U.S. Naval Hospital Ship Mercy Arrives at the Port of LA

USN Ship Mercy Banner-BN

U.S. Naval Hospital Ship Mercy arrived at the Port of Los Angeles this past weekend, bringing welcome aid to our city in its fight against the coronavirus. It was a moving experience to be there on site as the massive ship appeared and to watch it sailing through the channel to its berth (where it appears above).

With COVID-19 cases rapidly rising in California, and substantial impact projected for LA, our governor requested Mercy’s immediate deployment to help ensure that we have the medical facilities and assets needed here.

Mercy’s purpose is to alleviate the burden on LA-area hospitals as COVID-19 cases accelerate. It will handle other critical care cases, allowing our local hospitals to focus their resources on COVID-19 patients.

Chasing Mercy

My partner tracked Mercy’s schedule, and we planned to get to the port early to see the ship arrive. It was a perfect early spring day — mild, clear and sunny — and getting outdoors for a cheering event was a refreshing break from the fraught, quarantined life. The world seemed almost normal, except for the virtually empty Friday morning streets.

That changed when we arrived at our chosen viewing point. Nowhere to park and a crowd that made social distancing impossible. Not surprising. Fortunately we know the area well, and a short drive away, it was mostly quiet. It was easy to preserve my space, though I did have to shoot photos through a chain-link fence.

Here is a photo of U.S. Coast Guard ship “Halibut,” which led Mercy through the channel.

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Halibut is a Marine Protector Class patrol boat based in Marina del Rey, California. One of its functions is port security. Because it’s based so close to LA, the Halibut is known in the Coast Guard as “the Hollywood cutter” and is often used to represent the Coast Guard in broadcasts, television shows and movies.

Shortly after the Halibut passed by, Mercy sailed into view — a monumental presence 854 feet long and 106 feet wide.

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My partner got the best shot of the ship as it made its way to its berth in an area normally occupied by giant cruise ships.  You can get a sense of its magnitude from his photo below.

USN Ship Mercy sails in II-BN

Usually, we see one or two tugboats pushing or pulling the cruise ships into place. Four tugboats were present to assist the smaller, but less maneuverable Mercy.

As Mercy continued its journey, we headed home — or so we thought — following its path up the channel. Approaching the cruise-ship terminal, traffic was markedly different from what we’d experienced earlier that morning.

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We assumed the “No entrance” sign flashing ahead meant no public ingress to Mercy’s docking area, but fortuitously, the turnoff to the cruise ship terminal was open, and we swung in, found immediate parking, and joined the band of people heading across the street to welcome Mercy.

Celebrating a Historic Moment

Mercy’s berth was just a short walk away. As we approached the ship, we found a lively scene with a variety of people gathered, from members of the community like us, some with school-age children in tow, to professional newspeople and photographers.

Law enforcement and military circulated among the gathering. Everyone was courteous and tried to observe a reasonable amount of social distance.

A row of photographers hugged the fence in front of Mercy, tripods set up, intently focused. Others snapped away on their cell phones, waved at the Mercy team members on deck or just stood back to observe the scene and enjoy the bright, fresh morning.

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In the midst of the action, a newswoman and her cameraman prepared for filming.

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A bicyclist pedaling back and forth waving a large American flag exemplified the mood of quiet celebration I felt as we all converged to witness this moment in history.

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At this distressing time, Mercy’s arrival brings solace, cheer, and the hope that comes from additional readiness in the coronavirus fight. That is a mercy indeed.

Thank you to all who made Mercy’s rapid deployment to Los Angeles happen, from Governor Newsom to the U.S. Navy’s Military Sealift Command and everyone who worked to prepare the ship for this mission. Best wishes to the Mercy medical team and staff as they assume their life-saving duties.

Mercy’s Capabilities

Stationed in San Diego when not on active duty, Mercy has 1,000 hospital beds, 12 operating rooms and nearly 1,300 medical staff and crew on board.

You can see inside the USNS Mercy, view its additional facilities and learn some of its history here.

Local Stories Welcomed

What state or local COVID-19 preparedness/relief actions are happening in your community? Please share your news from around the world as we navigate this difficult time together.

Copyright M. Vincent 2020.

Mercy docking at its berth at the Port of LA and Mercy sailing into the port, copyright Brad Nixon 2020, used with kind permission. Etymology lovers, see his related post here. 

All other photos copyright M. Vincent 2020.

LA’s Landmark Phoenix Bakery, Chinatown

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Famous for its fresh strawberry whipped-cream cake, the Phoenix Bakery has been serving traditional Chinese pastries and an increasing variety of other sweets since 1938. We visited this venerable Los Angeles institution during last year’s Lunar New Year festivities and found that it has a fascinating history.

