Talkies come to Palmyra’s Broadway Palace Theater 91 years ago

July 1930, Marching past the Broadway Theater in Palmyra, IMAGE CREDIT: Joseph and Mary Yearly

As most of us can only enjoy our movies today as streaming content on our tvs, who remembers a real hometown movie theater?

For me, as a kid in Camden in the 1950s, I recall spending Saturdays at the Arlo on Westfield Avenue where I could see a newsreel, a few cartoons, and a feature film for a whole quarter.

Talkies open at Broadway Theater, The New Era, Jan 9, 1930, p1

Imagine the excitement when the talkies came to Palmyra! For Riverton, that was only a brisk walk or a bike ride away.

Palmyra Business District 1954, IMAGE CREDIT: Wm Downs

Bonus question: What business is in its place now?

See the whole Talkies article here.

Please enter a comment below if you can add your recollection of the Broadway Palace to this brief record of another thing that isn’t there anymore. Contact us if you have a photo we could post.

Added 1/22/2021:

Lowell Doerr checked in to contribute this: I remember going to the Saturday kids matinee…cost a dime to get in and after all the seats were full the owner lined up the additional kids and sat them in the runways and exit lanes!!! Money first…Safety last!….LOL

ML DiPietro guessed that a church – Holy Spirit Cathedral – is now in that spot. I said that she was warm, but no.

Added 1/23/2021:

M Gilbert also guessed that the former site of Palmyra’s Broadway Palace Theater is now Holy Spirit Cathedral. I thank MGilbert for persisting with an explanation even though I had mistakenly attributed today’s location to a place two blocks away.

MGilbert points out: I also thought that this was the Holy Spirit Cathedral (corner of Leconey and Broad). The rooflines of the other buildings in the photo look very similar to the ones seen today on that block and on the Palmyra Pharmacy on the next block.

google street view, Oct 2019, former site of Broadway Palace Theater
Broad Street, Palmyra, NJ

 

 

 

 

 

Well, sure, when you explain it like that. No, kidding, thank you for the correction.

-Editor, JMc

An Ocean City landmark played a vital defense role during World War II

Hello from Ocean City

By Harlan B. Radford, Jr.

The origins of today’s Ocean City Music Pier emerged from the ruins of a catastrophic fire that occurred on October 11, 1927, and destroyed a large part of the boardwalk along with some homes and many business establishments, including the elegant Hotel Normandie, the Hippodrome Amusement Pier, the Traymore Hotel and the Colonial Theatre.

While the actual cause of the fire was never determined, more than 400  firefighters from numerous communities in the area were called in to fight Ocean City’s Great Fire of 1927. Fortunately, there was no loss of life.

Interior, Music Pier, Ocean City, NJ

By the spring of 1928, a major project began with re-constructing the Ocean City boardwalk between 6th and 12th Streets.

An important part of that construction project included building a grand concert hall that would originally be christened the Municipal Pavilion in 1928, actually undergo construction in 1928-29, and soon thereafter became popularly known as the Music Pier and provided live entertainment for the public. Mayor Joseph Champion was instrumental in dedicating this new facility and before long, the Music Pier was the site of frequent conventions, bazaars, dances, and daily free summer concerts.

Music Pier, Ocean City, NJ 1929

As one of the most iconic buildings in the seashore resort, this distinctive structure with its oceanside location at Moorlyn Terrace and the Boardwalk reflects the architectural style of the Spanish Revival period.

Two days after the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, Ocean City’s Daily Sentinel-Ledger reported a lookout tower was to be built on the top of the Music Pier. Its sole purpose was to provide a means of coastal defense as a “look-out” point for protecting a portion of the Jersey seaboard from enemy submarines or U-boats in the water as well as enemy aircraft in the skies. Kelly Tjoumakaris, wrote of it in  “Making Music,” which appeared in Ocean City, NJ Magazine in August 2013 (p47):

In the immediate wake of the Pearl Harbor tragedy, December 1941, the first structure in the country built especially for aircraft spotters was erected atop the Music Pier. Volunteers consisting of teenage boys from Ocean City High School to retired residents from the island kept watch 24 hours a day.

