marines capture the beachhead and soon after, Tinian was under American control.

The Doodlebugs were so successful they were required for only a short period of time. Proving that when faced with cliffs of despair all you need is a little sugar and a little skill, something of which the Seabees on Tinian had plenty!

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150225-N-JU810-001Meet the Archivist: Ingi House
Ingi House is originally from Kansas where she got her B.A. in history from K.U. and M.L.S. from E.S.U. After working for the Dole Institute of Politics she moved to the East Coast.  In D.C. she worked at the National Archives and Records Admiration and then at the Defense Acquisition University where she became a Certified Archivist. Her continued enjoyment of military history lead her to switching coasts and coming to work for the Seabee Museum where she is collection manager for the archives and records manager liaison

On This Day: CBMUs 627, 628, 629 aid military units in crossing Rhine River in 1945

Seabees help Patton and Army cross the Rhine River.

Crossing the Rhine at Boppard, Germany. The boat crews are Seabees wearing Army uniforms at the request of General Patton.

March 11, 1945

Many times in the Second World War the Seabees were called on to do odd jobs of an urgent and extemporaneous nature. These jobs were dictated by the demands of combat operations. When the German lines in France were breached, the United States Army asked the Seabees to operate landing craft, pontoon causeways, and rhino ferries to help breach the Rhine River Barrier.

The Naval Construction Force accepted the challenge on March 11, 1945. The task was assigned to detachments from Construction Battalion Maintenance Units 627, 628, and 629. At ports in Normandy, the Seabees loaded their landing craft and pontoons on mammoth trucks and hauled them across France and the German borderlands to the Rhine River.

The Rhine’s swift and tricky currents had baffled armies since the time of Julius Caesar. However, the Seabees made the crossing with comparative ease. They first crossed the Rhine at Bad Neuenahr near Remagen. On March 22, General George Patton put his armored forces across the Rhine at Oppenheim in a frontal assault which swept away the Germans.

The Seabees participated in the operation. In addition, the Seabees built pontoon ferries similar to their famous Rhino ferries to move tanks across the river in pairs. In all, the Seabees operated more than 300 craft as ferry service which shuttled thousands of troops into the heart of Germany.

Whales over water.

Smaller boats pull sections of a bridge.

Seabees assist Patton cross the Rhine.

A portion of an Army bridge is being pushed into place by LCVP on the Rhine River near the Remagen bridgehead.

View more images on our Flickr page and visit the museum to learn more about the Seabees Atlantic Theater contributions in WWII.

Curator’s Corner: Ship-to-Shore Part 1, The Magic Box

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U.S. Navy Seabee Museum Curator Robyn King stands next to a pontoon, currently on display in the Atlantic Theater presentation in the museum, to demonstrate the size.

Not only as a museum professional, but on a personal level, I am fascinated in any history that has incredible stories and holds interest in which I would like to gain knowledge so I may share it with others. I am a museum curator; I want to show you the amazing history behind the Seabees!

Over the next couple of weeks, we will share the incredible ingenuity and construction behind the concept “Ship-to-Shore.” Moving men, trucks, and all of their equipment off Landing Ship, Tanks (LSTs) onto land in the most efficient way possible – it’s quite ingenious.

This week we’ll discuss the “secret weapon” of the Navy: pontoons. They came to be called “magic boxes” and were nothing short of a miracle. A simple steel box which helped lead the way to victory during WWII.

By 1943 the U.S. was immerged in war on two fronts; the Atlantic and the Pacific. Thousands of men, trucks, armament, and equipment needed a fast and efficient way to offload from ships, most often under enemy fire.

A frequent challenge surrounded the LST’s, which were vessels that could drive their ramps clear to a beach and offload machines with no time lost. Unfortunately, many of the LST’s were getting stuck in the water hundreds of feet before reaching the beaches causing equipment to drive off the ships and become submerged.

Photo 2 Pontoons

Capt John N. Layock demonstrates his miracle box for Admiral Ben Moreell, chief of the Bureau of Yards and Docks. [1943]

The task of finding a solution to this dilemma was given to Capt. John M. Laycock, Naval Civil Engineer Corps, pictured above with Adm. Ben Moreell. He derived the idea of the “magic box.” He had discovered a way to string the 5 x 7 x 5 foot pontoon boxes together and keep them strung rigid and capable of sustaining great weight in a heavy sea. Placing two pontoons side by side and thirty deep, they strung together to create causeways which could attach to the LST’s ramp and offload thousands of men, trucks, and all their equipment to shore within minutes of landing.

