GALVESTON — The SS Selma will celebrate its 95th birthday today with a private party on shore feting the scuttled concrete ship with cannon and musket salutes.
The ceremony will also feature the traditional kazoo rendition of “Happy Birthday.”
“I think the best word for the ceremony is ‘whimsical,’ with the kazoos and firing of the salutes,” said Jim Saye, who helps organize the annual birthday bash. “But it’s serious in that we are celebrating history and we’re calling attention to a part of history.”
Saye is among the faithful fans of the ship who have gathered for 21 celebrations thus far. Other regulars include the Texas Army, the Slippery Rock Boosters Club, the Republic of Goat Island, Adm. Bill Cox (corporate owner of the Selma) and area historians.
The late Pat Daniels, known as Adm. Daniels, started the celebrations.
“He created the whole idea of the parties to spread awareness of the Selma,” said Saye, a longtime friend.
Daniels was a cub reporter for The Daily News when he first saw the World War I relic in 1939 on a Bolivar ferry ride. More than 50 years later, he was working on a book about the ferry when the Selma’s owner offered to sell him the ship. He quickly made the purchase.
“It’s more than just a piece of stone sitting out there,” Daniels said in an interview on the occasion of Selma’s 90th birthday. “I certainly believe it has a heart.”
The retired Houston Chronicle copy editor and former city editor for The Daily News in Galveston had also worked in public relations. He set about building a solid historical image for the ship, with just a touch of humor. It is a concrete ship, after all.
The SS Selma was launched 95 years ago in Mobile, Ala., the largest of an experimental fleet of reinforced concrete ships. Steel was in short supply, so concrete vessels were designed to haul fuel for American forces overseas. The ship was named after Selma, Ala.
The specifications included:
• 2,660 cubic yards of concrete reinforced with 1,500 tons of smooth reinforcing bars;
• a 5-inch thick hull at the bottom and 4 inches thick at the sides;
• reciprocating steam engines and a cruising speed of 10.5 knots;
• length of 420 feet, a beam of 54 feet and room for a crew of 49.
After the war, the ship carried crude oil in the Gulf of Mexico until a scrape with a jetty rendered the SS Selma too expensive to repair. The government scuttled the ship, lodging it in a deep trench dug into Galveston Bay, just off Pelican Island, in 1922.
Through Daniels’ efforts, the Selma has been recognized with a Texas Historical Marker and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Selma has been designated as the official flagship of the Texas Army and a State Archeological Landmark by the Texas Antiquities Committee.
Today’s celebration will include a cannon salute in honor of Daniels and also the late Gen. Carroll Lewis, a longtime supporter. Another celebration founder, Ray Simpson, owner of the Edward T. Austin House, will be on hand. He has hosted the party for several years now.
Simpson and Saye will be among the crowd today raising kazoos for a musical tribute.
“It’s a little unusual; it’s weird, but the band helps out,” Saye said. “It’s primarily just a lot of fun.”
Details to note:
• The Selma is visible today from the site of the historic marker on Pelican Island, and can also be seen on the ferry ride between Galveston and Bolivar, on the port side going over and on the starboard side returning.
• The Seagull II, Texas Seaport Museum’s 50-foot twin-engine motor vessel, circles the Selma as part of its one-hour Historic Harbor Tour and Dolphin Watch. For information, visit www.galvestonhistory.org.
• The Selma is not safe to board due to the crumbling concrete, and exposed reinforcing bars; it is illegal to board or deface the monument.
• The Selma was a successful prototype; during World War II, some 104 concrete ships were put into service.
Did you know?
- The Selma is visible from the site of the historic marker on Pelican Island and can also be seen on the ferry ride between Galveston and Bolivar, on the port side going over and on the starboard side returning.
- The Seagull II, Texas Seaport Museum’s 50-foot twin-engine motor vessel, circles the Selma as part of its one-hour Historic Harbor Tour and Dolphin Watch. For information, visit www.galvestonhistory.org.
- The Selma is not safe to board because of the crumbling concrete and exposed reinforcing bars; it is illegal to board or deface the monument.
- The Selma was a successful prototype; during World War II, some 104 concrete ships were put into service.