 

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The observation tower was operated and manned 24 hours every day of the year and played a vital role in the war effort from 1942 to the end of the war in 1945. It appears the American Legion was responsible for most of the recruitment as well as the scheduling of the plane and sub spotters. It took considerable effort to establish a network of civilian observers and to train them to be able to recognize and differentiate all types of aircraft.

According to one source, Ocean City’s 147 spotters were comprised of some high school-aged youth and many adult volunteers including some retired persons. These spotters are said to have spent two hours a week observing and reporting all aircraft activity along the Ocean City shoreline. In his 1999 book, Ocean City, NJ by Arcadia Publishing, p87, Mark McLaughlin wrote, “…there were a few U-boat sightings and that one was actually captured by the Coast Guard north near Atlantic City.”

Ocean City Sentinel Ledger, Feb 5, 1943, p2

The civilian volunteers who were trained to act as airplane spotters were organized as a unit of the Aircraft Warning Service. The rare article at left mentions the Music Pier observation tower and praises the high efficiency rating of tower.

Ocean City, NJ 1969 – observation tower gone

The little-known tower with its observation windows can easily be seen on the Music Pier roof in most of the preceding postcard images. The tower remained in place until 1968 when it was dismantled.

The next time you should happen to venture to the Jersey Shore and visit Ocean City and the popular Music Pier on the boardwalk, think about the brief but nevertheless important role this building played in our history.

In observance of Pearl Harbor Day 2016, Ocean City Magazine published “December 7, 1941 – A Day That Will Live in Infamy!” by Fred Miller. The article describes other ways in which the barrier island community mobilized civil and government resources to defend itself from attack.

Few people today know of the vital role that Jersey Shore towns played in America’s defense during World War II. John DeRosier, Staff Writer for The Press of Atlantic City, wrote “How a German submarine attack forever changed Cape May” in 2017.

We look forward to readers’ comments and recollections on the topic.

A generous gesture by the Grimes Family brings holiday cheer

L-R: Gary Grimes, Nancy Grimes

Many thanks to Nancy and Gary Grimes for a great idea to brighten up Riverton. Nancy organized donations to purchase 80 (yes, eighty) natural wreaths with ribbons and greeting tags for many of our gaslights.

Last Sunday she fielded a small army of volunteers (with well-organized lists) who got them all hung in no time. She’s donating the profits to the Historical Society of Riverton, for which we are very grateful.

Today, Nancy Grimes just dropped off $500 to our Treasurer, Pat Brunker!

Special thanks to The Barclay Group for the kindness of an extra donation!

Just super, everything about it. It was great to meet Nancy and Gary on Sunday. They put a huge amount of effort into it and she was already talking about how to make it better next year!

It’s a fine effort that will make a lot of folks smile during a time when we need all the smiles we can get. Thank you! – Roger Prichard, HSR Board Member

 

Election deja vu

Almost exactly a century ago, writers for The New Era, Riverton’s hometown newspaper, took stock of the recent presidential contest and engaged in some post-election analysis.

Influenced by four prior years marked by war, a global pandemic, weather’s death and destruction, terrorist attacks, demonstrations against racial injustice, a hostile reaction to the incumbent (Woodrow Wilson), a recession, and unemployment, voters went to the polls.

This was the first election in which women from every state were allowed to vote, following the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution in August 1920.

Poll workers braced for the heavy voter turnout and there was concern that “ballot boxes would be unequal to the task of holding all the ballots cast.”

An electorate weary of chaotic world events chose the candidate whose slogan was “Back to normalcy.”

They chose Republican Warren B. Harding as the 29th President of the United States.

The editors of The New Era said of the voter turnout, “…it’s some record!” They also noted the impact of the women’s vote and wondered if public sentiment might “compel the Legislature to simplify the election laws…”

How will history characterize the Presidential Election of 2020?

Hmmmm…

The New Era, Nov. 5, 1920, p2

You will be called upon to decide the most momentous questions that have ever confronted our Country

Addressed to thoughtful voters, The New Era, Oct. 29, 1920, 2

“On November 2 you will be called upon to decide the most momentous questions that have ever confronted our Country.”

So stated a column in The New Era, Riverton’s hometown newspaper, one hundred years ago.

The 1920 Presidential Election was the first election held after the end of World War I and the first election after the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, making that the first in which women had the right to vote in all 48 states.

