NC's "Immortal Showboat"

USS North Carolina, Wilmington, NC, early 1960sIn honor of the recently-opened exhibit, Showboat”: The USS North Carolina (BB 55), at the North Carolina Museum of History, and since I just happened to be “passing” through this particular batch of negatives, I decided to highlight a few of my favorite Morton images related to the USS North Carolina.
Morton was enlisted in 1960 by his good friend and then-governor Luther Hodges to spearhead the ultimately successful campaign to preserve the battleship as a memorial to World War II veterans. The article “Saving Our Ship” on the USS North Carolina Memorial Web site provides background on the campaign and Morton’s leadership, noting in particular that “Morton’s drive to control the administrative costs of undertaking such a large campaign led to savings such as using his young son on campaign posters rather than paying for a model.” The image below must be a mock-up of one of those posters.  [The boy in the image below is not one of Morton’s sons, but there are images in the collection showing Jim Morton holding a model of the USS NC that were possibly used on campaign posters.]
Mock-up of ad for “Save our Ship” Campaign for the USS NC, probably 1960
This last image depicts John Weaver working on two busts for the USS NC Museum (likenesses of FDR, Chester Nimitz, MacArthur, and Truman were made—not sure which two these are). [Correction: This is not John Weaver, but a Linville artist named Coffey, and these heads were not created for the USS NC. Just goes to show that an archivist can’t always trust the contextual information that comes with a document! Thanks to Julia Morton for clarifying.]
John Weaver carving busts for the USS NC Museum, early 1960s
One last note: as I was just proofreading the contents of this post, I happened to notice today’s date: December 6. Tomorrow is the 66th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Crazy coincidence strikes again on “A View to Hugh!”

19 thoughts on “NC's "Immortal Showboat"”

  1. The young boy in the poster in this photo is not one of Hugh’s children. We do not remember who he was.
    The sculptor in the third photo is Mr. (John West?) Coffey of Linville. Hugh was so impressed with Mr. Coffey because he worked in concrete.
    These sculptures were not created for the Battleship. He did these in the late 1940s, long before the idea of bring the Battleship back to NC was ever considered. You can find an article about these in a back issue of Our State magazine.
    Mr. Coffey was considered a very fine primative artist. The Art Editor of Life Magazine saw his work on a visit to Linville and purchased one of his cats. The cat flew back to NYC on her lap.

  2. Actually, we’ve established that this artist’s name is Ed Coffey. I found a caption for a photo similar to the one above that reads as follows: “Ed Coffey of Linville, like most mountain folks, is handy with his hands. He’s a tomb-stone maker and stone mason, makes statues of concrete in his spare time. The above busts of you know who complete his heroes, he’ll work on the others now, John L. Lewis and Uncle Joe Stalin heading the list.”

  3. Often when folks hear the name Hugh Morton, they immediately think of the Battleship North Carolina, and how Hugh and his Battleship Commission brought “The Showboat” to her final resting place in Wilmington. There is an interesting story in this morning’s (11/10/08) “Star News” that relates to the Wilmington landmark. Here is a link:
    Needless to say, The USS North Carolina was a favorite photo subject of Hugh’s. Here are just a few sources of his Battleship pictures:
    “USS North Carolina: The Showboat” by Dick Gorrell and Bruce Roberts (1961) Pages 13 and 15
    “The State” magazine July 1, 1968 Front Cover
    “North Carolina: Reflections of 400 Years” (1984) Page 163
    “Making A Difference in North Carolina” by Hugh M. Morton & Edward L. Rankin, Jr. (1988) Pages 106-117 Front Cover Dust Jacket
    “Sixty Years With A Camera” by Hugh M. Morton (1996) Pages 16-18
    “Hugh Morton’s North Carolina” (2003) Pages 84-86
    “Hugh Morton: North Carolina Photographer” (2006) Page 119
    The USS North Carolina was dedicated on April 29, 1962. At that dedication ceremony, Admiral Arleigh A. Burke, Chief of Naval Operations said:
    “As she lies quietly here at Wilmington she is just as gallant as she was in the days when her big guns were firing.”

  4. There is an article in the December issue of “Our State” magazine titled “Saving The Battleship,” by Brandon Sneed. Can be found on pages 82-92. Great read.

  5. I think it’s very important to save important parts of history. It’s almost the 69th anniversary of Pearl Harbour in a few weeks and children of today need to know what sacrifices were made for them. History only becomes interesting to children when they can see it for themselves instead of reading from a text book.

  6. A photograph by Morton of Ed Coffey and the completed busts of generals MacArthur and Eisenhower appears on page 5 of the August 10th, 1946 issue of THE STATE magazine. The caption says, “It took him all “winter, ‘piddling around,’ to do it.” Coffey’s method was to first make figures out of modeling clay, which he then used “to make plaster-cast forms, then poured wet concrete into the forms, touched up the results with a pocket-knife and painted them natural colors.”

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