Sea History Today 6: Conversations with our Readers – 10 January 2019

Dear Editor: The Conversation with our Readers Continues

You never know what you’re going to find in the Letters section of Sea History magazine. Sure, we get letters from alert readers who write in to offer a correction for an error in a previous issue. But the Letters feature tells a much broader story.

In the early days before the internet, we would receive requests for information: letter writers hoped that casting a wide net among the readers of Sea History would improve their chances of finding a lead on a vessel, an ancestor, or another topic of research. Similarly, museums and historical ship societies often wrote in to offer updates on their work, to announce new programs, or put out calls for assistance. The Vancouver Maritime Museum, the American Friends of the Christian Radich, the Philadelphia Maritime Museum (now the Independence Seaport Museum), the Friends of Nobska, and the Galveston Historical Foundation (and its 1877 barque Elissa, featured in the image above) are just some of the organizations to take advantage of our Letters feature to reach out to the wider community.

As the internet and social media have given people access to bountiful research resources and multiple platforms to reach out to the public, we have, of course, seen the character of Sea History Letters change over the years. There are fewer research inquiries to our readers, and fewer direct questions to NMHS leadership; those topics tend to be addressed in email to our staff. But readers still reach out to us. Sometimes a story about the US Navy or a merchant ship will inspire a reader to write to us with a memory, a photograph, or an anecdote handed down from a parent or grandparent. We’re honored when our readers choose to share their experience of our maritime history in this way.

Griffiths HeadstoneAnd the Letters section can still be a forum for action. In Sea History 145 (Winter 2013–14), noted naval architect and NMHS advisor Melbourne Smith (1930–2018) alerted our readership to the fact that James Willis Griffiths rested in an unmarked grave in a cemetery in Queens, New York, a fact that Capt. Smith had learned from an article in the New York Post. The proposal to erect a marker on the grave of the designer whose creations included Rainbow and Sea Witch took hold, and NMHS Chairman Ronald Oswald and Capt. Matthew Carmel spearheaded a fundraising campaign for the project. The marker, designed by Capt. Smith, was unveiled in the summer of 2016.

We hope that you don’t leaf past the Letters section when you pick up the next issue of Sea History. And we hope that some of you will write in and share your photos, stories, and personal reactions to the articles in Sea History!


Sea History Today is written by Shelley Reid, NMHS senior staff writer.  Past issues can be read online by clicking here.