Jon Crispin's Notebook

Robert LeRoy Crispin, Born 19 April 1917

world war II Yokohama

That’s my father in the middle.  He was born in Central City, Colorado one hundred years ago today.  He died on 14 August 2007. / I think I might have posted this photograph some time ago, but it is an image that is on the wall in my studio and I am really drawn to it.  The original is a 4″x5″ contact print and it is beautiful.

Dad WWII002

Apparently, the photographer was someone called Noyes and I assume he was using the standard Navy issue camera which was most likely a Graflex.  His pals were “Kinch” Kincheloe and Chuck Louin (not sure of the surname, it is hard to tell from the writing).

The date here is interesting as the Japanese surrendered on the 2nd.  My dad was on a ship next to the USS Missouri on that day.  Two days later he was in Yokohama Harbor, and shortly after that he and his pals were the first Americans on the island of Hokkaido.  The Navy had taught his to speak, read, and write fluent Japanese in about 18 months.  He was pretty good at languages.

Thinking of you today Dad.

TEDx Martha’s Vineyard

Posted in Art, Asylums, Boats, Landscape, Ships, Transportation, Travel, Willard Suitcases by joncrispin on 21/08/2014

I’m back from the TEDx event at the Vineyard.  It was an intense couple of days and was really interesting.  Aside from my usual anxiety about presenting the project to people, my biggest concern was how to get 10 20 x 24 inch framed prints from my house to the venue.  It all worked out, but it was a bit nerve wracking.

I was really happy that I was only showing prints, and not doing a formal presentation.  I travel around and talk about the suitcases quite a lot, but mostly in give and take type of situations.  The idea of standing up and delivering a 15 minute presentation still seems a bit intimidating.  It was really helpful though to watch how others talk about their work in this type of format, and I learned a ton about how I want to refine my presentations.

Here’s Jon Ronson giving his talk.  I had read “The Psychopath Test” and seen “The Men Who Stare at Goats” and was happy to get the chance to hang out with him.  So many creative and stimulating people were a part of the event, and the organizers did a great job setting up time for the participants to relax and talk about our work.  It was an honor to be asked to a part of it and I am really grateful to all involved, especially Katy Decker who is an amazing bundle of energy and sweetness.  It was also fantastic that my dear friend Sue Jackson, her husband Rick, and their friend Joanie made the trip over from the Cape.  It meant so much to me to have familiar faces there.

The Vineyard is a really lovely place and as I hadn’t been there in years, it was great to be back.

It was only slightly weird that since the President was in residence for his vacation, the Coast Guard was out in force.  I would guess it was just for training purposes, but there were three chase boats that shadowed us back to Wood’s Hole and it felt a bit strange to see a manned 50 caliber machine gun so near to the ferry.

I am hoping to post more here over the next week.  Thanks, as usual, for following.

Willard Suitcases / Agnes M / White Star Britannic

Posted in Boats, Family, History, Ocean Liners, Ships, Transportation, Travel, Willard Suitcases by joncrispin on 05/06/2014

Peggy and I had a very productive day shooting the suitcases yesterday.  We are continuing to make great progress, and still have hopes that we can finish all the cases by the end of the year.

I have always been fascinated by the labels that are on some of the cases and this one is particularly interesting.  The White Star Line has an interesting history and even though there is a bit of confusion about the name of the ship here, I am quite sure it is the Britannic.  (On the label it seems to say Britanica, but when I did an online search only Britannic came up.)  The “Sailing from” line is very difficult to read, but it looks to be Qu….town (Queenstown?) and the sailing date is “Sep 28”.  The port of landing (such a quaint phrase) is definitely New York.  You can see the U.S. Customs sticker in the shot below.

So, as usual, lots of questions come up and I am hoping that anyone who knows about ocean liners and travel might have some suggestions about what route this might have been for Agnes M.  If any of you want to do some serious work on this, I can email a high res file of the label.

Karen Miller, my friend who is using the cases and their owners as a basis for writing amazing poems was in Rotterdam with us yesterday, and she and I realized that we were both passengers on the SS United States in 1957.  She was on her way to the UK to live there for a year with her family, and I was returning from some months in Europe and the UK with my family.  I posted about that trip here.

Block Island Again

Posted in Advertising, Family, Ships, Transportation, Travel, Water by joncrispin on 02/07/2013

We are back out on Block Island visiting our friends Scott and Lisa.  They are so nice to include us in their vacation.  The ferry crossing yesterday was quite rough and kind of fun on the rolling waves.

Cris and I went for a nice bike ride to the North end of the island this morning and then came back and played cribbage.  I love this little travel board.  It was my gramma Krieghoff’s and it is so sweet.  I especially like the Michigan Abrasive Company playing cards that came with it. / Back home tomorrow.  Before we left I tried to set up an “out of the office” auto-reply in my mail program and it totally buggered things up.  Some of you received a ton of email from me with the announcement.  Sorry; I disabled it as soon as I realized what was happening.  /  Happy Fourth of July to you Americans who follow this site.

Pier 70, San Francisco

Posted in Abandoned Buildings, Architecture, Buildings, Cities, History, Ships by joncrispin on 25/05/2013

Due to a remarkable set of circumstances I was invited to stay at the home of Toby and Jerry Levine while I was in San Francisco.  My friend Meredith from the Pelham Cultural Council is a great friend of theirs and encouraged me to get in touch before my trip.  They were super hosts and are both very involved in San Francisco neighborhood preservation and development.  Toby serves on several boards and seems to be familiar with every important neighborhood issue both past and present.  At one point early in my stay she asked me if I was interested in large industrial sites.  Indicating that I was, she made arrangements for me to have a tour of a few buildings at Pier 70 that are slated for development.

