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The "Living History Crew of the USFS OLYMPIA" and  its involvement in filming of Documentary for the

History Channel

Written and Filmed and by

NFL Films

by Patrick McSherry 
Please Visit our Home Page to learn more about the Spanish American War
Click here for a link to NFL Films

The Living History Crew of the USFS OLYMPIA took part in the filming of a documentary for the History Channel which was written and produced by NFL Films. The documentary on the Spanish American War is planned for release in the fall of 2006.

The Project:

On November 12-13, 2005, members of the Living History Crew of the USFS OLYMPIA and several additional naval historians took part in the filming of a documentary on the Spanish American War being produced by NFL Films. The scenes in which the crew was involved were filmed aboard the Cruiser OLYMPIA.

The event was unique for the crewmen in that, though they have taken part in many filming projects, none have been on the scale of what was done for this project. Normally the naval crew will work with a production team of between two and four people. This project brought in a staff of approximately twenty-five, including make-up artists, prop people, wardrobe staff, food service people, special effects artists, etc., in addition to the filming staff itself. In addition, actors were brought in to play specific parts (Dewey, Hobson, Evans, Cervera), as was a group recreating a Spanish naval crew. Particularly notable was that everyone involved was friendly, courteous and great to work with.

The crew took part in filming a variety of different scenes aboard ship, some of which were general scenes, others of which related to specific events. Scenes in which the crew was involved included:

Boiler room scenes – These scenes were dramatic to those involved and those who could watch in the confined space of the boiler room since, not only did the prop manager bring aboard coal and transport it down to the bowels of the ship to be shoveled, the special effects artists brought the boilers to life using safe methods approved by Independence Seaport Museum and Philadelphia Fire Department. It was a scene not previously seen by many alive today. Initially the crew was working to stoke the boiler furnaces at a speed indicative of the ship moving at its normal cruising speed. Then, the activity level was increased to give the appearance of increasing to battle speed. The crew eventually no longer needed to have fake perspiration applied as they worked up a sweat in the cold November temperatures (OLYMPIA is unheated). Knowing that original crews worked in temperatures in excess of 120 degrees Fahrenheit brought new recognition of their amazing work.

Shoveling coal in the Boiler Room
Mike McSherry (left), Jon Ault and Jack McSherry, III take a break between shots in the boiler room. Shawn McSherry, not in view, was shoveling the coal from the cal bunker onto the boiler room deck.

Engine Rooms scenes – Scenes were shot just showing activity in the engine room (operating the plethora steam valves, bleeder valves, water and air pump valves, voice tubes, engine control levers, etc.) as steam and smoke brought the space to life. One of the crew (Shawn McSherry) picked up a large wrench which he had planned to carry through the scene, however, some changes were made so as not to have people not seen who had appeared elsewhere, and the wrench was inherited by Shawn’s uncle, Jack McSherry, III. It was a gift which Jack eventually began to wish Shawn had kept! The wrench was, in the terms of the time, a stout (heavily made) wrench, about four and a half feet long. During the many takes, Jack, eventually known as “Wrenchman” by the crew, was directed to come through the scene from this direction and that, to turn and pass through one of the narrow, low passages through the engine, etc. Jack, and his heavily chafed shoulder were glad to part with his wrench after the scene, though, thereafter, it was recommended as a fine addition to almost any scene being filmed.

Hobson scene – Scenes were shot in the engine room showing Naval Constructor Richmond Hobson addressing his “suicide crew” prior to making their run into the entrance of Santiago harbor with the collier MERRIMAC. Several of our crewmen – Jesse Bender and Justin McSherry had lines added for them, addressing Hobson (in many scenes, crewmen spoke, yelled, etc., basically on background adding to the tumult…but these were rare preplanned lines).

Relaxing between scenes
Jesse Bender and Justin McSherry between scenes.

Pulling the fires - A brief scene was shot in which two of the crewmen were seen pulling the ash and debris from one of the boiler furnaces. This was done to ready the boiler to be refired.

Firemans’ Washroom – Scenes were shot of the men coming up out of the boiler rooms, and cleaning up in the Firemans’ Washroom prior to proceeding out on deck. While getting cleaned up, the men discussed topics of the day, such as getting out of the navy and heading to the Klondike to look for gold. "Wrenchman" was harassed by his cohorts claiming that the wrench was not, indeed, that large. The boiler room scenes were filmed before lunch, but the clean-up scene was filmed after lunch, so these men went to lunch "dirty." They were happy to finally get cleaned up during the scene, only to find that they had gotten too clean, and since more filming had to be they had to get re-dirtied!

