The Friends of the Richard Bland College Library, led by former Friends President Dr. LeAnn Binger, worked closely with Dr. Virginia Cherry, former Richard Bland College Library Director, to purchase a hand-made whale table from a sunken U.S. Liberty Ship named the Richard Bland. This whale table was made from parts of a U.S. Liberty Ship number 2015 named after colonial-era political pamphleteer Richard Bland. The liberty ship was torpedoed and sunken by a German U-boat in World War II.
The Richard Bland Liberty Ship was fabricated in Baltimore at Bethlehem-Fairfield. Bethlehem-Fairfield was one of the original nine emergency yards, built with 13 ways in 1940, with $33mm from the USMC, on the site of the former Baltimore Dry Dock & Shipbuilding Co., which had closed in 1922. Its 13 ways were increased to 16 in the second wave of shipbuilding expansion and at its peak the yard had 27,000 employees. It was closed at the end of the war and its site is now being developed by the Maryland Ports Administration.
The Richard Bland was commissioned and launched on February 28, 1942 and delivered on April 17, 1942. The ship spent 122 days on ways and 48 days on the water. It was torpedoed and damaged by a U-boat in the Murmansk Run off the coast of Iceland March 5, 1943 and sunken by a torpedo from U-boat # U255 on March 10, 1943. Nineteen crewman and fifteen Armed Guard died as a result.
This table was made from parts of the ship that were salvaged after it was sunk in the North Atlantic. The plaque refers to "Ron Jon, Katchboards, Ship Bottom, NJ.” This is an old surf shop on the New Jersey seashore and it likely is where the table was originally built. The table dimensions are 54½” long by 26½” wide by 17” high. The table weighs approximately 66 lbs. and has three post legs. The outline of the table is in the shape of a whale, complete with mouth, tail and even a blow hole in the top edge of the table. It is also fully finished on the bottom with a layer of wood that has a burl-type finish. If you look closely you can even see the whale's eye formed in the burl. The plaque on the table reads:
2015 Richard Bland
Sunk by Submarine U 255
Off Iceland 65.53.N.14.10
Ron Jon, Katchboards, Ship Bottom, NJ
The table was purchased in a Pennsylvania curio shop about 40 years ago by a World War II vet who was also a fisherman and avid collector. Upon his passing two years ago, much of his estate was shipped to his daughter in California. The Friends of The Richard Bland College Library purchased the table from her for display in the library. Of the purchase made by the Friends, Dr. Cherry remarked, “I am delighted to share such a unique and historical item which pays tribute to the college’s namesake with our faculty, students and community.” The table is on display in the Special Collections Room. The Richard Bland College Library is open to the public, but the Special Collections Room is open by appointment only.