The dreaded “miscellaneous”

As I near the end of my initial sort through the Morton negatives, I am forced to confront that evil category: “miscellaneous.” Most archivists hate that word, and try to avoid using it in their descriptions, because it is so very useless in terms of letting people know what a collection or grouping actually contains. But the fact is, some images just don’t fit into any of the subject categories I’ve established. Photos of car accidents . . . unidentified living rooms . . . a piece of needlework . . . half a sandwich and a cup of soup. How to classify these? I’ll have to figure that out at some point, but for now they’re resting under the nasty M-word.

Also under the M-word (for now) are images I’m unable to identify well enough to know whether they might fit into one of my existing categories. The intriguing image below is one such case. It dates probably from the early 1950s, is in an envelope labelled “Atom Artillery Bn.,” and shows men in uniform boarding a large ship. I’m guessing it has something to do with atomic artillery (first tested in 1953), but what does “Bn.” stand for? (Battalion, perhaps)? Where was it taken? Does anyone know the 1,000 words behind this one?

“Atom Artillery Bn.,” late 1940s-early 1950s

5 thoughts on “The dreaded “miscellaneous”

  1. Elizabeth: While I don’t have any definitive information about this particular photograph, I can share some information about Hugh Morton military photographs.

    As I’m sure you and Stephen know, on April 23, 1942, the U.S. Navy Pre-Flight School at Chapel Hill was commissioned. Hugh Morton photographed that ceremony as well as a series of “a day in the life of” photographs for a publication called “U.S. Navy Pre-Flight School, Chapel Hill, NC.” The 36-page booklet was published in 1943. A second edition was published a year or so later. While there is no mention of the “atom artillery bn,” there could be a relationship. There is a copy of the Pre-Flight School Yearbook, called “The Catapult,” in the Alumni Library of the Hill Alumni Center. That book was published in October of 1945. A second yearbook was published in March of 1946.

    This is a long shot, but there could be a relationship.

    If I might add a personal note. Stephen, I really did enjoy your CCLL presentation last Friday, and it was a genuine pleasure meeting you. I hope you will return with an update as you and Elizabeth progress through the Morton collection.

  2. Jack, thanks for alerting me to the 1943 booklet! I took a look at it, and I don’t recall seeing any of the “day in the life” shots among the Morton negatives. I’m wondering if those were kept by the publisher (Merin-Baliban Studios of Philadelphia).

  3. Elizabeth: I think you are correct…the publisher may very well have the “day in the life of” NC Pre-Flight Morton negatives. I tried to find some information about Merin-Baliban Studios, but all I have been able to locate so far is a list of the many military yearbooks and the like that they published during World War II.

    One other thought came to mind. Many of Hugh Morton’s photographs have been added to the North Carolina Collection over the years, and since the Pre-Flight School was such an important part of UNC during World War II, could the “day in the life of” photos and/or negatives already be a part of the collection?

    I also asked my dear friend, Wilbur Jones, to take a look at the “Atom Artillery Bn” photograph and give me his thoughts.

    (WILBUR D. JONES, JR., is a nationally known author and military historian in Wilmington,
    NC. A 1955 University of North Carolina history graduate, retired navy captain, and former assistant and advance representative to President Ford, he served the Department of Defense for nearly 41 years, the last 12 as a professor and associate dean at the Defense Acquisition University. He writes,lectures, and consults on history and national defense, and leads tours of WWII battlefields and sites).

    http://www.wilburjones.com/index_05.php

    I’ve had the honor of doing some research for Wilbur during the past 18 months, on his most recent book which should be out in late 2009.

    Here’s what he said about the “Atom Artillery Bn” photo:

    “Photo appears to be early – mid 1950’s army boarding transport carrying civilians (dependents?), probably to Europe. Doubt it was at Wilmington because logic says no army units would board here, only maybe Bragg units, doubtful. Atom Artillery Bn. might refer to nuclear weapons artillery units being shipped to Germany/France. At the time the US had such a launch capability for tactical nukes, right prior to missile launched tact nukes”

    Wilbur also added the following web site, and if you check designation W-9, you’ll see information about atomic artillery.

    website = List of All U.S. Nuclear Weapons

    http://nuclearweaponarchive.org/Usa/Weapons/Allbombs.html

  4. I think Morton made this photograph on 24 September 1953. I serendipitously came across this image and did some quick digging. Here’s a United Press brief news item found in the :

    Atomic Artillery Unit To Sail for NATO Duty
    WILMINGTON, N.C. (UP) An atomic artillery unit will sail from this port Thursday to become the first such U.S. force to join the NATO army in Europe, according to an informed source here. This source named the unit as the 868th Field Artillery Battalion which has been training with atomic artillery weapons but without firing atomic shells in maneuvers at Fort Bragg, N.C.

    Both Wilmington newspapers carried stories, but the byline for their accompanying photographs were “Staff Photos.” The Daily Tar Heel printed a captioned photograph with a “NEA Telephoto” credit in the 30 September issue, and I’ve seen one other newspaper online with the same photograph credited to “UP Telephoto.”

    I will write up a blog post when time permits.

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