Meet the Crew

By Diane Cripps, Curator of History, Portsmouth Museums, Portsmouth, Virginia

Published March 1, 2020

The Lightship Portsmouth is the only one of the five Portsmouth Museums that would properly be classified as a “Historic House,” meaning it’s a structure preserved in its entirety to serve as a museum that tells its own story, and should evoke a sense of human habitation and activity in its original interior spaces, fitted out with period furnishings. Visitors who are familiar with naval ships, the Coast Guard, or maritime history have an immediate connection to this concept when it comes to a ship. But a lot of folks don’t have these experiences to relate to. Recent upgrades inside the ship will help them make more sense of what it must have been like to be a lightship sailor on this 104-year-old floating lighthouse.

Thanks to recent research by assistant curator Ross Patterson, we know a whole lot more about the ship’s crew in the middle of the 1950s, when the ship was serving on Stone Horse Shoal station off Massachusetts. Visitors can now view more images of the crew, connect individuals to their respective quarters, and understand more about the men who stood watch aboard LV101.

Upon entering the ship, visitors will see an introductory label that sets the “date” for their visit: March 4, 1955. This date comes from a group photograph of the crew, taken when LV-101 was stationed at Stone Horse Shoal off the coast of Massachusetts late in its 1916 to 1964 commission.

While the functions of a lightship are often unfamiliar to visitors, the domestic areas of the ship are fairly self-explanatory. Like the enlisted crew’s quarters, which are visible upon entering the ship. The bunks make it easy to understand that this is a place for the crew to sleep. Now, however, we actually have a “crew member” or two occupying those bunks. Since there were round-the-clock watches on a lightship, someone would almost always be trying to catch some shuteye while the rest of the crew worked.
Also in the quarters, a reproduction 1955 Coca-Cola calendar smiles back at you to remind you of the date.

Just outside the crew’s quarters, visitors can now see what the 1955 enlisted crew members looked like, where they hailed from, and glance at a bit of information to help bring the crew to life.

In the Senior Enlisted Quarters in the stern area of the main deck, there are also labels that show which officer occupied which space. Here, you can “meet” the Officer in Charge, Boatswain’s Mate Master Chief Petty Officer Ralph H. Joline. In the distance, on BMC Joline’s desk, there is now even a picture of his wife, which Ross discovered through archival research.
There another new crew member for visitors to discover, only this one isn’t napping. He’s hard at work in one of the storage areas below decks, storing a crate full of supplies.
But when visitors see him, he will look like this, below the hatch grate in the aft passageway.
We hope this will bring attention to some of the areas of the ship that often go overlooked by visitors, but were vital parts of the vessel’s daily functions. The mannequin gives a sense of scale and lets people imagine the sailors hard at work all over the ship. More “crew members” are now on duty in the Engine Room and Ship’s Office, and we’re hoping to add more to other visible yet inaccessible parts of the ship, like Boatswain’s Storage and the Fiddly.
Additionally, there are now convex mirrors in a couple of locations aboard the ship, so that people can look down the ladder into the Engine Room and see “around the corner” to the engine’s location, or see into the Radio Room up in the Superstructure. We don’t allow visitors to climb the steep sets of stairs, but now they can satisfy a bit of their curiosity about these areas.

Those who come aboard eager to learn about the ship’s technical specifications will also find information about the Engine Room and Superstructure.

There has always been a lot to learn about the Lightship. We’re hopeful these new improvements will make a bit more of that information accessible to everyone who visits. Welcome aboard!

Diane L. Cripps
Curator of History, Portsmouth Museums
Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum, Lightship Portsmouth Museum,
Portsmouth Colored Community Library Museum
2 High St., Portsmouth, VA 23704