Friday, March 7, 2014

Naming the Liberty Ships - Part Three

Note: This is part of a series of posts on odd bits of history as memorialized in the names of World War II Liberty Ships.  I am organizing them, after a fashion, around proposed artwork for imaginary "ships' insignia"  For a more complete explanation and background: Part One


An odd starting point for this group of Liberty Ships.  The U.S.S. Avery Island was laid down October 31, 1944 and was completed on December 13th.  Originally a merchant ship she had the designation S.S. until she was taken over by the U.S. Navy in July of 1945.  Although her wartime service was uneventful the Avery Island did see a bit of "heat" post war when she was outfitted with instruments to help monitor the atomic bomb test at Bikini Atoll (whence the name for the "hot" style of swim wear of course originates!).

There appear to be a number of Liberty Ships named after islands for no discernible reasons....these include uninhabited rocks and places in the far east, neither of which would be at all likely to sponsor successful War Bond drives.  But in this case it would have been a bit more plausible for that to have happened.

Avery Island is a salt dome in coastal Louisiana.  It has been settled since the 1830s and has always had at least a small population.  It became a place of some importance during the Civil War, as salt was a necessary military supply for the Confederacy.  Considerable amounts were shipped out even after a Union naval expedition captured New Orleans.  Eventually Federal troops raided the place and shut down the clandestine trade.  Tabasco sauce was launched in 1870.


The S.S. Gideon Welles was laid down July 19, 1942 and launched 77 days later.  The earlier Liberty ships tended to have longer build times.  The average build time eventually dropped to 42 days, and once one was built in under five days as a publicity stunt.

Gideon Welles was Secretary of the Navy in the Lincoln administration.  So indirectly he was responsible for raiding Avery Island I suppose.  He had the usual credentials and whiskers for a politician of that era, but I include him and the above photo because of a charming poem I recall from my childhood.  It was written by a harsh critic of Welles and published in a partisan newspaper:

"Retire oh Gideon to an Onion Farm, 
or some other place you can do no harm.
Ply any trade that's innocent and slow
Go wherever you fancy, only Go."

Political invective was a bit more genteel back then, but certainly still got the point across.

And to be even handed the considerably less successful Confederate Secretary of Navy was remembered by the S.S. Stephen Mallory.


While onn the subject of pungent smells, consider the following:

George Gershwin got his own Liberty ship.  Oh, and the reference to pungent smells did not allude to his cigar, although that looks pretty nasty.

George Gershwin's contributions to American music are too numerous to address in passing.  But by 1937 his productivity had begun to decline as he was stricken by the odd combination of severe headaches and olfactory hallucinations.  He kept smelling burning rubber.  Alas, this is a sneaky but not unheard of presentation for a brain tumor, and the state of the neurosurgical art being primitive back then he died following an attempted resection on July 11, 1937.

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