WWI items, donated to museum, offer peek at U.S.'s early submarines

Corinne Kiefer, 88, of Northport, Fla., who has donated her father's WWI items to the United States Navy Submarine Force Library and Museum in Groton, takes a few minutes to look at the WWI exhibit on display at the museum on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017. Stephen Finnigan, left, is the museum curator. (Tim Martin/The Day)
Corinne Kiefer, 88, of Northport, Fla., who has donated her father's WWI items to the United States Navy Submarine Force Library and Museum in Groton, takes a few minutes to look at the WWI exhibit on display at the museum on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017. Stephen Finnigan, left, is the museum curator. (Tim Martin/The Day)

Groton — Personal items belonging to a World War I sailor, among the first assigned to the Naval Submarine Base, are now in the possession of the Submarine Force Library & Museum.

Corinne Kiefer, 88, the only daughter of Frederick William Gratz, traveled from Northport, Fla., to personally donate the items, which, she said, is what her father would've wanted. (She booked her trip a while back and coincidentally left a day before Hurricane Irma hit Florida).

"That's what should happen," Kiefer said, as she pored over, one last time, a scrapbook he made depicting his submarine service. "That's what he'd want."

The items are rare; the museum receives submarine-related items from that era only every few years, according to curator Stephen Finnigan.

Gratz, who enlisted as a 2nd class machinist's mate in the Navy on June 5, 1917, arrived at the sub base while it was still being built, and his pictures capture a time when the base expanded to meet the growing size of the submarine force, Finnigan said.

The base formally was designated as such in 1916, becoming the U.S.'s first permanent continental submarine base. There was a surge of activity there following the country's entry into the war in April 1917.

Gratz was assigned to the H-1 submarine, which got stuck in the mud 245 feet below the ocean's surface near Fishers Island, as chronicled in an undated newspaper clipping included in his scrapbook. The article describes it as a "harrowing experience" for the crew, which "stuck to their posts and received every command coolly as they set to work to get out of their difficulty."

"All the pumps were run at capacity and the water was blown out of the front tank, and the H-1 began to rise," the article goes on to say. "As she approached the surface she came faster and when she struck the surface she almost jumped out of the water."

Kiefer said she remembers her father telling her that the crew had their pistols at the ready when they were on the bottom because they weren't sure if they were going to be able to surface.

Gratz's scrapbook includes photos depicting some of the U.S.'s earliest submarines. He built a camera inside a shoebox and photographed the inside of the submarine, which, he later told his daughter, could've landed him a life sentence in the brig.

Kiefer also donated items her father embroidered in his downtime, including a purse he made, most likely from Navy cording, for her mother.

Gratz was discharged on Aug. 13, 1919, at the rank of machinist's mate 1st class. He went on to work as a wax engraver, first at the Michigan Electrotype Co. in Detroit, and then in Lansing, Mich., where he owned Lansing Electrotype Co. He died on Dec. 17, 1959, at the age of 65.

The donations will be housed at the museum, which currently has a WWI exhibit on display. However, the museum does not have the capacity to display all of the items it receives.

j.bergman@theday.com

Stephen Finnigan, the museum curator at the United States Navy Submarine Force Library and Museum in Groton, takes a closer look at a scrapbook of old photographs taken by the father of Corinne Kiefer, 88, of Northport, Fla., who has donated a number of WWI artifacts that belonged to her father, Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017. (Tim Martin/The Day)
Stephen Finnigan, the museum curator at the United States Navy Submarine Force Library and Museum in Groton, takes a closer look at a scrapbook of old photographs taken by the father of Corinne Kiefer, 88, of Northport, Fla., who has donated a number of WWI artifacts that belonged to her father, Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017. (Tim Martin/The Day)

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