News of the Brooklyn Navy Yard

The NYT article below was sent by Mike Rhode, archivist at the Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery Historical Office. A link to the article in the Times follows the article.

As Mike pointed out, the last few paragraphs are of particular interest to us in the history of maritime medicine community. It hints of a sad commentary.

At Long Last, a Glimpse of a Shipbuilding Past
The site of the Brooklyn Navy Yard has hosted Lenape Indians and
Riveting Rosies, Hollywood royalty and lecherous seafarers, Brooklynites
and Breuckelenites.

On Thursday, in the long shadow of a rusted, deserted machine shop on
the Navy Yard's 300-acre grounds, a four-story center, dedicated to the
site's forebears and present occupants, will celebrate its opening with
an event for invited guests. It will open to the public the next day -
Veterans Day.

The museum, called the Brooklyn Navy Yard Center at Building 92 and
built with more than $25 million in public money, has been billed as a
bridge between the once heavily fortified naval hub and the surrounding
neighborhoods that have seen generations pass without a glimpse behind
the gates.

"People have been here their whole lives and never been inside the navy
yards," said Andrew H. Kimball, the president and chief executive of the
Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation. "It's just a cool story."

From 1801 to 1966, the yard functioned as one of the Navy's flagship
shipbuilding facilities. The new center's layout highlights this
history, as well as the vessels the yard produced.

An anchor from the amphibious assault ship Austin, launched from
Brooklyn in 1964, sits on the ground floor, with its chain extending to
the ceiling and its weight chiseled into its steel: 22,500 pounds.
Benches from the battleship North Carolina line the second level near a
detailed model of the battleship Maine, whose explosion in Havana Harbor
in 1898 hastened a war with Spain. And in the World War II section,
visitors can inspect a mangled pipe from the battleship Arizona, a ship
dedicated on March 16, 1914, by the assistant secretary of the Navy,
Franklin D. Roosevelt. The piece was recovered from Pearl Harbor, where
the ship was sunk on Dec. 7, 1941. Most of the wreckage still lies at
the bottom of the Hawaiian waters.

Many of the center's tokens, though, have little to do with building
ships. At the front of the timeline, a copy of a 1637 deed of sale for
the land, from the Lenape Indians to the Dutch, adorns the wall.
Upstairs, World War II-era warnings about sexually transmitted diseases
are emblazoned on gurneys. A few feet away in the gallery, a stone
liquor jug with a broken handle, the detritus of a 19th-century evening
in Vinegar Hill, Brooklyn, stands inside a clear case.

"It was the Barbary Coast of New York," Daniella Romano, the curator of
the center, said of the streets outside the yard. "Brothels, gambling
houses and brawling."

More modern touches include video interviews with laborers from the
yard, like the women who worked industrial jobs during World War II in
the tradition of Rosie the Riveter, speaking of their attempts to lobby
bosses for the same $1.14 hourly wage that men received. "Eventually,"
one woman said, as images of the factory cycled across the screen, "we
got the $1.14."

One gallery is dedicated to the present occupants of the yard - artists
and electronics distributors, a medical laboratory and a sugar
manufacturer. A computer-guided military parachute, designed by a yard
tenant, is among the items on display.

Then there is the intersection of past and present: an animatronic
pigeon, taken from the movie set of "The Producers" - which was shot at
Steiner Studios, inside the yard - and displayed beside an information
box on homing pigeons, which were used around the turn of the 20th
century as a means of communication between ships.

Robert Hammond, 85, also embodies that intersection. During World War
II, as one of the first black nurses at the site's naval hospital, Mr.
Hammond was initially banished to work in a kitchen because a supervisor
did not want to integrate the nursing corps. Some officers, he said,
were concerned that he might menace the white female members of the
nursing staff.

With the center's opening, Mr. Hammond said he finally had a reason to
return to the place he left behind in 1945, after one year of service.

"I have never been back to that yard," Mr. Hammond said as he prepared
to travel from his home in Long Beach, Calif. "But I've got the
adrenaline going in my old bones."

©2011 Thomas L Snyder

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