I only had about an hour and just my little cameras with me, but Everardo, who interns with the development company gave us a grand tour of buildings 112/113 and 104.

I get so jazzed about shooting in these environments.

There is something about this time in the life of a building that intrigues me.

Since I was not able to photograph during its productive era, I can only imagine what was happening in these rooms when they were in use.

But there is usually enough evidence left behind to give an inkling to what it might have been like to work here.

And the light is always so natural and soft.

This building is huge.  It was part of a ship building and dry dock  facility which at one time was part of Bethlehem Steel.  I believe that it was originally the Union Iron Works.

Which at one time must have employed a ton of people.

I especially like old locker rooms and bathrooms.

Nice sign over the urinals.

It is not difficult to imagine people using these sinks after a long day’s work.

I like this little office in the middle of everything.

This is a view of the second floor of 113.

How about the red fingernails painted on this stylized hand which points the way to the rest room?

This color green shows up regularly in buildings like this one.  The light fixtures give a bit of a clue to when this office space was last renovated.  I’d say mid 1960’s.

These last few shots are from building 104 which seems to have been mostly used for administrative offices.

This is the top floor of 104.  You can just see the skylights which at some time were painted black.

The staircases are fantastic.

More lockers here, and it seems odd to me that they were in what was essentially an office building.

There was a small hospital in one wing of 104, and with all the machinery that is saw, I can imagine it was a busy place at times.

Thanks so much to the Orton Development people for granting me access to these amazing buildings.  And of course to Toby and Jerry.  Here are a few links to learn more about the site, its history, and future.  Click here and here.

California Coast

Posted in Animals, Beaches, Bridges, Cities, Flowers, Landscape, Nature, Plants, Ships, Uncategorized, Water by joncrispin on 29/04/2013

This will be a picture heavy post without too many words.

We stopped in Pismo Beach, which is a sweet little town with a nice pier.  I like being able to shoot from above, which is a great angle to document guys with metal detectors.

Morro Bay is another pleasant town.  We were blown away to see these sea otters rafting at the end of the day so near to the town.  The wide angle lens doesn’t make them seem so close, but they were right there.

Next stop was the amazing elephant seal beach just near to San Simeon.  These seals have been coming to this location since the early ’90s.  Noisy and smelly (but in a very nice way).  Remarkable to be so close to these creatures.

They are molting at this time of the year and aren’t particularly active.

Next up, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park near Big Sur.  Well worth a visit.

It is Spring out here and wild flowers are everywhere.  This looks to be some sort of iris.

This spectacular field is just off Highway 1.  We came around a corner and this scene took our breath away.

California poppys.  Cris says they are the state flower.

Point Lobos State Park is a wonderful place to hike and get close to the ocean.  The trails are  extensive; it would be easy to spend a whole day here.

I had never been in the redwoods before.   This same photo has probably been taken a million times, but who could resist.  Big Basin State Park is just north of Santa Cruz.

Since I’m in California, I can get away with the word awesome.  Truly amazing.

Had a nice walk yesterday from the Exploratorium up to the Golden Gate Bridge.  Finally saw “The Changing Face of What is Normal” exhibit and will post some shots and my reaction soon.

Pia and Flying Angel Seafarers Club

Posted in Buildings, Cities, Friends, History, People, Ships, Travel by joncrispin on 16/04/2012

I spent a fantastic couple of hours with Pia Massie walking around the completely non-touristy parts of Vancouver.  We started in Gastown and went to the area that is mostly inhabited by addicts and street people.  She really knows her way around and it was fascinating.  Her latest work is a documentary about Canadians of Japanese descent who were forcibly moved from the area just after Pearl Harbor.   Everything was taken from them and they and have never returned as a community.  There are still remnants of their lives if you know where to look, as in the name underneath a doormat at the entrance to this building.

We ended up at the Flying Angel Seafarers Club, which is as close as one can get to the port without encountering pretty heavy security.  Unless you knew it was here, you might never find it.  An amazingly beautiful building and since there was a sign on the front that said open, we went in.  A volunteer named Frank gave us the grand tour and we learned a ton.  Here is a link.  I was especially taken by this book which is in a glass case at the front of the building.

Here is a description of its purpose.

Very touching. /  We fly home tomorrow.  Thanks Pia for the tour.  It was great fun.

Day Peckinpaugh / Erie Canal

Posted in History, Landscape, People, Ships, Travel, Water by joncrispin on 22/02/2011

I was mostly crazed yesterday.  Sometime over the weekend, I either lost, misplaced, or had stolen some important mail.  I was preoccupied by it most of the day.  So much so that at about 2 o’clock I just wanted to crawl into bed and sleep.  For some reason, I decided to mess around with my web site instead.  I had been wanting to update it fore a while, especially the projects page.

Several years ago, the New York State Museum rescued the Day Peckinpaugh from imminent scrapping.  It was in Erie, PA, and by some miracle Craig Williams got a hold of it just before its demise.  Most amazing was that he found someone who had actually worked on the ship while it was still an active hauler, and who knew his way around the engines.  So they fired them up and started the journey from Erie to Waterford, NY.

The Peckinpaugh was built in 1921 and when it was retired in 1994, it was the last working freighter on the Erie Canal.  I think I remember hearing that it was hauling concrete at that time.

I got the chance to be on her for much of the trip across New York State on the canal.  It was late October / early November and the weather could not have been better.  A really interesting group of people too.


John Callaghan was the skipper, and you can see by the concentration on his face that it was an intense job for him and his crew.  The ship travelled mostly by her own power, but on occasion tug boats came in to help out.

So, at the end of the day, I still hadn’t found the mail, but at least I felt good about getting something productive done.  To see more from the trip, check out the “projects” page of my main website ( by clicking the link on the right (Jon’s main site).

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