The (ahem) Head – Several crewmen volunteered to take part in this scene, where they happened to be in the head when the battle gongs sounded. We’ll leave it at that. To quote the camera man “the older they are, the crazier they are.”

Getting a shave Off duty!

At left, barber Jack McSherry, III gives Franz Heymann a close trim. At right, the crew engages in a lively discussion over acey ducey as the table swings from the overhead. From left to right are Jack McSherry, III, Shawn McSherry, Jack McSherry, Jr., Justin McSherry, Jon Ault and Jesse Bender.

Crewlife Scenes – These scenes were filmed on the main deck adjacent to the galley. The galley equipment once again hissed steam, and smoke wafted from food on the coal stoves. In these scenes crewmen were seen in dogwatch-type activities – eating, playing games of checkers, cards or acey-ducey while a barber worked near the breech of one of the guns offering his services for shaves. Three gents from the Philadelphia Symphony were present, and were outfitted in naval garb. They provided music for the scene (and are apparently involved in creating the production’s musical score). The conclusion of the scene was again when the men were interrupted by the sounding of the battle gongs and they are scurry to their battle stations.

The next day, the crew had a later curtain call as other scenes were being filmed (scenes with the Spanish naval crew were filmed at various times, with crewmen escaping from blazing engine rooms, Admiral Cervera making his way to abandon ship, etc. Scenes involving Hobson, without the naval crew being involved were also filmed). Our first scene was the crew being called to battle stations and appearing out of various spaces and running up a ship’s ladder. This was filmed in the officers’ stateroom area. The scene apparently opened with officer Patrick McSherry reading on his stateroom bunk, and then dashing out to help get the men to stations. A follow-up scene was filmed with the crew exiting from the ladder on the main deck. The challenge of both of these scenes was that, at the top of the ladder was a hatch that needed to be slid back, and two doors opened…which had to be done rapidly…however, without damaging the recently restored hatchway!

Cooking in the galley Working with the prop manager

John Smith prepare stew in the galley. Christina McSherry, left,  worked with the prop manager during the weekend, and also appeared briefly as a civilian

The next scene was one of the more dramatic events. The crew, acting as the crew of the IOWA at Santiago, were called to assembly as Spanish Admiral Cervera was brought aboard and presented to Capt. Robley Evans. It was a very dramatic scene and had that “you are a witness to history” feel about it for those who took part. Having Robley Evans aboard was a treat for members of the McSherry family who took part. Jack L. McSherry (the father, grandfather and great-grandfather to various members of the family present) was a navy careerman who started his career with the Great White Fleet cruise under the command of Robley Evans in 1907, and who held Evans in high esteem.

Various typical crew scenes were filmed, such as the firing of a six-pounder gun, signaling using both the International Code of Signal flag hoist system and the Myer single-flag wigwag system, single stick (cutlass) drill, etc. Also two of the group’s buglers, Shawn McSherry and Jesse Bender, were filmed doing various bugle calls.

The last scenes shot pertained to the Battle of Manila Bay. One scene involved Dewey making his famous “You may fire when ready, Gridley” statement, while two large and two small smoke machines helped to hide the Philadelphia skyline while covering OLYMPIA’s bridge in smoke. Another scene took part in the pilot house, with the ship’s crew at work on the wheel and engine order telegraphs, and the navigator at the chart table. During the scene Dewey came in and briefly conferred with the navigator.

All in all, it was a fun, if hectic weekend for all involved. The crew got to have the opportunity to witness history and take part in something that will be educational for the public.

Naval Crewmen (* denotes member of Living History Crew of the USFS OLYMPIA)

Jon Ault*
Jesse Bender
Franz Heymann*
Christina McSherry
Jack McSherry, Jr.*
Jack McSherry, III
Justin McSherry*
Michael McSherry
Patrick McSherry
Shawn McSherry*
Matt Samley*
John Smith*

Film Crew Filming when the boiler furnace door opens
At left John Rusk and Phil Tuckett overlook the scene while the cameramen work with a hand crank camera in the foreground to obtain special filming effects. At right Director Phil Tuckett and Production Manager John Rusk are eerily lit in a flash of special effects in the tight confines of the boiler room

We do not know the last names of all of the fine people we worked in the filming, but here are some credits as we know them:

Writer/Director - Phil Tuckett
Producer - Alan Brown
Production Manager - John Rusk
Prop Manager - Steve Pennypacker
Naval Historical Advisor/Naval Crew Co-ordinator - Patrick McSherry

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