A Brief Look at Sick Bay or Please Stop Wanting to Take Data There for Assignations

I had long ago promised Mr. Brent Spiner on Twitter to write a blog explaining the history of Sick Bay. This was, of course, close to two years ago. I have not forgotten and I most heartily apologize for the delay. It has long worried me that fans of Star Trek (Trekkies/Trekkers) feel the need to tell their favourite actor (or actress) that they have lond held desires to whisk them along to Sick Bay. I’m hear to inform them once and for all to please don’t. Sick Bay is not a place for romantic assignations. Sick Bay is a medical area where people are brought to because they are sick, injured, dying, or in some instances, giving birth. Nothing about the term nor the function screams “Romance.” Since this is a history based blog, let’s go on a journey of the history of Sick Bay and it’s usage as a term.

In modern terminology, Sick Bays are the areas on board or ashore Naval and Marine Corps bases (meaning ships or land based facilities) were medical supplies are located. Usually, only the medical oficer and the commanding officer will have access to the locked medical cabinets. On a ship, it’s a specialized compartment or bay. On land, it can be a building or a series of rooms (think medical clinics). Naturally, it’s become popular to use in science fiction due to Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica. But I often laugh at people (though also cringing as well), who think it a suitable place to have an assignation in. Granted, it is a sterile environment and I suppose cleanliness would be a positive aspect of selecting such a place. Nonetheless, it is a medical facility first and foremost, which means people have vomited there, gross bodily fluids have spilled there, and people have died there. None of these images conjures up feelings of romance nor of flirtatiousness.

First known use of the word to describe a specific area, according to the Etymology Dictionary, if from the 1580s. They state it can mean the forepart of a ship’s main deck used as a hospital (which sounds like a modern interpretation unless you are made aware that hospital dates from around mid 13th Century France) or an indication of a space between decks, on the forward side, but a recessed space. Hospital meaning “a place for the needy”, “guest lodgings” or “to be hospitable” which doesn’t mean what we now associate with the word. Though one does hope that medical staff in our modern hospitals would treat one hospitably. Even though the word dates from the 1580s doesn’t necessarily mean it wasn’t in use before that. Some form of the word may have been in use for much longer than we are aware of as sailors rightly deemed it wise to use an area that had no function and turn it into an area for use by those who are injured or sick. One doesn’t want sick men intermingling with healthy men in case it’s an illness that can spread.

Sick Bay: 1898USS Brooklyn, circa 1898 “Sick Bay”, Detroit Publishing Company (courtesy of Shorphy.com; image 8863)

Of course, as the decades evolved, so did warfare and a dedicated space was then established for the treatment of injured and ill sailors. Looking at the picture of the U.S.S. Brooklyn (see image above), it’s still clear that the area was still located at the end of the ship. It’s hard to discern whether it’s at the front or the rear. However, this ship was laid out (as in begun) in 1857 and launched (finished) in 1859, so it’s probably located int he front of the ship, like the majority of the Sick Bays were on other man of wars at this time. This ship was decommissioned in 1889 and struck from the Naval lists in 1890; then sold to a private company. This ship is said to be the first official US Naval Ship of this type and one of the best in her day. She was active during the Civil War for the Union and traveled to various interesting places in the world. I do believe there is a much newer ship bearing the same name currently. So, the sailors pictured here are working for a private firm, possibly involved in trade or exploration.

The USS Constitution Museum website has a wonderful entry on their ship

s Sick Bay and how this inspired some writings by Herman Melville (yes, Moby Dick Melville). They also have terrific images of where it is located on the ship itself with period drawings, along with other entries dealing with how they keep the ship in working order (even though it’s permanently docked). They openly discuss the restorations process over the years and the detail they’ve put into it all. Everything about this site has been infinitely informative for me in writing not only this blog post, but for researching and writing my first novel (as I do have Royal Naval Men in it). I cannot state how phenomenal the site it and if you do email them a question, they do try to respond within a few days. They readily provided me with links to other sites of similar ships, which I do not think I would have been able to find on my own without their assistance. https://ussconstitutionmuseum.org/2016/05/04/sick-bay-away/

Sickbay

The locked Medicine Cabinet of the HMS Victory’s Sick Bay (courtesy of the HMS Victory)

