We were honored today with a visit by the executive officer and senior crew of the USS New Mexico–out of the deep, on dry land and in the desert that their nuclear submarine is named for. Among the reasons for the visit was to trade out two dessert plates from the New Mexico History Museum’s luscious 56-piece Tiffany silver service that have ridden on the boat for the last four years.
Made in 1918 by Tiffany & Co. for use aboard the submarine’s predecessor, the fabled USS New Mexico battleship, the set came to the museum in the 1960s after that boat was decommissioned and after seeing brief use aboard the USS Midway and USS Bon Homme Richard. Since 2010, the submarine has had two plates bearing finely etched drawings of New Mexico scenes, the Santa Fe Trail and Taos Pueblo. They’re just two of the reminders that New Mexicans have placed aboard the submarine, including extensive Southwest-style decor courtesy of the volunteer USS New Mexico Committee, Navy League.
“One of the keys (of the Tiffany plates) is having the link between the ship and the home state,” said LCDR Craig Litty (that’s him at the far left in the photo above). “It makes a connection to remind us of what we do all the time. We’re on a warship. It can be tough to remember what we’re working for. It’s one of the key things to keeping us grounded. Between these plates and what the committee sends us, it keeps us very close. This is my third attack submarine, and it has the best relationship with its home state.”
The museum’s collections staff helped Litty and his crew pick out two new plates depicting Coronado’s 1540 expedition and Inscription Rock at El Morro National Monument. Associate conservator Mina Thompson and preparator Doug Jewell accepted the previous plates and got to work switching them out with the new, mirror-shiny ones:
We just had to double-check that silver Tiffany mark, too:
The first plates were coated with a lacquer then tucked into an airtight case mounted on a wall. Thompson said she didn’t coat the plates this time, partly because there wasn’t time, but also as an experiment. The loan period for this set is shorter, one year, with a potential for extending it longer.
The History Museum has a small exhibit about both the battleship and the submarine in our main lobby. Back in storage, we have a scale model of the battleship and the original ship’s bell, with plans to put both on display in the future.
During the submarine crew’s New Mexico sojourn, two of its cooks will get a class at La Posta restaurant in Mesilla. Thanks to previous training, the cooks have already hooked the crew on “Taco Tuesdays,” when one of the dishes is green chile stew.
“It’s fabulous,” said Raj Sodhi, senior chief of the submarine’s weapons department.
The previous plates traveled 40,000 nautical miles to depths of 800 feet and once surfaced at the North Pole. They resided, as their replacements will, in the Ward Room directly behind the captain’s chair. Besides captain-type duties, the room is used for meetings of high-ranking officials and other purposes.
“The first plates have been there for many fancy dinners,” Sodhi said. Then he remembered to add: “And green chile stew.”