Earlier, I wrote about the Firecracker 5K/10K Run, an annual Chinatown New Year’s event. In 2019, we were spectators, not runners, cheering the participants, enjoying the entertainment and exploring the area at walking pace. That’s how we finally made it into the bakery.

We spotted the distinctive sign (above), a horde of customers headed for the door, and a crowd already inside. It was obviously the place to be, and we joined the happy throng.

An Abundance of Cakes and Pastries

When we got inside, the small storefront was bustling, with virtually every table taken and a steady line at the counter. The cases were filled with a variety of sweets as diverse as the Los Angeles community — from Chinese almond cookies and winter melon cakes to French croissants, eclairs, tres leches cake and other international selections.

In his pastry painting phase, Wayne Thiebaud would have loved this place. Regrettably, there was too much hustle and bustle for my food photography that day, but I did manage to snap these clever Year of the Pig cupcakes:

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The counter staff were friendly and patiently answered our questions as we investigated the offerings on display. Our mission was to try some traditional Chinese pastries, so we left the other sweets for another time.  The pretty winter melon cake (on the left below) had a pleasing filling and inspired this “home studio” photo composition.

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A Longstanding Family Enterprise

One of Chinatown’s few remaining original shops, the Phoenix Bakery celebrated its 80th anniversary in 2018. Chinese immigrants F.C. Chan and his wife, Wai Hing, founded the business in 1938 when the Central Plaza was just opening.

The Chan’s original idea was to create a community gathering place, producing traditional Chinese pastries and cookies not locally available at the time. Beginning with Chinese almond cookies, winter melon pastries and seasonal moon cakes, they branched into a variety of other, culture-spanning sweets.

In the 1940s, Mr. Chan’s brother joined the business and created its signature fresh strawberry whipped-cream cake.  The cake gained a reputation, and in the 1970s, the company website notes, the bakery became famous throughout LA for making this “not so Chinese” cake.

After more than 80 years, the bakery is still owned and operated by the Chan family, with second and third generation family members in various roles.  It continues to enjoy a loyal following,  from generation to generation,  and to be the traditional “go-to” place for that special cake for birthdays, weddings and other celebrations.

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That Timeless Logo

There’s a story behind the Phoenix Bakery logo and mascot as well. Celebrated Chinese-American artist, Tyrus Wong,  designed the charming, shyly smiling boy with the red-ribboned package behind his back.

A highly skilled and versatile artist Wong had a long and varied career. Perhaps best known for his role as lead production illustrator for Disney’s 1942 film, Bambi, he continued to work in a variety of media well into his 90s.

Happy Lunar New Year to all! May 4718 be a sweet year for you.

Copyright M. Vincent 2020. Photos copyright M. Vincent 2019–2020.

Bakery history sources: https://www.phoenixbakeryinc.com/ and 2018 LAist article by Liz Ohanesian on the 80th anniversary of the business.

The Phoenix Bakery is located at 969 N. Broadway, Los Angeles 90012, adjacent to Chinatown’s Central Plaza.

The White House Easter Egg Roll: 141 Years of Tradition

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Greetings, and Happy Easter weekend. However you spend the holiday, I hope you’ll have as much fun as I did creating the whimsical photos in this post: “Rabbits ride the teacups” (above) and the minimalist egg series you’ll find below.

Rabbits, the Easter Bunny and colorful decorated eggs are an Easter tradition worldwide, with many variations. Here in the United States, there is even an annual Easter egg roll on the White House Lawn, hosted by the president and first lady.

The event, traditionally held on Easter Monday, marks its 141-year anniversary this year and has a fascinating history. Here is a brief look at how it began and its evolution through changing times:

Informal Underpinnings

According to the White House Historical Association, Washington, D.C. residents celebrated Easter Monday on the west grounds of the U.S. Capitol beginning in the 1870s. As part of the festivities, children rolled dyed hard-cooked eggs down the terraced lawn.

By 1876, landscape concerns led Congress to pass legislation restricting public use of the Capitol grounds, which effectively proscribed future egg rolling there. However, in 1878, a group of children seeking a new venue for their egg rolling games marched to the White House, hoping they’d be allowed to use the hilly South Lawn. President Rutherford B. Hayes let them through the gates, and thus began the official event.  

An Increasingly Popular Public Event

The egg rollers’ move from Capitol grounds to White House lawn was a very popular change, and the event began to attract more and more people. A series of newspaper articles cited by The White House Historical Association indicates the large turnouts: By 1911, attendance is estimated at 10,000 to 30,000 in different years, “depending on the weather”; in 1927, 30,000 children were rolling eggs; a 1940 article reports that record attendance to date was 53,180 in 1937.

