Exhibit curated by Claire Murray & Minerva Bloom
Ralph F. Michaels, USN World War I
"An American in Paris"
Ralph F. Michaels' uniform from the 1st World War, dated 1917-1919 was recently donated by his daughter, Claire Murray.
Ralph F. Michaels' father was born in Saint Petersburg, Russia. He emigrated to America in the 1800's and settled in Kansas City. Ralph's father labored in the oil industry, and would travel working at different oil sites. As fate would have it, he would perish in the tragedy of the Galveston Hurricane on September 8, 1900-- one of the deadliest hurricanes in US history.
Ralph F. Michaels was born in Kansas City in 1897. While in the 8th grade, Ralph left school to help support his mother. She would later re-marry. His step-father had two sons and one girl. Soon after, Ralph left home to join the United States Navy, training at the Naval Training Station in Great Lakes, Illinois. After graduation, he was sent to France, to serve as a 1st class Store Keeper during the first World War. He traveled to several towns and villages, and would frequently take photographs. In his letters to his mother, he mentions the Treaty of Versailles (28 June 1919), and the Victory March in Paris (14 July 1919).
Ralph later changed his last name of Michaelis to Michaels for easier pronunciation. Claire, his only child, said that after completing 4 years, he was honorably discharged from the Navy, and then moved to West Palm Beach, where he would open a car repair shop. On the second floor of the car shop, there was an apartment, and two sisters lived there. One of them would become his wife, but he did not want to marry, until he had built her a "proper home." He built it, with his own hands, and they married soon after. Claire remembers a fine violin he had bought in Brussels after the war. He loved music, but could not play it. The violin was a catalyst for Claire to start playing at age 9, and she became a concert violinist. She still has that violin.
"I enjoyed meeting with Claire to plan her father's uniform exhibit. She donated two beautiful archival cases for her father's collection. We would meet at the Frame Shop in Fort Lauderdale to discuss how to best organize it. The Frame Shop owner was very patient with us and allowed us to work in the back of his shop. And of course he helped us with the finishing professional touches. We also enjoyed creating an album of Ralph's mementos (photos, postcards, letters and documents). We could not believe we were handling artifacts that were almost 100 years old. Ralph's uniform and personal collection are the oldest artifacts the NASFL Museum currently has on exhibit. Among them, there is a shard of stained-glass from a cathedral in Reimes, that was bombed by Germans. Also there are some beautiful "Mother's Day" and "Merry Christmas" embroidered and painted cards that Ralph sent to his mother, and some very interesting photographs of life in France during WWI. Claire is very happy her father's mementos finally found a home."
--Minerva Bloom, Museum Coordinator
Images Copyright © NAS Fort Lauderdale Museum. Exhibit curated by Claire Murray & Minerva Bloom.