Saturday, January 25, 2020

1910 postcard to Chief Machinist's Mate John Peter Albert Messang

Although there's no postmark or stamp, this comic postcard appears to have been successfully sent and received in March 1910, a month that was marked by deadly North American avalanches, a catastrophic typhoon in Japan, the explosion of the Lakeview Gusher, President Taft taking action to protect Alaska's seals, and the United States' Immigration Act of 1910 amending law to keep "criminals, paupers, anarchists and diseased persons" out of the country.1

On the back of this postcard, someone has written "Honolulu Mar-16-1910" on the left and "Rec'd at Santa Barbara, Cal. Mar-25-1910" on the right.

The cartoonish characters on the front of the card have been labeled "Rascal" and "Eleanor" by the postcard writer, and the other added writing on the front states, "You may show this to Happie ask him what he think of you & Eleanor. Be sure." On the back, the short message is: "Rascal your hand will get well soon so be good as you know how."

Can we assume that "Rascal" is the postcard addressee – Mr. J. Messang? I think that's a very fair bet. And Mr. J. Messang is, without a doubt in my mind, Chief Machinist's Mate John Peter Albert Messang (1881-1917).

This card is addressed to him aboard the U.S.S. Maryland. In 1910, that would mean the USS Maryland (ACR-8/CA-8), which was commissioned in 1905 and renamed as the Frederick in 1916.

By 1914 (if not earlier), Messang transferred to USS F-1, an F-class submarine that was commissioned in the summer of 1912. It was on that vessel that Merang would die in December 1917.

I first traced Messang to the USS F-1 thanks to the terrific website (Pigboat is slang for military submarine.) The website features a photo of Messang aboard the USS F-1 circa March 1914, and author/webmaster Ric Hedman has kindly given me permission to reproduce it here:

Hedman has indentified Messang as the man seated in the center, with the black hat. Hedman adds that the photo was taken while the USS F-1 was in dry dock at Mare Island, California.

Wikipedia has this information about the accident that took Messang's life: "On 17 December 1917, while maneuvering in exercises off Point Loma, San Diego, California, F-1 and F-3 collided, the former sinking in ten seconds, her port side torn forward of the engine room. Nineteen of her men were lost; the remaining three were rescued by the submarines with which she was operating." Messang's body was not recovered.

According to, Messang was born in Chicago and was a resident of Philadelphia at the time of his death. This additional information is again from
"Messang was married to Hulda Maria Klassy and had a son and a new daughter just a few months before the F-1 sinking. ... His wife and family received word of his death via a telegram from Admiral L.C. Palmer from the navy. The telegram said this: 'The USS F-1 was rammed by another submarine at 7 p.m., Monday December 17, (1917) during a fog, the F-1 sinking immediately. It is with deepest regret that the bureau must convey to you the sad news that your husband, John P.A. Messang, chief machinist's mate, was lost in the sinking of the F-1. No additional information is at hand at this time. You have the sincere sympathy of the bureau in the loss of your husband.' The USS F-1 is the only submarine to be lost by the US during World War I."
It makes me wish we knew more about who sent this postcard to Rascal in 1910, and who Happie and Eleanor were.

1. And, speaking of eventful months, here's what I tweeted today about this one.

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