Racketeering Rascals Busted

As the event attracted larger crowds, a rule was set to limit the number of people entering the South Lawn: a “grown person” would be admitted only when accompanied by a child, and vice versa. In response, lone children and adults started teaming up to gain admission. Some enterprising young rascals (imagine Spanky, Alfalfa and the gang) even charged a fee to get a succession of adults past the security guards. According to a 1939 newspaper report, the practice became so scandalous that Secret Service men were stationed at the White House gates to “break up the kids’ rackets.”

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What Is Egg Rolling Anyway?

From its inception, egg rolling has been the event’s primary activity: Children rolled colored hard-boiled eggs across the grass to see whose could travel farthest before cracking. In the early years, other egg games –– such as catch and toss and egg croquet –– were also played.

In 1974, Richard and Pat Nixon introduced egg roll races, which have become one of the day’s favorite activities. The Easter egg hunt is also a staple of the event.

Each First Family Adds Its Own Spin

Through the years, each First Family has put its own spin on the event. That’s part of the tradition. Some notable examples in addition to the egg races:

In 1969, one of first lady Pat Nixon’s staffers dressed up in a fleecy white rabbit costume, and the White House Easter Bunny was born. Since then, the bunny is always a member of the administrative staff.

In 1981, President Ronald Reagan and first lady Nancy were the first to use wooden eggs for the Easter egg hunt. Wooden eggs later became the official White House Egg Roll keepsake. The Reagan eggs were signed by famous people. Now this keepsake is inscribed with the signatures of the president and first lady. Designed to reflect the current year’s theme, it’s given to each child under the age of 12.

Have you attended the White House Easter Egg Roll as a D.C. resident or visitor? What is your personal Easter tradition? Please leave a comment.


Information for this post was derived from the White House Historical Association website: https://www.whitehousehistory.org/collections/white-house-easter-egg-roll

For more about the White House Easter Egg Roll, including interesting photos of the event through the years, the site is an excellent resource.

Copyright M. Vincent 2019. All photographs copyright M. Vincent 2019.

The Traveling Lighthouse Library

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It’s National Library Week in the United States, and I’m pleased to join the celebration by sharing a part of our library history I recently discovered on a visit to the Heceta Head Lighthouse near Florence, Oregon.

That’s the lighthouse pictured above, viewed from a highway lookout point. While easily accessible by car today, you can imagine its remoteness from the time it began operation in 1894 to the time modern transportation and technology made it no longer a solitary outpost inhabited by hardworking lighthouse keepers and their families.

Many U.S. lighthouses were similarly isolated, with difficult access to the outside world and few options for leisure and entertainment. For lighthouse keepers and their spouses life was constant work — a serious, often monotonous regime of maintenance, watching for something to happen, and meticulously recording events.

Heceta Head light and its surroundings are striking. Some say it’s the most photographed lighthouse in the U.S., and I was lucky to capture it on a bright sunny day in a week of rain. Here is a closeup among the trees:

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When I’d taken full advantage of the photo opportunities and needed a break from the brisk sea wind, I took shelter in a small building with various lighthouse history exhibits. A set of books in a hinged wooden case labeled “Replica Lighthouse Library Box” caught my attention, and I learned about a special library system I’d never come across before.

Circulating Libraries Created for Lighthouse Keepers

Small portable libraries like the one below in the Heceta exhibit were distributed to lighthouses across the U.S. in the 19th century. Used to improve morale at solitary stations, they became an important part of life for keepers and their families. 

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As Natalie Zarrelli speculates in an article for Atlas Obscura (cited with link below), one of these sturdy wooden boxes filled with books was “possibly the most awaited item” when a boat arrived with a shipment of supplies. Her article tells us the boxes were made of thick, heavy wood and, as you can see in the exhibit, did double duty as carrying cases and bookshelves.  

Each library box could hold 50–60 books. The contents varied with a box’s origin. At least some of the books were bought or donated by private groups.

The Heceta exhibit indicates the steady growth of these mini libraries: In 1876, 50 were created. By 1885, more than 400 were in circulation, with 40–60 volumes each. By 1893, over 700 boxes were in transit along U.S. coastlines, delivering much-appreciated reading material to lighthouse families.

Per the exhibit, the libraries moved from station to station via lighthouse inspectors who exchanged the boxes during quarterly inspections. According to Zarrelli, these district inspectors coordinated among themselves which library went to whom. As they swapped one library for another, the libraries traveled the entire circuit of U.S. lighthouses. 

