Postcard collector to relate tales of Great White Fleet at Maritime Museum
In celebration of the 114th anniversary of the Great White Fleet’s visit to Santa Barbara, the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum will present “Dearest Minnie: A Sailor’s Story,” an in-person lecture by Leslie Compton, at 7 p.m. Monday.
There will also be a pre-lecture reception for members only from 6:15 to 6:45 p.m.
This presentation, about Teddy Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet as told through historic postcards, will be held at the museum, 113 Harbor Way, and registration is required. Admission is free for SBMM’s Navigator Circle members, $10 for all other members and $20 for members of the public.
This event is sponsored by Marie L. Morrisroe.
Hoping to enforce treaties and protect overseas holdings, the nation and Congress set out to build American naval power. Beginning in the 1880s with just 90 small and mostly obsolete ships, the navy quickly grew to include new steel fighting vessels and two fleets — the Atlantic and Pacific. By order of President Theodore Roosevelt,16 battleships of the Atlantic Fleet and their various escort vessels sailed around the world between Dec. 16, 1907, and Feb. 22, 1909, visiting numerous countries and arriving in Santa Barbara 114 years ago on April 25, 1908. The hulls of these battleships were painted a stark white, which later earned them the nickname, the Great White Fleet.
According to Ms. Compton, the real reason for the cruise was Teddy Roosevelt’s personality.
“He wanted America to be the most powerful nation in the world. All countries felt the battleship exhibited power. England and the U.S. were battling as to who had the most powerful navy, the largest fleet of ships. No other nation had attempted a world cruise because of the dependency on fuel.
“As in all things, Roosevelt wanted to be the first to attempt a cruise even though Congress disapproved and in the beginning would not allocate the money to do so. Keeping the ships in their original white denoted a peaceful cruise even though each ship was equipped with ‘battleship’ gray paint and armed with ammunition if needed.”
“Dearest Minnie” chronicles not only the cruise itself, but the social and political elements in each port visited by the ships. The story is told through more than 200 picture postcards and letters sent from a sailor on the USS Virginia to his sweetheart, eventually leading to his proposal of marriage.
In Ms. Compton’s presentation, the audience will learn about the history and development of picture postcards, the political climate at the time, the animals aboard the ships and some of the unexpected mishaps, while focusing on their visit to Southern California.
“To begin the cruise, all the ships carried mascots, some goats, some cats and dogs,” Ms. Compton told the News-Press. “At the first coaling station at the beginning of the cruise, new recruits, while on leave, brought back to their ships, parrots and monkeys. In Seattle, each ship was presented with a bear cub of about 9 pounds that had to march in the parade. In Australia, kangaroos and wombats and a kookaburra were given to the USS Georgia. Of course, very few made it through the entire cruise.”
In her presentation, the author will also discuss some of the mishaps that occurred during the cruise but took many years to become public knowledge.
“Roosevelt made sure that if any of the navy personnel mentioned anything negative about the cruise they would be court martialed. There were a few countries that didn’t welcome the Atlantic Fleet. Australia spent lots and lots of money, thinking America was coming to immigrate to their country to fill the quota of people dictated by England,” said Ms. Compton.
“In Melbourne, one of the ships plowed into the British steamer ‘Laura.’ Many people ended up in the hospital having been trampled or fallen off buildings while watching the parades. A grandstand collapsed, a bridge broke from the weight of the crowds and an out-of-control trolley killed two sailors, all in Melbourne.”
Ms. Compton began writing “Dearest Minnie” 20 years ago after discovering a large section of her postcard collection originated from a sailor on the USS Virginia while he was sailing with Teddy Roosevelt’s Atlantic Fleet around the world. She spent years researching, visiting libraries and museums and meeting like minds to create a strong narrative-driven historical fiction, bringing to light a typical sailor’s life during this historical event.
Most of Ms. Compton’s adult life was spent as a professional musician, teaching elementary school, childbirth education and nonfiction writing. She moved to Southern Oregon in 2001, where she enjoys writing, teaching and attending classes in Ashland and Medford through Southern Oregon University.
She recently completed her third book, “The Forgotten Artist,” the inspiring life story of trailblazing female artist Evylena Nunn Miller, and is currently working on a new book, “Windows of Deception.” More information about Leslie and her books is available at www.lesliecompton.com.