As the country transitions from one presidential administration to another, the Brooklyn Navy Yard is an instructive historical example, as it was founded amidst the rancorous transition from President John Adams to Thomas Jefferson. Over the next 150 years, more than a dozen sitting US presidents would visit the Yard, and on this Presidents Day virtual program, we will examine many of these presidential visits and their historical and political context. From ship launches to campaign speeches to memorial services, presidents have used the Yard as a backdrop for a variety of official duties. And since the establishment of the Navy Department in 1798, the Navy Yards were some of the largest employers of civilians in the federal government, making them important symbols of federal power, and centers of political patronage.>> Continue reading
They say a Navy ship has three birthdays: its keel-laying, its launching, and its commissioning. The World War II-era battleship USS Missouri has one more, its recommission in 1986 as part of President Reagan’s 600-ship Navy. But one person was witness to its first two birthdays, Brooklyn Navy Yard shipfitter Clayton Colefield, who sat for an oral history in 2009 with Sady Sullivan of the Brooklyn Historical Society.>> Continue reading
Three years ago, in celebration of Presidents Day, we wrote about the handful of times that sitting US presidents had paid visits to the Brooklyn Navy Yard. At that time, we only mentioned two such visits – by William Howard Taft, once as president-elect on November 13, 1908, and as soon-to-be-ousted-president on October 30, 1912, and by Woodrow Wilson, on May 11, 1914. But we have since done considerably more historical digging, and we would like to share a few more notable presidential visits.>> Continue reading
Earlier this month, we hosted a group of retirees from central New Jersey on a tour of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. On nearly every tour we lead, we have visitors who have personal connections to the Yard – they’ve worked or served there, or had family members who did – but this tour was special for the sheer number and depth of people’s connections to the site.
One woman said she used to babysit the children of naval officers at the homes along Admirals Row; another went on a date at the old Officers Club. Two women had fathers who worked at the Yard, and in their spare time (and with a little spare metal), they fashioned jewelry for their daughters in the Yard’s workshops, which they still have – one was even wearing it on the tour!
The Brooklyn Navy Yard has been a place of refuge for much of its history. During its 165-year run as a naval shipyard, it did not just send ships down the ways and off to war; it took in ships in the most desperate, hopeless shape, and put them back into fighting order. During World War II, more than 5,000 vessels were steamed, limped, towed, and dragged into the safe waters of Wallabout Bay to be tended to by the 72,000 men and women of the yard.
Of all the wounded ships to steam up the East River, none were more so than the aircraft carrier USS Franklin.