U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Armando Gonzales

Ray Mabus is arguably the most famous secretary of the Navy since Theodore Roosevelt and the era of the Great White Fleet. It would be great if the secretary’s prominence was due to the emergence of the Navy and Marine Corps into a new era. Unfortunately, Mabus is only famous for being perhaps the most controversial Navy secretary in living memory.

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Contemporary lithograph. Public Domain.

Hundreds of Washington’s most famous citizens began the morning of Feb. 28, 1844, with a lavish pleasure cruise that ended gruesomely, in a horrific tableau of blood-splattered gowns, severed heads, limbs and molten metal. The disaster that was the USS Princeton’s debut came about as ambition and fame converged to kill Secretary of State Abel Upshur and decapitate Secretary of the Navy Thomas Gilmer — and somehow won the president a new bride.

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