I pride myself on my sleuthing abilities. I’ve had a blast hunting down Lorado Taft sculptures around the country and uncovering details. But there’s one Lorado Taft mystery I probably won’t be able to solve.
In my research, I learned a little bit about Liberty Ships, called the “ugly ducklings” of World War II.
The Libertys were built to carry cargo, but their simple design made them adaptable for many uses by both the Army and the Navy: troop transports, hospital ships, repair ships, net tenders, even mule carriers. Later, some performed radar picket duty during cold war operations. The Navy’s last Liberty ship hauled down her flag early in 1972. By the time the Liberty program was completed, more than 2700 ships were built. They were designated an EC2 in the Maritime Commission’s nomenclature of vessel types (E for Emergency, C for Cargo, 2 for large capacity). The EC2 design was selected because of its simplicity and adaptability to mass-production methods. And to speed things up even more, the Maritime Commission replaced the traditional riveted construction with welding – a fairly new process and still unaccepted by many naval architects, shipbuilders and shipowners in 1941. Considering the hazards of wartime operations, losses were not excessive. A total of 195 Libertys were lost to torpedoes, mines, explosions, collisions, strandings, or other hazards of the sea. The US Post Office even created a stamp commemorating these little workhorses.
But, you may ask, what does this have to do with Lorado Taft? This isn’t even in my book, because I discovered it after the book was published. But one of those 2700-some Liberty Ships was named the SS Lorado Taft! How did this happen? Somewhere in the Maritime Commission a committee was set up to organize a naming system. It established categories and selected names from them – authors, college presidents, Indians, senators and congressmen, prominent African-Americans, and doctors, among others … and artists. The idea was to name ships for people who were dead, and Taft had died in 1936. So who nominated Taft’s name for this honor? That’s what I want to know.
I tried to dig deeper into this question. I learned that the SS Lorado Taft was built by the Todd-Houston Shipbuilding Corporation in Houston, Texas, in 1944. I can tell you its tonnage, and its dimensions. I can tell you when it was laid down; when it was launched, and how many times it shipped to foreign ports. I know that it was scrapped in Philadelphia in 1966. But I can’t tell you who suggested Taft’s name. I know that the nominating party had to contribute $2 million in war bonds for the naming opportunity. But I also read that school children who took part in a national scrap-metal salvage campaign were invited to suggest names. And that’s as far as I can get. Until someone invents a time machine, I guess I’ll have to leave it there.