Seabees, whose jobs mostly consisted of land construction of airstrips, roads, and oil tanks, were then able to engage in sea operations. The Seabees were responsible for the operation of the pontoons and the transport of men and equipment from LSTs.

Photo 3

A rhino ferry of assembled pontoons married to an LST during the Normandy invasion. [1944]

What is fascinating about the concept behind pontoons is not only could they create causeways, but when fastened together in different capacities, they took numerous other forms! To name a few, pontoons could assemble into self-propelled barges also known as “rhino ferries,” floating dry docks, seaplane ramps, floating cranes, and pontoon bridges.

Photo 4

Crane on top of a pontoon being used to dredge a lagoon. [1943]

New useful combinations were constantly being discovered and each combination contributing to the victory of the war.

The creation of the pontoon was a large contributor to the success of D-Day on the beach of Normandy. Under fire from the Nazis, Seabees assembled sections of the pontoons to become piers which turned into floating roads for the fighting men and armored vehicles leading the beach attack.

Photo 6

Troops coming ashore from the landing craft over the pontoon causeways. Normandy France. [1944]

With the advantage of the Navy’s “secret weapon,” mobile bases could pop up and disassemble all over the pacific. In a war fought on islands from naval bases over long distances, pontoon structures like the floating dry docks could be assembled to assist the nearby raids. Troops could be readily supplied with food, Seabees would have their equipment, damaged planes and boats could be repaired, and oil rigs could be available.

There was no end to the possibilities of these pontoons!

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Desk model of a floating dry dock currently in the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum’s collection.

It is intriguing to discover the Navy’s creativity designing and using these “magic boxes” as well as learning the role they played in the road to victory for WWII. Knowing something as simple as a steel box could be assembled into more intricate designs is one of the many characteristics of the Seabee culture we are passionate about sharing.

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150225-N-JU810-010Meet the Curator: Robyn King
Robyn King earned her Bachelors in History and Anthropology from the State University of New York at Oneonta. She has experience working at State Museums, Historic Sites, the National Parks Service, and most recently the Navy. She’s an expert in collection management, and has worked closely with both natural and cultural collections. Robyn loves all museums and sharing her love of history. When’s she not working, she’s volunteering her time with the National Peace Corps Association, as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from West Africa.

Museum Happenings: Workshop aims to show people how to use museum archival practice in at-home records management

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U.S. Navy Seabee Museum patrons are invited to a free workshop entitled, “Preserving Your Vital Records: Expert Advice from Federal Archivists,” March 14 at 1p.m. in the museum education room.

Museum archivist Ingi House will discuss fundamental principles in records management, storage methodologies and the importance of being able to discern what is meant to be filed and kept.

“Everyone keeps records, such as taxes, birth certificates and titles,” said House, who holds a Master’s degree in library science and previously worked at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. “Sometimes it can be hard to understand what to keep and what to throw away. This workshop will teach you the basics of how to keep and develop a personal records system that can be used in both a household and business setting.”

The archival workshop continues the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum’s year-long scholarship program aimed at offering monthly informative presentations on a variety of subjects surrounding Seabee history and museum operations.

“The museum has such a uniquely diverse collection of documents and artifacts that it is important to share with the community our processes for preserving and archiving them,” said Dr. Lara Godbille, museum director. “Programs such as this workshop allow our professional archivists a chance to step away from Seabee history to educate people on how these processes can be translated into every practice at home with regards to the myriad of records we keep from photographs to legal documents.”

As with our previous public education program, we’ll be filming the presentation and posting it to our YouTube account in the days following the event.

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150225-N-JU810-001Meet the Presenter: Ingi House, Archivist
Ingi House is originally from Kansas where she got her B.A. in history from K.U. and M.L.S. from E.S.U. After working for the Dole Institute of Politics she moved to the East Coast.  In D.C. she worked at the National Archives and Records Admiration and then at the Defense Acquisition University where she became a Certified Archivist. Her continued enjoyment of military history lead her to switching coasts and coming to work for the Seabee Museum where she is collection manager for the archives and records manager liaison.