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Norman Rockwell at the Charleston Navy Yard

Waring Hills Jun 09, 2010

Norman Rockwell's self portrait in Afloat and Ashore while stationed at the Charleston Naval Base in World War I.

A skinny, young sailor reported in to the hot and humid Naval Training Camp at the Charleston Navy Yard on 23 August 1918. Being from New Rochelle, New York, the Lowcountry South Carolina weather must have been a eye opening experience for the young artist.

Norman Rockwell was twenty-three years old when he attempted to enlist in the United States Navy in 1918. He was underweight on his first attempt and so he had to resort to the “tried and true” method recommended by recruiters  of stuffing himself with bananas, donuts and all the water he could swallow. Shortly afterward, Norman was officially a sailor!

His original orders were to take him to a base in Ireland, where he would paint insignia on airplanes, but a German submarine off the East coast detoured his ship to Charleston, SC. While awaiting a duty assignment, several personnel noticed his portraits drawn while waiting and he was assigned to draw cartoons and making layouts for Afloat and Ashore, the Charleston Navy Yard’s official publication. The work only took him two days a week and the rest of the time he could work on anything he wanted as long as it related to the Navy. Below is the cover for the Saturday Evening Post published 18 January 1919.

Seaman Rockwell survived the 1918 “Spanish Flu” pandemic while stationed at Charleston and eventually moved his studio on the base to the Commanding Officer’s site of employment on the USS Hartford, Admiral Farragut’s famous Civil War ship…”Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”

USS Hartford, receiving ship at Charleston Navy Yard from 1912-1938.

Not long after his transfer to Commander Ellis’s staff, the war ended on 12 November 1918 and Norman Rockwell found himself discharged from the Navy and a civilian once again…More on Rockwell and the Boy Scouts on Friday…

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5 thoughts on “Norman Rockwell at the Charleston Navy Yard

  1. Betsy Hills says:

    Wow! I’ve always loved Norman Rockwell and never knew he was stationed in Charleston. Thanks for a wonderful story!

  2. Scot LaVelle says:

    Ran across this article in the Naval Archives while researching the U.S.S. Hartford. My grandfather, James C. LaVelle served on this ship at the same time Norman Rockwell was there. I have a pass issued by “JS Thompson” executive officer dated 31 Aug 1918. That puts him there when Rockwell arrived on 23 Aug 1918. Never heard my grandfather talk about him … but pretty cool either way. Wonder if there are other Rockwell drawings of the men aboard in “Afloat and Ashore”.

  3. Patricia Walton Lacey says:

    My Father and all 4 brothers served in the US Navy. Two of my brothers served on air craft carriers the latter part of WW2 and later. How can I find the information that will tell me whether or not they served on the Yorktown? Who knows – maybe their spirits returned to the Yorktown. Approximately 65 years ago, (do not know any specific dates) my brother, Donald Ray Walton, received a bullet in his neck and the bullet stayed there because it was inoperable. I was very young during those times and don’t really know of the details of their service but I am very interested in the history of their Navy careers, and also have an interest in the Paranormal and have often wondered if one of those “spirits” might possibly named Donald or Jerry. I would sincerely appreciate any information you could help me with to find my brothers service history. I have been on the Yorktown several times and did not know about the paranormal activities aboard the ship until I watched the Ghost Hunters investigation. Now I really want to schedule a tour when I can get my nieces back in town because they are also interested in this.
    Thank you,
    Pat Lacey

    1. patriotspoint says:

      Ms. Lacey,

      Thank you for your comments. You may wish to contact the Ghost Tour organizers/operators directly. I have not heard of any named spirits aboard the Yorktown; but they have had some interesting experiences and may be able to share more details. The best way to reach them is through their facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/YorktownGhostTours

      Thank you!

  4. Susan York says:

    My Father, whose name is on the Yorktown, often said that he once had the position Norman Rockwell had at the Navy Shipyard. I never asked for details, but I do have some of the artwork he did prior to WWII. Now I know why he said this!

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