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Early Color Postcards

Old Ironsides covered

Old Ironsides covered

Two 1900-era postcards of Ironsides in Charlestown Harbor after her move there from Portsmouth in 1897. (SeacoastNH Image Library)

Although "Old Ironsides" spent nearly 20 years in Portsmouth Harbor, this region has been associated with the ebb of the ship's career since here she was "cabbed over" by Navy order and turned into a receiving ship barracks. We've documented this era in our Early Images Gallery, collecting rare pictures of the ship from local archives.

Until now, these images have always appeared as dreary black and white photos or sepia tones. (Click to see the rare one we discovered recently.) Now, though the artistic imagination of a turn-of-the-century postcard maker, we have two colorful versions. We picked up these two postcards on the other day. They show Old Ironsides on display before her restoration. Laid up in Portsmouth, the ship was used as a barracks from 1882 to 1897, but fared little better when towed to Charlestown, Mass where the ship had been originally built in 1797.

Following a big centennial celebration in Boston, Ironsides languished in Charlestown in this condition from 1897 to 1907 when the "ugly barn" was removed from her main deck. She also received new rigging and replica guns at a cost of $97,800.01. It wasn't until 1927 that the true restoration began with public funds. Even while the historic ship lay in Charlestown, the Navy considered using her as a target ship and offered only token funds for restoration. But the removal of the barracks, public financing and interest by Congress and Boston restorers finally did the trick. Early in the 1930s Ironsides was towed around the USA, starting with a return visit to Portsmouth, NH. --- JDR

Notice that one of the cards above was sponsored by the McPhail Piano Company of Boston. There was a piano manufacturing company which also offered piano sheet music run by the McPhail family operating at this time. On the reverse site (see below) there is a rubber stamp from the Whitson Music company. Rummaging around on the WWW, we noticed two contemporary women lyricists from this era - one was Lindsay McPhail and another, Beth Slater Whitson. Just after Ironsides was undergoing its facelift, Ms. Whitson (1879-1930) produced a couple of songs that are still classics. She wrote the lyrics for "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" (1910) and "Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland" (1907). "Dreamland" was later popularized by Judy Garland and "Sweetheart" was sung in films starring Laurel and Hardy, Bing Crosby and others.

Was this very postcard intended as a correspondence between two turn-of -the-century women songwriters? Was a collaboration in the works? Alas, we'll never know - and the Old Ironside postcard was never sent. --- JDR

Back of Postcard

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See These Related Web Pages:

Old Ironsides Seacoast Homepage

Our Tour of Old Ironsides in Charlestown

Ironsides Hotlinks Page


Official USS Constitution Homepage

USS Constitution Museum in Charlestown

© 1999
Please attribute all use.

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