In Riverton, 781 voters were registered in District 1 and 581 in District 2; more than half were women. One early estimate calculated that ballots would have to be cast faster than one per minute in order to count them all and urged folks to vote early.

The newspaper printed instructions for filling in a ballot, suggesting that men get in line right as the polls open and directed “Ladies, leave your housework and vote first.”

Porch Club ballot instructions, The New Era, Oct 29, 1920, p2

Indeed, the women of the Porch Club were so determined to exercise that right for which they had so long fought that they offered an instructional demonstration for all women wishing to navigate the complex ballot composed of seven political parties and three questions.

vote early, The New Era, Oct 29, 1920, p2

 

The polls opened from 6 am to 7 pm.

Voter turnout in Riverton was almost 84% of the total registration and in a column titledHats off to the ladies,” The New Era gave a good deal of the credit to women’s committees for organizing carpools that took women to the pools.

The election returns as published in The New Era:

1920 election returns, The New Era, Nov. 5, 1920, p2

It may be a tired cliche to claim that this year’s election is the most important in our lifetime, but the thing about cliches is that they are pretty much true.

PLEASE VOTE

 

 

 

 

War of the Worlds was a Mischief Night prank on a grand scale in 1938

Few among us today can recall the radio adaptation of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds broadcast by Orson Welles on Mischief Night, 1938 that threw some people into a panic. The program’s format simulated a live newscast of developing events. The press later reported that the program had induced hysteria in some of the Depression Era audience already on edge with daily newscasts filled with rumors of war.

Brave New Jersey, released 2017

I was reminded of that event by viewing recently a 2017 film called “Brave New Jersey,” which is currently running on Epix, Prime Video, and Peacock. During an evening of few program choices, the movie title drew me in to investigate further.

The Internet Movie Database (IMDb) fi;m synopsis reads:

A comedy about a small New Jersey town on the night of Orson Welles’ legendary 1938 “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast, which led millions of listeners to believe the U.S. was being invaded by Martians.

Still looking for something good to watch an hour and 26 minutes later, I decided instead to check our online archive of local newspapers to see if Riverton was duped into believing that the planet was under alien attack in 1938.

The New Era, Nov 3, 1938, p1

There it was, on page one of The New Era’s issue of November 3, 1938.

Of course, Riverton’s hometown weekly paper claimed that the radio program that threw other New Jersey communities into a “frenzy” had little effect on the local citizenry.

The New Era, Nov 3, 1938, p11

Still, this news snippet buried on page 11 suggests that at least some who were fooled by this fake news Sunday evening broadcast had “…considerable explaining to do on Monday.”

I am reminded of times I played my vinyl recording of that 1938 broadcast to students I instructed at Riverton School. They weren’t impressed, but it was better than doing work when their young minds were on trick or treating.

We welcome any first-hand recollections of that dramatization and offer a way for the modern audience to imagine what it was like to gather around the family wireless in the fall of 1938. Hear the 57 minute recorded broadcast on YouTube:

The following 3m36sec video investigates the reports that Welles’ program caused mass hysteria.

Stay safe, kids, on this Halloween to remember. -JMc

What is the deal with this Palmyra dollar found on eBay?

And why does the bid start at $145?

eBay item number:254757380125

The auction ends on Nov. 2.

I hope that some numismatist who sees this can shed some light on the purpose of printing such scrip.

Revised 11-3-2020:  We are indebted to our Facebook community for adding to this developing article.

Palmyra Depression scrip, Courier-Post, Mar 22, 1933
Palmyra Depression scrip, Courier-Post, Apr 22, 1933

Soon after posting, Rick Grenda offered this explanation and a news clipping.
Issued by dozens of towns and counties during the height of the depression 1933-36.

His submission got the ball rolling and enabled me to find another clipping on the subject.

Another reader, Jim Simons, checked in with this anecdote about his grandfather.

My grandfather, Clyde Ellzey, spent his career as a teacher at Pennsauken Junior High School. I recall “Pop” telling me that he was paid in “township scrip” (note spelling) during the Great Depression. The only stores that accepted the scrip were those located within the township, so they took advantage of situation by price gouging. It was a no-win situation, in essence you “owed your soul to the company store” as the old song once said.