How Did These Lighthouse Libraries Arise?

Clearly, lighthouses and their keepers were crucial to safe navigation, and keeping them both in good condition was important. Accordingly, in the mid 19th century, the United States Lighthouse Board (USLB), the federal agency  responsible for lighthouse construction and maintenance, began improvements to stations around the country.

Along with changes like new, more powerful Fresnel lenses and fresh paint, came amusements to help lighthouse keepers handle the monotony and isolation of the job. Most significant were the traveling libraries which appeared around 1876.  

By then, portable libraries for naval and merchant ships had existed for decades. A religious organization –– the American Seamen’s Friend Society –– provided many library cases for Navy vessels, and they worked with the USLB to bring books to lighthouse keepers as well.

The End of the Journey

The lighthouse libraries were widely used until the radio, telephone and improved transportation made them less important. Most were phased out by the 1920s as the stations became automated.

What special or unusual libraries have you discovered? Please share one of your favorites.

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References and Resources

Zarrelli, Natalie (2016, February 18). “The Most Precious Cargo for Lighthouses Across America Was a Traveling Library.” Retrieved on April 11, 2019 from: https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/the-most-precious-cargo-for-lighthouses-across-america-was-a-traveling-library

Zarrelli’s article provided much useful background for this post.

Heceta Lighthouse and Bed & Breakfast:  https://www.hecetalighthouse.com/

Copyright M. Vincent 2019.  All photos copyright  M. Vincent 2019.


Window Gazing Wednesday: Ghost Town Sighting

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Today we’re in Old West ghost town, Bodie, California, an ideal place for photographers, history buffs and, of course, window gazers. There’s one in the photo above, peering into the side window of the James Stuart Cain residence, with its extensive antique bottle collection.

Bodie was a gold rush boom town that had its brief and wild heyday from 1877–1881. At that time, the town had 30 different mines, nine stamp mills for crushing the ore, and a bustling population of 7,000–8,000 miners, merchants, miscreants and families. As unsuccessful mines began to close, its population dwindled, though mining and habitation continued until 1942.

Now a California State Park, Bodie is located in the Bodie Hills, a beautiful, remote high-desert setting east of the Sierra Nevada mountains, elevation over 8,000 feet. Here is a view of the landscape:

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Bodie’s several layers of history make it a fascinating place to visit. Its abandoned houses and buildings — like the leaning structures above — are preserved in a state of “arrested decay” (repaired and stabilized, but not restored). They contain many things left behind when people packed up and moved away. Those dust-covered objects of everyday life tell Bodie’s changing human story.

Some buildings with these abandoned furnishings are open, but for most, window gazing is your gateway to the past — and there’s a lot to see.

In the Lions’ Den

I took several photos through Bodie’s windows. Today’s featured window-gazing find is from the late 1920s Wheaton and Hollis hotel and boardinghouse on Main Street:

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This massive antique billiard table, solidly grounded on fanciful lion feet, instantly captured my attention. It sits in a capacious room between a long dining table on the left and a large bar on the right, the setting leaving ample space for hotel patrons to move about freely.   

I loved those weighty, yet mobile lions and the table’s decorative, yet simple design. Who made it? And how did it get to Bodie? I was curious to know more about this – I have to say it – bodacious piece. 

It conjured images of lively social evenings with hotel diners, drinkers and billiard players happily circulating, warmed in the icy winters by the heating stove and their chosen libations from the bar.

The Monarch Billiard Table

Whether the Wheaten and Hollis Hotel brought the table to Bodie, or it dates from the earlier boom town days when Bodie had both a rough and an elegant side, I can’t say. Information from Bodie historians is welcomed.

My research did disclose what appears to be the table’s origin: It looks just like a restored lion-foot billiard table I found on eBay, identified as the J.M. Brunswick Manufacturing Company’s “Monarch” design.

Checking the Brunswick Billiards website, I learned that Brunswick introduced the Monarch, nicknamed “the King of Tables,” in 1875. The site describes its several design innovations and the various inlaid woods that form its Victorian marquetry.

The story is that Brunswick produced its first billiard table in 1845, after company founder, John Moses Brunswick, was taken with the game and a beautifully made table at a lavish dinner party that year. Before that, carriage making was the main business of this enterprising Swiss immigrant to the U.S.

After 170 years, Brunswick remains a global leader in billiards and other recreational products. For more about Brunswick and the Monarch: http://www.history.brunswickbilliards.com/

Have you been to Bodie or another historic ghost town? What interesting things did you discover looking into the windows?

Copyright M. Vincent 2018

Photos copyright M. Vincent 2018