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It happened this day : August 1, 1939. At the brink of World War II, the battleship U.S.S. New York stopped in Portland Harbor, preparing to patrol the North Atlantic.
On August 1, 1939, the U.S.S. New York anchored in Portland Harbor to give the men on board a week’s liberty, apparently much to the delight of the local girls, or, as an effusive reporter called them, “Portland’s pulchritudinous lassies.” The battleship carried 371 Naval Academy midshipmen, 755 enlisted men, and 57 officers who had been engaged in training exercises at sea.
The photo above was taken near the Grand Trunk Railroad pier, along eastern Commercial Street.
While the midshipmen enjoyed a tea dance at the Portland Country Club, readers of the Evening Express and the Portland Press Herald learned that the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, had a “dark but still hopeful view of the international picture” (see story in the far right column). Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement would end with Hitler’s invasion of Poland, exactly one month after these photographs were taken. Britain and France declared war on Germany on September 3, 1939.
During the war, the U.S.S. New York participated in convoy operations. Once the war had ended, she served as a target during atomic bomb tests in the Marshall Islands in July of 1946, after which she was too radioactive for further service and was decommissioned.
Here are the original camera images which were used in the Portland Evening Express article, showing crew members of the U.S.S. New York plying their musical talents, and baking in the large ship’s kitchen.
Above: Exercising on rowing machines on deck.
Below: Writing letters home, and catching up on reading, aboard the U.S.S. New York
For a hint of what life was like for our midshipmen in 1860, stop by the Portland Room and take a look at the Regulations of the United States Naval Academy (call number 359.0071 U58 1860)