Every once in awhile this website works as the collaboration we intended it to be when we established it in January 2011. Thank you to all have contributed information to the Society and supported our efforts with your donations and membership.

Circling back to Jim Simons, the last part of his comment offers another opportunity to pool resources and find some information about his grandfather. He writes:

Shifting off-topic……My great-grandfather was Walter Miller, Chief of Police of the Riverton Police Department. If anyone has any photos or stories, I would love to learn more about the man as his background before moving to Riverton is something of a family mystery.

Here is a bit I found in our online newspaper archive about Chief Walter Miller, and also Officer Miller.

I’m gonna rename this column, “You Asked For It.”

You are showing your age if you know that reference.

 

 

Concrete concept boat floats… but not for long

We know that vessels of wood, fiberglass, steel, and even papyrus can float. But concrete? Seems implausible, but it happened.

vintage postcard, concrete ship “Atlantus,” Cape May Point, NJ, built 1918, sank 1926

The Concrete Ship – “S. S. Atlantus”
Cape May Point, New Jersey
by Harlan B. Radford, Jr.

Pittsburgh Daily Post, Jan 26, 1919, p10

The remains of the concrete ship now situated at the foot of Sunset Boulevard in Cape May, NJ was one of an experimental lot of 12 freighter ships built by the United States Government during World War I. The rather unlikely concrete construction technique was brought on by the critical wartime shortage of steel.

Launched in 1918, not only did the “Atlantus” float, she was used as a coal steamer until being decommissioned since the concrete vessel proved a disappointment by her sheer weight and slow speed.

Later, promoters purchased the “Atlantus” for use as a ferry landing for a proposed route from Cape May Point to Lewes, Delaware. But one night a nor’easter broke it from its mooring and beached it before proper placement could occur.

Attempts were made to raise the ship and re-position it but to no avail. Consequently, the proposed ferry project did not materialize. Over many years, millions of visitors have traveled to see her sink deeper and deeper into the sand. Eventually, the “Atlantus” will disappear entirely and be just a distant memory.

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COVID-19 symptoms alert

A symptom of the current COVID-19 situation seems to be an onset of nostalgia by many parties and we are not immune to its effects. Based on our website comments and feedback, neither are our readers. For now, whether it’s looking through old photos, reminiscing about simpler times, or returning to one of our favorite interests, nostalgia mostly seems to be offering people a way to cope during the pandemic.

Here are some examples of the reminiscence therapy that website visitors found here.

Ye Olde Swimming Hole, Camp Lenape, Medford, NJ c.1954

Harlan Radford‘s post about Camp Lenape (Summertime evokes memories of Burlco’s Camp Lenape) made in June 2016 has attracted at least eight remarks from former scouts and spun off another post (Memories of Wartime Scouting in Beverly) made by Don Ulmer, a website visitor. Joseph Hackett recently added his recollection of the long-gone Boy Scout camp:

I attended Camp Lenape 1952-54. The post cards pictured in the article brought back many memories. While the article mentions sleeping in wall tents I remember sleeping in a lean to which had two sides, a back and a slanted roof. The front was open and there was a floor. Like some of the others who have commented I also went through the speechless weekend being initiated into the Order of the Arrow. Had to sleep “under the stars” in my sleeping bag. Woke up in a huge puddle of water as it rained most of the night. Many of my memories of Camp Lenape have faded but some are vivid. We had the luck to grow up during the best of times.

Should something here rekindle a memory of your “best of times’ please leave a comment.

We can thank Mary, AKA Meg, (Espinosa) Lario‘s brother Gene for putting rivertonhistory.com on her radar. She wrote us a fan letter and included a few questions. We’ll help with her question about 616 Thomas. Maybe a reader can supply more information about Rogers News Agency and its former owners.

