How Eleanor Roosevelt Prevented A Curse

USS Yorktown, CV-10, shown underway in June 1944 during the Marianas campaign. The photo is taken from a plane flying off her port side. The ship is painted in camouflage Measure 33, Design 10a. There are twenty-eight aircraft parked on her flight deck aft with folded wings. Photo credit US National Archives 80-G-238298
Underway during the Marianas operation, June 1944. The ship is painted in camouflage Measure 33, Design 10a. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. 80-G-238298

I was rummaging through Walter Musciano’s book Warbirds of the Sea, looking for a particular piece of information, when I stumbled across his story about Eleanor Roosevelt, the First Lady of the United States. In 1943, she was at the launching of USS Yorktown, CV-10, to christen the ship by smashing a bottle of champagne across her bow. 

She was honored to christen the original USS Yorktown, CV-5, in 1936. That ship had participated in the early part of the war. Struck by several Japanese torpedoes and bombs, CV-5 sank at the Battle of Midway.

The First Lady Leaps Into Action

Mrs. Roosevelt was well-steeped in US Navy traditions, having married her husband, the President, thirty-eight years earlier. President Franklin Roosevelt was a lifelong admirer of the Navy and had served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy for seven years early in his political career. 

She knew sailors of all countries have many superstitions, more so than most other professions. So, when she saw Yorktown start to slide down the ways seven minutes before it was supposed to, she leaped from her seat among the dignitaries and smashed the bottle of champagne across its bow just before it slid out of reach. 

That Was Just The Kind Of Person She Was

It was a long-held maritime superstition that a ship that didn’t have a bottle smashed across its bow before it was launched would be cursed with bad luck. Sailors would have been reluctant to serve on her, but Roosevelt’s fast thinking helped the ship begin a storied career. 

First Ladies have performed countless ceremonial rituals throughout this country’s history, but I doubt any others ever prevented a ship from being cursed. 

Today USS Yorktown is a museum ship at Patriots Point in North Carolina.

Thank you, Mrs. Roosevelt, for preventing the curse and setting her off on the right course.

Did you arrive here via a search engine? I am the author of the forthcoming book Heroes By The Hundreds: The Story of the USS Franklin (CV-13). In addition to writing about the bravery of the crews that saved her, I will discuss the lessons we can learn in leadership and decision-making and the changes the US Navy made because of those lessons.

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