The above image was emailed to me from the very fine folks restoring the HMS Victory, which is one of the finest examples of Georgian ships to still exist in the world today. When I explained ot them that I wanted to know what the typical medical cabinet aboard a man of war would possibly look like, as they didn’t have an example shown on their site, they very kindly sent me this picture. They are restoring various areas of the ship, so this may be an old picture of what the cabinet looked like before they started to restore the Sick Bay area, as I do believe they are working on it or have been working on it recently. Be that as it may, the important thing to remember is that only the Captain (or the highest ranking Officer on board, say an Admiral) along with the medical Officer, would be the only two to have keys to unlock this cabinet. Any sailor who needed to be treated in Sick Bay also lost their ration of rum that day. So men did not willingly want to be treated for any injury or illness, often preferring to self treat instead. Receiving one’s ration of rum was considered a right and continued in the Royal Navy until Black Tot Day (31 July, 1970). Again, doesn’t sound very sexy, does it? After all, who wants to have their rum ration taken away? The more one finds about Sick Bay, the less appealing it’s sounding.

By the time of WWII, Sick Bay became slightly bigger in size, as they now had to include more modern equipment and the medical officer was now a trained surgeon. The area usually contained a folding operating table, possibly an oxygen tank, maybe an IV stand (though more likely to have hooks in the wall to just hold bags up), fans, perhaps a small fridge to hold vaccines, and a small sink. For now sailors had to be vaccinated and treated for such things as Yellow Fever, Typhoid, Cholera, and STDs like Syphilis. Like their fathers in WWI, STDs were the very Devil; condemns, if you are not aware, have been around since the 1400s. Like always, this was not an area you wanted to be in and one you wanted to avoid at all cost. It was not a sexy place. This was a place of death during the war. Men died on their way there, died from hemorrhaging on the table or died from infection afterwards. In battle, the last thing on the medical offier’s mind would have been sterilization of equipment, unfortunately.

Basically, the point is Sick Bay is not a romantic area at all. I don’t think any proper lady would want to be taken there for an assignation nor should any man deem it an appropriate place to begin with. Places on board a ship which would be much more suitable, and romantic, would naturally be his personal quarters. Considering Data is a Lieutenant, therefore an Officer with Rank, his quarters would be much nicer than the average, basic non-ranking Star Fleet Officer. Personally, the Conference Room (or War Room) would be a nice choice; historically, only Officers of Rank would have access to this room and it does have a lot of windows on one side, meaning there is a nice, pleasant view. On a ship of the 18th & 19th Centuries, this area usually connected to the Captain’s personal quarters and was a bit like his personal sitting area and also his office/conference room. Star Trek wisely has the Captain’s Quarters in a separate Deck, with his office on the opposite side of the conference room, with the main deck in the middle (which I think is a very wise placement decision). Of course, there’s always the Captain’s Office, which may be thrilling and slightly naughty. Empty shuttles, for instance, offer privacy out in the open. There is also the Holodeck, which is engineered for fulfilling fantasies. All I am stating, Star Trek fans, is be less creepy with this fascination for sex in Sick Bay and more realistic.

And while I have given thought as to where one should have an assignation on board a ship, my personal preference is for Captain Wentworth and the Laconia, not Lieutenant Data and the USS Enterprise. I was, after all, seven with TNG came out, so never understood the sexual appeal of Data. Though I did believe Data would be an amazing friend. He would play with Legos with me. We would draw, color and paint together. I’m fairly certain Data would have enjoyed Super Mario Brothers and Tetris. Plus, he was friends with Mr. Reading Rainbow himself, Levar Burton, which made him super cool. And we both liked cats. Watching it again, being older, I still think that way, which isn’t a bad thing. Personally, I ended up crushing on Mr. Nimoy as Spock from the original series. I guess Vulcans are more my thing. Though having meet the man in real life in 2008, Leonard Nimoy was absolutely fantastic. He was warm, kind, and we were able to speak for a little bit. And I always tell people he smelled incredibly good. Which sounds weird, but it’s true. So, I may be unusual, but at least I don’t want to shag someone in Sick Bay.