Rogers News Agency, Google screenshot 2019

Hello, good afternoon to all the team there. My name is Mary. I grew up in Palmyra and my grandparents lived in Riverton. May I ask several questions? I worked at Rogers news agency in high school for several years. The owners Joseph and his wife were lovely people. My whole family knew Mr. Rogers from the store. Does any team member know where the family is now and how they are doing. The store was amazing, and had a little telephone booth in it. Mr. Rogers was a kind person to all who visited the store for their morning chat or newspaper and candy pickup. He treated everyone like family. He was a great boss. We also wondered if there is any history on the house built at 616 Thomas Ave. My grandparents and all our family gathered there for many celebrations! I know it has been sold several times over the years. Thanks for considering my questions, all the best, Stay safe, and we love your website! Thanks also for the wonderful work you are doing! Sincerely, Mary Lario Ps my nickname was Meg. maiden name was Espinosa. I had 5 brothers Rich, Jim, Phil and Gene and my late brother Joe died at 31. My sister Eileen was 5 when she passed. We loved Riverton….beautiful town. It reminds me of Cape May in its elegance. My brother Gene sent me your information and history.

Someone younger today might well ask, “What’s a phone booth?” An interior shot of that store might clear it up and serve to further illustrate what people once experienced here.

Our Research Your House page has a link for Riverton’s 1999 National Register of Historic Places Registration Form which contains information about many properties. This came from page 96.

National Historic District Registration Form, 616 Thomas, p96

Perhaps the pandemic has awakened in some of us a long-dormant interest in baking, photography, or genealogy.

Earlier in the summer, Joann Sanderson found the Research Your House page helpful when she was doing a deep dive into the history of her house, coincidentally also on Thomas Avenue.

Hi, The research your house information is fantastic. I already started researching online the book and page of deeds… 

In June, two visitors (one local; one from Texas) who visited our Store page inquired into buying our Romance of Riverton DVD, but we had to wait until August, when we were allowed to finally get to our inventory in the Riverton Free Library’s basement to get them.

Seither home, 417 Lippincott, Aug. 23, 1947

Christopher Klabe used his visit to our comfort station to comment on a photo he found in our post of June 2018, “Duster origin photo – local legend or fact?

As a former owner of Duster 100, the boat hanging from the 3rd floor window. I have heard of this photo from Mr. Robert Lundstedt but never did see it until now. The boat was in our family from the late 60’s until my wife and I sold it in the mid 80 after doing some extensive rebuilding of the boat in the winter of 81-82. Thanks for the great posts of long-ago memories and the great picture.

This stressful time has robbed us of the opportunity to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Historical Society of Riverton with you.

For now, the Historical Society of Riverton has no immediate plans to hold meetings or offer presentations. Look for a Gaslight News newsletter in October in which we will lay out a plan for the fall and winter.

Until then, try looking through almost ten years of website posts, or browse five decades of back issues of the Gaslight News and reams of news from Riverton’s and Palmyra’s old hometown newspapers. We hope that the experience proves to be a diversion from the daily news. Please know that we welcome your comments, feedback, and submissions. Feel like writing about your experience? Send it to rivertonhistory@gmail.com or use the contact form below.

Stay safe, kids, until we meet again. -JMc

Philately and postcards reveal the history of the first US nuclear merchant ship


N.S. Savannah, artist conception by Benjamin Eisenstat of Moorestown, NJ

THE N. S. SAVANNAH AND ITS CONNECTION WITH CAMDEN, N.J.
by
Harlan Radford, Jr.

The N.S. Savannah was the world’s first nuclear-powered merchant ship. The prefix letter “N” designates “nuclear.” President Dwight Eisenhower suggested the idea in 1955 and Congress authorized it in 1956.

postcard NY Shipbuilding Corp.

The New York Shipbuilding Corp. located at Camden, N.J. built this merchant ship for the Maritime Administration, the U.S. Department of Commerce, and the Atomic Energy Commission.

The U.S. government provided funding to support a demonstration project that would serve as a showcase for the peaceful use of nuclear technology. The keel was laid and dedicated by Mrs. Pat Nixon on May 22, 1958. More than a year later on July 21, 1959, First Lady Mrs. Mamie Eisenhower ceremonially christened and launched the Savannah. Installation and testing of the nuclear reactor and undergoing a series of sea trials took another 2-1/2 years.

The all-important “maiden voyage” took place on August 20, 1962, and the Savannah did not enter regular service until 1964. During the spring and summer of 1964, the Savannah toured the U.S. Gulf and Eastern coast seaports and then commenced on a historic crossing of the Atlantic Ocean for the first time with visits to Bremerhaven, Hamburg, Rotterdam, Dublin and Southampton. This ship’s namesake, SS Savannah, was the first steam-powered ship to cross the Atlantic Ocean in 1819.

philatelic cover Savannah launching 7-21-59

The specially prepared philatelic cover at right marks the date of the actual “launching” of the N/S Savannah on July 21, 1959. Postmarked in Camden, N.J., the postcard features a pictorial postmark which reads “N/S SAVANNAH / FIRST ATOMIC LINER / U.S. MERCHANT MARINE.”

