Discover the Story Behind This Rare SS United States Pocketknife Owned by Woodcarver William W. Gegg
Over the course of her 17-year service career, the SS United States played host to over a million passengers, often making an impression that would last a lifetime. To commemorate a memorable voyage aboard America's Flagship, travelers had the opportunity to purchase a wide variety of memorabilia on board.
Supporter Stanton Daywalt recently reached out to the Conservancy to share a photograph of an especially extraordinary souvenir from aboard the Big U — an intricate SS United States pocketknife owned by prolific Newport News woodcarver and craftsman, William W. Geggie.
Image courtesy of Stanton Daywalt.
William W. Geggie was born in Scotland in 1880, and studied ornamental design at the Glasgow Technical College and Glasgow School of Art. His course included apprentice work in woodcarving, in part under the guidance of a figurehead carver. After working for a time in a shipyard in Scotland, Geggie came to America in 1905, marrying Nellie Hamilton in the same year. In 1907, the couple decided to settle in Newport News, Virginia, and Geggie found employment with Newport News Shipbuilding as a wood carver. While at Newport News, he would have the opportunity to work on the wooden interior decorations for steamers and advance his skills in the carving of wooden figureheads, including for the vessels Doris, Viking and Huntington.
William and Nellie had three children, including a son named William Francis Geggie. Unfortunately, Nellie passed away in 1918. Sons William Francis and Kelvin took after their father, working in the early 1930s at Newport News as a machinist and piping design apprentice respectively. William Francis would pass away at a young age in 1939, while Kelvin lived until until 1976.
Later in life, William W. Geggie would remarry, to a woman named Nannie Tilley. Tilley was the secretary to the president of Newport News Shipbuilding, Homer Ferguson, and after William's retirement from the shipyard he and Nannie enjoyed several crossings aboard the SS United States, purchasing the pocketknife during a voyage in the late 50s or early 60s. Geggie would continue his work as a figurehead carver later in life, and was hired by the Mariners' Museum in Newport News in 1957 to carve two pieces complimenting their figureheads already on display. In addition to producing two original works, Geggie maintained the other figureheads in the Museum's collection, completing repairs and stabilizing the carvings for display.
William W. Geggie passed away in 1973 at age 93. However, you can learn more about the fascinating woodcarver and his work on the Mariners' Museum blog, and in this article on the yachts constructed at Newport News Shipbuilding. You can also learn more about the Conservancy's growing curatorial collections HERE.
Not ready to part with your SS United States memorabilia? The Conservancy is undertaking a project to catalogue the location and ownership of surviving original fixtures, furniture, artwork and ephemera currently held in private collections. Fill out our collection survey HERE.