Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Great White Fleet--101 years ago

The picture in the previous post showed the 1908 Great White Fleet--the Atlantic Fleet battleships of the US Navy, which toured the West Coast at the request of President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908. (It toured the world, in fact, but we're only interested in the Los Angeles visit here.)

The ships didn't just go to San Pedro. The logbooks reveal that four ships anchored in San Pedro's harbor, while the rest of the fleet remained outside on April 18, 1908. The next day, the First Division stayed in San Pedro, while the Second Division sailed to Long Beach, the Third Division to Santa Monica, and the Fourth Division to Redondo Beach. On the 25th, after wowwing all the locals, the fleet reassembled in Santa Monica Bay and sailed north to Santa Barbara. According to naval history, over 100,000 people gathered on Pt. Dume for a last glimpse of the fleet.

And per this site dedicated to the GWF, four of the officers in the fleet had actually seen service in the Civil War!

The Navy History Site reports that while in LA, some of the fleet's men were treated to a Spanish barbecue, a pugilistic prize fight, and a viewing of aerial balloons rising into the sky.

This hand colored postcard shows some of the 5,000 troops that came to that barbecue in Los Angeles. (source is the H.H. Stratton collection). And as I learned from a lecture by culinary historian Richard Foss, barbecue in 1908 did not mean throwing some steaks on the grill. Oh no.

A Spanish barbecue--a tradition from the days of the Californios--meant that a pit was dug and filled with burning wood on the night before the feast. The meat to be cooked--whole beasts--was wrapped in burlap and leaves, lowered into the pit (a grill separated it from the flames), and then the pit was covered and left to smoke. The next day the meat was ready. Foss announced that he's actually cooked meat this way, and it comes out absolutely black but with an incredible smoky flavor.

So those 5000 sailors were really enjoying their lunch.

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