The two 1950s era postage stamps selected for this cover further relate to shipbuilding and the “Arrows To Atoms” program. The purple 3-cent stamp commemorates the 350th anniversary of the building of the vessel “Virginia of Sagadahock,” the first American-built ship used in international trade,

Elements in the blue 3-cent U.S. postage stamp commemorating the 50th Anniversary of Oklahoma Statehood further tie into the theme of atomic energy. The central design of the stamp is a horizontal arrow superimposed on a solid outline map of the State of Oklahoma and piercing the orbital emblem, which has become the symbol for atomic energy. The arrow represents the frontier days of Oklahoma prior to Statehood in 1907 and the atomic symbol represents the new frontiers.

With an overall length of 595 feet, this ship was capable of a speed of 20.25 knots. As for payload, the Savannah was capable of carrying 60 passengers and 9,400 long tons of cargo. The Savannah was only in service for an eight-year period from 1964 to 1972 and was one of only four such nuclear-powered cargo ships ever built.

While officially deactivated in 1971 and after being moved around numerous ports, the ship finds itself presently dry-docked at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, yet to be officially decommissioned. History tells us that the SS Savannah was a commercial failure.  Despite the innovative nuclear propulsion system of its successor, the N.S. Savannah shared a similar destiny. It proved to be short-lived and failed to prove its commercial feasibility.

Despite this, the innovative N.S. Savannah was not only placed on the National Register of Historic Places on Nov. 14, 1982 but was also designated a National Historic Landmark on July 17, 1991.

The following five postal covers relate to N.S. Savannah milestones.

NS Savannah World’s First Nuclear Powered Merchant Ship

The first-class letter at left is marked “Mailed aboard The N.S. SAVANNAH” and bears a hand-applied pictorial cachet in black ink which also states “World’s First / Nuclear Powered / Merchant Ship. It bears a Galveston, Texas postmark dated MAR 26 PM 1964.

The officially prepared cachet imprints for the following two covers boast  “First Trans-Atlantic Voyage.” The NS Savannah carried them onboard during its first Atlantic crossing the following June.

One envelope displays a General Post Office in New York City postmark and the other was actually postmarked and dispatched from the United Nations headquarters, also in New York City.

NS Savannah First Trans-Atlantic Voyage

With 11 cents in stamps affixed to each cover and postmarked JUN 8 AM 1964, each received postal backstamps upon receipt at Bremerhaven, Germany, dated in European style “18.-6.64-11” or June 18, 1964 11AM.

Next is an example of a “paquebot” cover, which simply translated means “posted at sea.”

NS Savannah paquebot cover

This piece, destined for a United States address, originated on the NS Savannah. On arrival of the ship in a port, a private messenger transmitted the mail to the nearest post office where it was deposited, canceled, and forwarded through the regular mailstream. Accordingly, this particular cover received two postal markings, one provided onboard the ship dated JUN 16, 1964, and the other marking placed by German postal authorities dated two days later on June 18, 1964 (18.-6.64 -11).

NS Savannah two postmarks

Why two same date postmarks for this next cover? One was applied on board the N.S. Savannah DEC 28, 1964, and another, stamped “Wilmington, N.C.” bears the same date. Presumably, the ship was in her North Carolina port on that date.

The extraordinary ship was in service for a mere ten years. It eventually ended up just across the Delaware River from where it was built in Camden, in a dry-dock at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, and finally was mothballed in Baltimore.

The previous several philatelic covers mark milestones in this innovative civilian maritime ship’s short span of existence and the following contemporary accounts in periodicals further expand the topic.

Two interesting and informative videos about the N.S. Savannah are currently available on YouTube and can be viewed by typing in the following titles:

#1 – “NS Savannah: Atoms for Peace (1962)” – Time 5:39

#2 – “NS Savannah in Drydock in Philadelphia,
Pennsylvania – November 17, 2019” – Time 3:27

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