The Smithsonian’s maritime collections contain many objects relating to the steamship Leviathan, the largest American passenger ship of the 1920s and 1930s. While by far the showiest of these objects is the nine-foot model displayed for many years at the United States Lines headquarters in New York City, most are small mementos originally preserved by passengers and crew to remember their experiences aboard.
Most of the Smithsonian’s Leviathan collection was donated to the Institution by historian and collector Frank Braynard. A lifelong ocean-liner enthusiast, Braynard has devoted decades to researching the ship. Along the way, he has met dozens of people with Leviathan connections, many of whom have shared both their stories and their keepsakes with him. His labors led him to amass the largest collection of Leviathan memorabilia in existence and to create his astonishing and expansive six-volume history of the ship, published between 1972 and 1983.
Menus, programs, and other paper ephemera have been the most commonly kept ocean-voyage souvenirs for over a century. Examples like these were often stock items, with the covers printed in bulk on shore and the interior contents added on the day of use by the ship's print shop.
Some mementos relate more to passengers' experiences—like a souvenir bought onboard—while others, such as part of a uniform, tell crew stories.
Here are some quotes from the informative tourist-class souvenir log.
“Miss Constance Rogers with Law firm of Delafield, Thorne & Burleigh came aboard to get away from the law for awhile, only to find herself seated opposite two young lawyers who talked nothing else the entire voyage.
“Mr. F. M. Ritchie, a prominent attorney of New Brunswick, N.J., is on his way to Budapest to try a divorce case—we hope it’s not his own. He has crossed on this boat with the A.E.F. in 1917 and also with the 2nd A.E.F. in 1927. He is a graduate of Rutgers University.
“Miss Ethel-Louise Kissen of Brooklyn, New York, after having made conquests of all eligible bachelors in Brooklyn and New York, is on her way to Europe for further triumphs. She has already done her devastating work aboard the Levia¬than where she feels quite at home, this being her fourth trip aboard this ship. She is a graduate of Columbia University, School of Hygiene.
“Miss Bessie H. Wright, Philadelphia, Pa., is going to England to find out whether they heat houses in winter.
“A party of fourteen Rumanian pleasure seekers are on their return trip from America. They have been in the United States for the past sixteen days visiting New York City, Niagara Falls, Buffalo and Atlantic City, thence by aeroplane to Washington. The Western stop on their trip was Detroit. Their impression of Americans is that we are a very mechanical people.
“Stewart A. Rice—Professor at the University of Pennsylvania. He is going to Europe in order to understand his students who have also gone.”