Picatinny building renovation uncovers World War II-era artwork

By Ted LangJanuary 9, 2012

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USS Grampus
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48-star flag
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PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. (Jan. 6, 2012) -- Construction workers who have been preparing a building at Picatinny Arsenal for renovation in the general vicinity of Navy Hill have uncovered a visual time capsule in the form of World War II-era artwork hidden behind sheetrock.

Limited demolition had progressed to the point where all that remains are structural steel I-beams, the remaining foundation, floor and original brick walls.

Upon removal of the sheet rock and lumber furring, the interior brick walls revealed the work of what appears to be the work of a self-styled amateur Navy artist.

Painted in black silhouette style are depictions of World War II Navy ships and other imagery. It is an astonishing find, especially when one gets a close-up look at the details offered in the paintings.

One mural of a submarine, partially obscured by missing brick, clearly shows the number "207" on its hull. Another is of a PT boat identified by the unknown artist as PT 10. There is also a mural of the American flag showing 48 stars.

The style of the ships, destroyers, cruisers, the PT, and even an aircraft carrier, tends to identify the artwork with the period of 1943 to 1945.

According to Wikipedia, the submarine, No. 207, is identified as the U.S.S. Grampus, which was sunk with a loss of all hands on June 21, 1943. The sub was built by Electric Boat Company of Groton, Conn., in 1940.

Grampus, which started its patrol service in Long Island Sound, was afterwards overhauled in Portsmouth, N. H., and was readied for war by Dec. 22, 1941. She reached Pearl Harbor on Feb. 1, 1942.

According to NavSource Online: Motor Torpedo Boat Photo Archive, PT-10 was also built in 1940 by Electric Boat Company, Elco Naval Division, in Bayonne, N.J. The website says that PT-10 entered into service on Nov. 7, 1940.

After a brief assignment off Florida and the Caribbean, PT-10 was transferred to the British Royal Navy on April 11, 1941. She was lost during a towing operation in the Mediterranean area on June 14,1942, with no loss of lives.

Other murals from the Building 3359 mystery artist include a representation of Navy craft providing a general reference to a beach landing. A Landing Ship-Tank, known as an LST, is shown in the foreground, along with a destroyer and a cruiser in the background.

In another mural, flying low in the background between two destroyers, is a fighter plane very difficult to identify. The fuselage could be that of a U.S. Army Air Force P-47 or a Navy F4F carrier-based Grumman Wildcat.

But the tail section's vertical stabilizer is definitely similar to that of a British Royal Air Force Supermarine Spitfire and also a German Focke Wulf 190. An escort aircraft carrier, also known as a "jeep" carrier, is shown, but thus far cannot be identified as to nation, class or manufacture.

A Boeing B-29 Super Fortress bomber appears to be falling from the sky in the carrier mural, making it difficult to identify the carrier as friend or foe, and fixing the event at the end of the war when B-29s became a factor.

These paintings are much more than mere artwork, no matter what level of creative proficiency can be ascribed to them. What is relevant is the artist's dedication to the American war fighters on the high seas during World War II.

This dedication and level of detail represent history. The fact that these were painted during World War II is testimony to their being remnants of history. According to ARDEC historian Patrick J. Owens, the murals date from World War II when the Navy occupied the area.

There seems to be no way to salvage this art work and isolate it from the much-needed renovation of the building benefitting both the Armament University and the Medical Service Unit.

Hence, the present challenge is displaying the work, preserving it in some kind of commemorative format and documenting the effort with the best guesses available to us at this time.

If more knowledgeable individuals can offer more information, it would be much appreciated.

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