 

Sources:

https://www.history.navy.mil/

www.shorpy.com

https://www.etymonline.com/word/sick-bay

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sick%20bay

https://www.hms-victory.com/

https://www.ussslater.org/tour/decks/platfrm1/sick-bay/sick-bay.html

https://historyofnavymedicine.org/

http://www.riparia.org/Medical%20History/sickbay.html

 

OMG I’m done, so what Genre did I just write; an ode to a panic attack

Now that I have finished writing, editing (five times, thank you very much), and formatting to not have academia long paragraphs (plus, punctuation corrections), I have now started my search for a literary agent. There are some who pitch ideas for books before writing, and I’ve seen loads of examples of how to write such letters in order to get an agent in that manner. However, I cannot work that way and decided to finish this first novel (1 of 6 mind you; I do have a plan to my madness) before embarking on attaching myself to any agent.

I did the most logical, sensible thing in the world-I created a Pinterest board of writing tips and guidelines which included links to how to find a literary agent(see gigantic board linked below). One such link recommended Query Tracker. This website is free (though for premium services, you can pay a fee-I have elected not to at this time). It has loads of agents listed who are actively seeking new writers in various genres. Thus is my dilemma. What genre is my novel? And I do realize that I will have to write a query letter (basically a brief summary for any potential agents) which will hopefully capture someone’s interest. But both the website and letter require me to choose a genre.

My novel is, for the most part, a variation of an Austen novel. And it’s hard for me to pinpoint what genre that good lady’s novels fit into. When I first read Sense & Sensibility at age 12, for instance, they were located in the young adult (YA) section. The same for Emma and Northanger Abbey. I’ve also seen people list Emma as being part of a comedic-romantic genre, and Northanger Abbey as a pseudo-Gothic Romance. On the other hand, I recall having to get my mother’s written permission for the librarian would allow me to check out Pride & Prejudice (again, at age 12 or 13) because it was in the Adult section and listed as a Historical Romance (hidden amongst the bodice rippers-oh my!). Mansfield Park was in the Adult Romance section (rated PG-13 for the incestuous relationship between Fanny and Edward) which leaves Persuasion (my personal favourite) being listed as straight Romance in the library.

I decided on just plain Literary Fiction because I’m not sure if I should choose Historical as while I did include actual historical fact (researched and fully vetted), it’s not the typical historical fiction. I’ve read historical fiction and this isn’t quite the same. It’s more witty, heartbreaking, and, well, to be honest, it’s more like Jane Austen. Except it’s not (and it is at the same time). I could have chosen Romance, for it is a love story, but usually people tend to think Romance nowadays includes sex and this does not contain sex, being true to the who I am as a writer. Plus I do hope to get some poems published in magazines and the like as well and do not want to be known as just a writer of romantic fiction. I do have ideas swarming inside this head for children’s tales as well. Though I am quite proud for having pointed out the Quadrille was NOT a stately, leisurely dance. It’s the little details that you can now point out in every Austen adaptation to your friends as being completely wrong. You’re welcome.

Proof:

Websites I have been finding useful:

http://www.writersdigest.com (so much information, I can spend hours on it)

querytracker.net (I do think the basic free version is sufficient at this time)

The Greatest Showman: Or what in the Humbugery is all this Nonsense?

Firstly, I’ve had a bit of a inner struggle recently on whether to consider myself a 19th Century Historian or not based on the simple fact that I do not have a degree in History. I do, however, have a Masters in Theatre in the realm of Costume Design and over 32+ hours of graduate hours in History courses (from two well-respected Universities) which is sort of the equivalent of a Masters degree in of itself. I don’t take such a designation lightly, but I did reach out (quietly) to people with Masters and Doctorates and asked them their opinions. All ten assured me that I had all the qualifications of being considered a Historian because I met a few simple guidelines being I had spent hundreds, if not thousands of hours studying my specific area of expertise. That I could, without much hesitation, answer their questions in a timely manner (up to ten minutes) via Skype and not needing to resort to Google but only using my personal notes meant I would be able to pass an oral exam if I had been given the chance. Many stated I did not need a piece of paper to do what I was doing because I had already proven myself and needed nothing else. So, I am very pleased with that knowledge. But understand that I will always use published and verified resources to back up my statements whenever I can.

