By Lisa Crunk, Lead Photo Archivist, Naval History and Heritage Command
For a photographic archivist like me, a huge pile of donated scrapbooks, photo albums and donated photographs can be hard work. Sometimes images are without description, sometimes the donor is not on record and sometimes the photos are fragile. Magnetic pages, glue and metal fasteners – like paperclips or staples – often found in scrapbooks and photo albums can cause the images to deteriorate. But many of the photos are real gems, worth every effort my coworkers and I take to archive them to make them available for future generations.
In the process of preparing materials for transfer to new storage systems at Naval History and Heritage Command’s Photo Archive, my coworkers, Dave Colamaria, Jonathan Roscoe and I, are tackling the massive backlog of riches from the past, our donated imagery. Earlier this year, Feb. 5, Dave and John uncovered a veritable diamond amongst the gems when the uncovered a donation that has never been made available to the public.
They showed me two, well-aged, wooden boxes. Worn scratches on the surface of the boxes revealed an amazing inscription:
US Naval Military Activities
In and Around Manila
Spanish – American War – 1898
and Philippine Insurrection
To say we were excited might be an understatement. Inside, were 325 tissue-paper wrapped slides made entirely of glass. Based on the delicate paper wrapping that still encased the majority of slides, it appears most had not been viewed in decades.
Delving into this wonderful collection, we found glass slides covering the Spanish-American War and the Philippine Insurrection. One of the best things about this find is nearly all of the slides have an included description. To us, this suggests they were used as a presentation or lantern show. Though most are black and white, some have been hand tinted in color. Also, of great interest to the Navy during the bi-centennial of the War of 1812, the collection includes a few slides depicting paintings from the centennial commemoration of the war. My coworkers and I agree, given the presence of the War of 1812 slides, as well as images of the battleship Maine being excavated (1911-1912), that the slides were created around 1912.
From the inscription, these glass slides appear to have originally belonged to and in some cases may have been photographed by Douglas White, a war correspondent at one time employed by the San Francisco Examiner. Since February, more information has been revealed through research. We found that the slides were originally donated to the San Francisco Museum of Science and Industry by Mrs. Charles Dutreaux, wife of Lt. C.J. Dutreaux, whose image appears in one of the slides. Correspondence from the museum to Commodore Dudley W. Knox, suggests that the collection was sent to the Naval Historical Foundation, Jan. 3, 1948. The Naval Historical Foundation maintained the collection until 2008, when we received it
These slides are a window into a time more than a century ago. They show many scenes from the times, including the raising of USS Olympia’s flag over Manila, USS Charleston convoying the first U.S. troops and ships officers and crew, the execution wall at Cavite, Philippines, capture of Manila, Spanish prisoners, troops landing at Camp Dewy, naval camps and Signal Corps, as just a sampling.
What makes this so significant a find for us at NHHC? The Navy played a central role in nearly every aspect of the Spanish-American war, from logistics to diplomacy. Historical research on the subject notes that American planners and leaders anticipated that the fight with Spain would be primarily a naval war. The U.S. Navy’s victories at Manila Bay and Santiago de Cuba were pivotal events that turned the course of the war and joint Army-Navy operations at Santiago, Puerto Rico, and Manila sealed the success won by the U.S. Navy’s command of the seas.
Having found them, our next step is to preserve them for the future. That starts with digitization, scanning each slide for eventual exhibition on the Naval History and Heritage Command’s website. After that we need to make sure the slides are in sleeves that will prevent deterioration and then archive them so they will never be lost again.
We may never know which of these slides is truly unique. We have located copies of several of the images within various archival collections throughout the country. Despite this, were still excited and proud to be the repository of such a historically significant collection.