Franklin D. Karns Papers

ca. 1864, 1900-1952; 1900-1952
Manuscript Collection #759
Karns, Franklin D., 1873-1952
Physical description
0.39 Cubic Feet, 42 items, 1 container, consisting of court transcript, photographs, scrapbooks, correspondence, programs, and clippings
Preferred Citation
Franklin D. Karns Papers (#759), East Carolina Manuscript Collection, J. Y. Joyner Library, East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina, USA.
ECU Manuscript Collection
No restrictions

Official transcript of a U.S. Navy Captain's Court-Martial proceedings (1927), photographs, letters, and poetry, along with two scrapbooks (1900-1950) maintained by Capt. Franklin D. Karns's wife, Mrs. Helen Wallace Chew Karns.

Biographical/historical information

Captain Franklin D. Karns was born November 30, 1873, in Ohio and attended the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis graduating in 1895. He married Helen Wallace Chew September 10, 1902, and then had two children: Franklin D. Karns, Jr. born July 10, 1903, and Helen Elizabeth Karns born October 2, 1906. As a Lieutenant, Karns worked as an instructor at the USNA from 1902-1904 until being posted at sea. He saw action during the First World War and was promoted to Captain by 1924, when he took command of the USS Colorado. Franklin Karns retired from the U.S. Navy in 1930, with the rank of Captain and resided in Coronado, California, until his death on February 23, 1952.

Helen Wallace Chew Karns was the daughter of Leonard Covington Chew and his wife Helen C. Wallace. She was born on January 23, 1884, in Washington, D.C., and died November 1942. Her grandfather, Robert Smith Chew, was the Chief Clerk of the State Department until his death in 1873. Her uncle, Richard Smith Chew, was a USN Lieutenant Commander who saw action in the Battle of Mobile Bay.

Franklin D. Karns, Jr. was born July 10, 1903, in Maryland, graduated from the USNA in 1925, and served as the Commanding Officer on USS Decatur, USS Okaloosa, and USS Bailey. He retired as a Captain in 1956.

Sources: 1925 Lucky Bag, USNA Yearbook

USNA Register of Alumni 1845-1985

Find a Grave

Scope and arrangement

The Franklin D. Karns Papers contain an assortment of personal family mementos of his wife, Mrs. Helen Chew Karns, and official naval documents. Of particular interest is a copy of the official Record of Court-Martial Proceedings of Captain Franklin D. Karns on the charge of negligence in the accidental grounding of the USS Colorado on May 1, 1927. Captain Karns was in command of the USS Colorado when it struck and ran aground on Diamond Reef in the East River of New York. The full court transcript does not include the final guilty verdict, because Naval Regulations prohibited the reading of a guilty verdict until it was approved by the Secretary of the Navy, (See: "Karns-Fiedell Penalty is Approved by Wilbur." The Washington Post 3 July 1927: R2. Print.)

Twenty –seven photographs include both personal snapshots and professional photographs of the family in private and while on duty with the U.S. Navy. The images pertaining to Naval Life (circa 1915 to 1952) include photographs aboard the USS Colorado as it sailed from San Pedro, California, to Pago Pago, American Samoa, in 1925; as well as the crossing the Equator celebration known as Neptunus Rex. Photographs of Franklin D. Karns, Jr. taking command of the USS Okaloosa and the USS Bailey are also included. Additionally, there are oversized photographs of the USS Omaha in Havana Harbor, officers and crew on the USS Decatur in 1930, a celebratory dinner for Admiral Harry Yarnell in 1939, and the 1925 graduating class of the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis (USNA) in front of Bancroft Hall. Family photographs are of Franklin D. Karns as a midshipman in 1895 and during his retirement in 1950, Mrs. Helen Wallace Chew Karns as a young woman, and of her uncle, Richard S. Chew as a Lieutenant Commander circa 1864.

Two scrapbooks that Mrs. Helen Wallace Chew Karns kept from 1900 to her death in 1942 are included within the collection. In them she has original as well as copied poetry, newspaper clippings of social activities she was involved in, menu placards, the wedding register and gift list from her 1902 wedding, social correspondence, telegrams and love notes from her husband, and the 1903 Officers Directory of the US Naval Academy at Annapolis. She also kept detailed growth records of her children and assorted mementos such as pressed flowers and a lock of hair.

Administrative information
Custodial History

March 10, 1998 0.39 cu. ft.; Papers of U.S. Navy officer, including court-martial proceedings (1927), photographs, letters, and poetry, along with two scrapbooks (1902-1903) maintained by Helen Wallace Chew Karns. Donor: Mr. R. S. Karns, Mr. William Schultz.

Source of acquisition

Gift of Mr. R. S. Karns

Gift of Mr. William Schultz

Processing information

Encoded by Apex Data Services

Processed by Samantha Sheffield, September 8, 2015.

Copyright notice

Literary rights to specific documents are retained by the authors or their descendants in accordance with U.S. copyright law.

Key terms
Personal Names
Karns, Franklin D. , 1873-1952
Karns, Franklin D. , 1903-1998
Karns, Helen Wallace Chew, 1884-1942
Corporate Names
Colorado (Battleship)
United States. Navy--Military life
United States. Navy--Officers

Container list