Voices of World War II: Brooklyn Navy Yard Oral Histories | Free Virtual Program | Saturday, August 15, 12:30pm

To commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, we are listening to the voices of men and women who lived through the war in Brooklyn. We will share a selection of the 100+ oral histories that make up the collection in the Brooklyn Navy Yard Archives to bring the city at war to life. Learn what it was like to be one of the first female shipworkers in 1942, or to face discrimination as a Black sailor in the segregated Navy, or to witness battered ships and sailors limp into the Yard from the war zone. Our team will also share our experiences recording oral histories with these remarkable people over the past 12 years.

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“Manhattan Beach”: The Brooklyn Navy Yard of World War II with Jennifer Egan | Virtual Program

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Take a virtual tour of the Brooklyn Navy Yard in World War II with Jennifer Egan, author of the award-winning novel Manhattan Beach, and our own resident historian, Andrew Gustafson. We will highlight many of the sites featured in the novel and delve into the Jennifer’s research process, discuss the materials she used to bring the Yard of the 1940’s to life, and listen to selections of oral histories of real women war workers that inspired many of the characters and incidents in the book. Jennifer will also read excerpts from her book and answer questions about her remarkable work.

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This program is presented with support from Brooklyn Historical Society.

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Clayton Colefield and the Building of USS Missouri

Black and white photo of five naval officers standing on a large metal plate, one of them turning a long handle attached to a riveting machine.

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

From Fulton to Constellation: The Worst Accidents in the History of the Brooklyn Navy Yard

Today marks the 57th anniversary of perhaps the darkest day in the history of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. To commemorate the fire on board the USS Constellation, we are going to look back at some of the most notable and deadliest accidents in the history of the Yard.

Shipbuilding is a dangerous business (even today), and fatal accidents were frequent throughout industry in the nineteenth century. The scale, pace, and nature of the work in the Navy Yard made it particularly risky, as workers and sailors fell victim to hazards like falling from great heights, being struck by heavy loads, violent machinery, drowning, fires, and exploding munitions and equipment. Workplace safety began to improve around the time of World War I, and more concerted campaigns began during World War II, when safety was urged as an imperative of national security.>> Continue reading

The Port Chicago Disaster: Race and the Navy in World War II

This summer marks the 70th anniversary of the tragic events of Port Chicago, California, the worst home front disaster of World War II. 320 people were killed, most of them US Navy sailors, in an explosion at a naval munitions loading station, but it was more than just a tragic accident – the events leading up to and following the explosion exposed the appalling racial discrimination and mistreatment faced by African-American sailors during the war.

Located on central California’s Suisun Bay, Port Chicago was one of the largest and busiest weapons stations in the country, loading explosives onto ships bound for the Pacific Theater. All of the enlisted sailors carrying out these dangerous operations were African-American; all of their commanding officers were white. While many of these men had received training to pursue a naval rating, or a specific skill, they, like most of their black counterparts across the Navy, were employed only for manual labor. And the conditions at the port were incredibly dangerous. Commanders utilized “speed contests” to push the men to load more quickly, and almost none of the men had received specific instructions in ammunition loading or proper safety training.>> Continue reading

From USS Wrangell to Turnstile Tours, “The Saga of Salty Sam” Continues

Last month, we at Turnstile Tours had the pleasure of adding a new member to our team – Salty. She is an Australian Cattle Dog mix (we think), and we adopted her from our nearby shelter, Sean Casey Animal Rescue in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn.

Little is known about her past life (she is about two years old), and she did not respond to the name given to her in the shelter, so we decided to giver her a new name to go with her new home. As is our want, we decided to find a name that would both fit her personality but also have some local historical significance.>> Continue reading

Brooklyn Navy Yard Visitors Share Memories and Mementos

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!>> Continue reading

“The Wind Rises,” Japan Falls

The Academy Awards are tomorrow night, and nominated is a film that has only hit American cinemas in wide release this weekend, Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises, up for Best Animated Feature. I had the opportunity to see the film during its limited release back in November, a three-day run that made it eligible for an Oscar this year, and I saw it again during its official premiere on Friday. While its love story is beautiful, its engineering story is fascinating, it’s the moral and historical drama that unfolds almost in the background that I found most compelling.>> Continue reading

NYC Fleet Week Canceled, but USS Franklin Not Forgotten

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.>> Continue reading

Merchant Marines, Unsung Heroes of World War II

While developing our new tour about the World War II history of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, we encountered a fascinating – and largely untold – history of the oft-forgotten service branch, the Merchant Marines. While the wartime exploits of the Army, Navy, Marines, and Army Air Corps are often celebrated, merchant seamen have received short shrift, both in the history books and in real life.

When we first offered the tour as a sneak preview for veterans and their families in early November, we were privileged to be joined by a veteran of the Merchant Marines who served in the Atlantic theater during the war, a gentleman by the name of Paul Mager. I do not use the word “veteran” lightly – while it may seem an obvious moniker to apply to someone who provided essential wartime service in the middle of a combat zone, that status had been denied to Mr. Mager and his compatriots for decades, so it holds particular meaning for them.>> Continue reading