Now that I have gotten that out of the way, I can now turn your attention to the purpose of this entry, which is ‘The Greatest Showman”, or what I would like to refer to as “The Greatest Bit of Humbug I’ve Ever Seen Grace the Silver Screen.” If you’ve not seen this film, I will not apologize for spoiling it for you. If you have seen it, I will not apologize for tearing it to shreds. The film stars Hugh Jackman and he is superbly cast (per usual) in a role that utilizes his theatrical gifts of the stage; singing, acting, and dancing are clearly his forté. I do not fault Mr. Jackman for taking such a role, as it must have been lovely to be presented one which was vastly different from his role in Les Miserables. Even so, I do find issue with casting a man with the looks of Adonis to portray P.T. Barnum, who in reality resembled the offspring of a gremlin and a lump of clay (and I do most heartily apologize to all lumps of clay reading this currently). Of course, this is Hollywood and we most assuredly cannot ever cast average looking people to portray average historical figures! Heavens no! Imagine the horror!

Casting concerns aside, I have an issue with the lack of historical accuracy in the film overall. The film tries to portray Barnum as this poor, unfortunate street urchin in love with a wealthy girl and somehow is able to marry her within the first ten minutes of the film. This is complete bullshit right from the start and should infuriate any historian. Barnum’s father was a tailor, innkeeper and store owner. His grandfather was a landowner in Connecticut (meaning the family had wealth at some point, who had been in the legislator and a justice of the peace. Barnum was also born from his father’s second marriage, indicating his father had been well off financially to marry a second time. Barnum’s grandfather, Phineas, was known to run a lottery scam. This is important because P.T. had to learn the basics of running a scam from someone. He owned and ran several business before owning the museum in New York; one of which is a newspaper (The Herald of Freedom) and, most shockingly of all, a lottery scam in 1829. By 1834, Barnum had to move to New York because lotteries were declared illegal in Connecticut and his money making scheme was coming to an end.

Now, had any of this been shown in the film? Absolutely not. Jackman’s character is seen as a poor street urchin who sees a train, then is magically transformed in Hugh Jackman, marries his childhood sweetheart and moves to New York so he can make good on his promise to shower his young wife with riches. Now, he did marry Charity in 1829, but they didn’t move to New York until 1834 after the whole lottery thing. And did I mention he slandered some Churches with his newspaper, did jail time, and had to sell his store that also sold books? His life is vastly more interesting than the little song and dance routine Jackman did with Michelle Williams depicting their love. Still, the film is called “The Greatest Showman” which implies it is about how Barnum became synonymous with the circus. The film woefully fails at this.

Barnum was 25 in 1835 when he leased for $1000, not owned because slavery was outlawed in New York at this time, a paralyzed and almost completely blind black woman named Joice Heath. He leased her for a year from a friend, who had been exhibiting her in Philadelphia, claiming she was 161 years old and George Washington’s nurse. Barnum worked her to her death; she was put on display a minimum of 12 hours a day and died in February. She was no more than 80 years old. But Barnum would not allow Joice Heath the dignity of a grave and would find a way to make money off of her even in death; he exhibited her corpse and had a live viewing of her autopsy done to prove to onlookers she could not possibly be 161 years old. Barnum excelled at making money from hate, which is what the film makers never show you. The price to see Joice cut up was fifty cents per person; Barnum never revealed how much money he made off of her corpse and I could not find any source only that many did go and the autopsy lasted days. I have to admit even now, while it’s been well over a century, when I first read about Joice Heath, I cried. It still upsets me to know this woman is largely forgotten and considered insignificant. She should have been mentioned in the film. But maybe I am being selfish. Such a scene would not have tested well with audiences, I dare say. No, they’d rather believe Barnum cared for the misfits, the rejects. Sorry to say, but the filmmakers lied.

Take for instance, Tom Thumb. The film depicts accurately that such a person existed in Barnum’s sphere. However, there were two such person’s with that same name. The first was a child of four, but said to be eleven, who was put on display, made to drink alcohol and smoke cigars so he would appear older. It would be a way to make the child look like a little man instead of a small child. A bit of trickery. The second Tom Thumb was, of course, an actual little person. That Tom did meet Queen Victoria (who was already a Widow at that time, not young per the film) and ended up marrying Thumbelina, the smallest lady in the world.

The film never mentions the Fiji Mermaid. They hint at it, of course, but never show it nor mention it. This is and was the most famous of all of Barnum’s humbugs and was the collaboration between Barnum and his friend Moses Kimball. It is never seen on film. This is a travesty of historical proportions for a film to consider itself to be a biopic of Barnum and never once show the infamous Fiji Mermaid. Not even a poster did appear. Shameful. Utterly shameful.

