When the South Boston Waterfront Had a Fleet of 20 Aircraft Carriers, And No Lattes - An Exploration in Historic Aerial Photos and Maps - Part 1

I love how historic maps and aerial photos can lead you to stories that surprise and delight you. This post will link the carrier above to the South Boston Waterfront and introduce you to Mapjunction - A historic mapping tool I've been working on for years, in partnership with the Boston Planning and Development Agency. It provides a fast, easy way to understand history by comparing maps and aerial photos throughout Boston and Massachusetts. It runs in any browser, or can even be embedded, as I've done further on in this blog post.

It was by looking at a 1952 aerial photo in Mapjunction that I discovered Boston's fleet of mothballed aircraft carriers. The escort carrier USS Bougue, shown above as a 3D model in The World of Warships, will serve as a visual reminder as we explore the history of the South Boston Waterfront. 
This post begins with a man walking in a man-made limestone cavern in Lenexa, Kansas. 
He retrieves a metal can containing a roll of original 9" square aerial photo negatives taken by the US Government over Boston in 1952. 
The man works for the National Archives (Headquarters in Washington shown above) and he's now sending these negatives to the giant facility in College Park, Maryland, where our agent, Joe McCary of Photo Response will don white gloves and scan these negatives for our historic mapping system called www.mapjunction.com
Here's an original scan of the 9" x 9" negative. You can see the exact date 8-24-52 on the upper left, and flight and frame number, DPU-8K-124 on the upper right. You can view/download the original 122 MB TIFF here.
We bring each map into a system called Mapwarper to align it to the ground. Here we've only just started placing the individual images in their correct locations. (Actually, this is an example from a 1978 aerial)
With a combination of Photoshop and Mapwarper, we've seamed together all of Joe's scans into a single, huge image that is aligned to the ground. We combined 15 scans into one. Now with a click of a few buttons, we can link directly from Mapwarper into our viewer called Mapjunction. Now the discovery process can begin.

Mapjunction is embeded below...give it a try. Or Click here to open in a new window.

Mapjunction is embeded above. Give it a try. Or Click here to open in a new window.

Here's the 1952 Boston Metro Aerial in Mapjunction. You can clearly see the fleet of aircraft carriers that originally caught my eye and got me to do this research. Most of them are small carriers made by modifying cargo ships. They are called escort carriers because they were invented originally to escort commercial shipping and attack German U-Boats. Now 19 of these carriers are in mothballs at the Naval Annex in South Boston, awaiting their fate.

1. Grab the green control on the right and slide it to left. You'll see the current Google map appear.

2. Slide the green control back to the right, and then up and down. You can compare 1952 and today.

Bring up a new aerial: 

3. Now click the map name on the lower right to bring up maps and aerial photos. There's 96 for this location.

4. Click the Aerials tab at the top to reduce the selection to just aerials,

5. Now scroll to the bottom and choose our oldest aerial, 1938 to see this area before WWII started.

Have fun trying out Mapjunction at www.mapjunction.com. You'll see almost 400 maps and aerial photos that are the result of combining about 3000 individual maps and aerial scans. 
Based on the 1958 Navy photo above, we'll explore the story and the fate of Boston's carrier fleet in more detail in Part 2.