Other historical events which are never mentioned in the film, which shockingly did occur are the panic of 1837. Whole not well know, it did hurt his finances for a time. The Civil War is never mentioned, which astonished me to no end. The man lived during this time and not once did any part of the war between the states ever grace the screen. I understand the purpose of the film is to be entertaining and filled with merriment, but to completely forgo a major significant part of United States history smacks of revisionist history of the likes of Dineish D’Szousa and is in no way honest to the life of P.T. Barnum not the people who worked for him.

Barnum was known for being a humbug, meaning he was known for being dishonest. He made his living of of exploitation of others. It’s not a pleasant thing to research because no one likes to become confronted with the knowledge that the man everyone associates with the circus and happiness was, in fact, a hard core racist who believed in slavery even after it was outlawed everywhere. He helped popularize minstrelsy shows, he perpetrated a hoax stating weed (or a weed, it depends on the source) would black people white. He willingly told people the reason he left the Democratic Party was because they would not uphold the right to own slaves (this was in 1854; suck it Dinesh). He claimed to hate politics, yet served in the legislator himself. He spoke against the evils of alcohol, but willingly supplied such things to Native Americans. He did not always believe non-whites had the capacity to even contain souls yet donated a fortune to Tufts University. He was a man full of contradictions. This was the man I wanted to see on screen and this was the man I expected to see in some manner.

Instead, I saw a very white-washed, sterilized, rose-colored glasses version of P.T. Barnum. The same can be said for the people of the circus and the people of the era. Never have I seen such clean streets. Seriously. The Musuem had historically been located near brothels and tenants which had no indoor plumbing. Nary did I spy any shit nor rubbish in the streets. Those were the cleanest Victorian streets I’ve ever seen. Contrast them with the streets in “Gangs of New York” and you’ll appreciate what I mean. I do understand the appeal of the whole “us versus them” mentality the filmmakers gave the circus workers. And I sympathize because it does make for a more compelling film. Be that as it may, it is entirely inaccurate and dishonest. Most were sold by their parents or worked for room & board. They worked 10-12 hour days and it was degrading work. Many of the women would have prostituted themselves for extra money (yes, that did happen). Barnum excelled at making money at selling nothing. There was never an “us versus them” for him because he owned the “us” via contracts.

As for the costumes, I can only say they were very theatrical, as they were no doubt meant to be. Doesn’t mean they were accurate. They were very old timey sort of generic quasi Victorian looking enough to resemble something old without having to be historically true. Not one woman was wearing a corset and yes, you can tell. Many appeared to be wearing padded or push up bras, a big no-no. Shaved legs and arm pits didn’t exist in those days and neither did smooth chests for men. Not enough facial hair for men either, which is strangely weird. Visible zippers. I had an attack of the vapors on that one. Michelle Williams also resembled an advert for Target or Macy’s at some point (pick one). Evening wear styles for men-also, pick one. Either they are wearing tails, cut aways or frock coats, not all three in one scene (sweet lord, do they not know how to dress extras). I shall not discuss hair, hair products, nor makeup because it just is not worth my time.

Basically, the point of the matter is the film is vastly inaccurate. It kills me, not only as a 19th Century Historian, but as a Theatre person, to hear people praising it for it’s realism, attention to detail, and how it really told the true story of P.T. Barnum. It didn’t-not even remotely close. It’s a musical loosely, and I do mean loosely, based on the life of Barnum. The film is 20% Barnum and 80% Humbug, with me being overly generous in that regard. As a piece of musical theatre it is vastly entertaining and for that alone, I can enjoy it. I must disassociate any attempts to connect it with history and reality to do so, which puts this in the realm of a fantasy film for me or a fairy tale. However, anyone out there trying to think this film has any connection with the real and historical figure needs to go to their local library forthwith for I don’t have the strength to deal with such nonsense.

Sources

Barnum, P.T. Struggles and Triumphs; Or, Forty Years’ Recollections of P.T. Barnum. Buffalo, N.Y.: The Courier Company, 1883

Adams, Bluford. E Pluribus Barnum: The Great Showman and the Making of U.S. Popular Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997.

Cook, James W. The Arts of Deception: Playing with Fraud in the Age of Barnum. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001.

Reiss, Benjamin. The Showman and the Slave: Race, Death, and Memory in Barnum’s America. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001.

Lott, Eric. Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993