As far as we know, only one baby has ever been christened aboard Historic Ship NAUTILUS (SSN-571). Her story, “Nautilus Baby Returns to Submarine as a Bride,” written by Jennifer Grogran and published by the New London Day on 28 June 2008, is the subject of today’s “Tidbit.”
“Jennifer Papineau had not been on top of the Nautilus since she was 5 weeks old, when she was baptized there three decades ago.
“ ‘My heart is racing,’ she said, standing inside the U.S. Navy Submarine Force Museum on a recent day.
“Papineau, whose father was the engineer on the sub at the time, was the first—and only—baby baptized on the Nautilus, the Navy’s first nuclear-powered submarine and the first vessel to cross the North Pole.
“The crew took the submarine’s brass bell off the sail and sealed the hole on top with heavy grease for the religious ceremony. Then they flipped it over and added holy water.
“Papineau was bundled in blankets to protect her from the snow, held over the bell and baptized on the Nautilus at the Naval Submarine Base on Dec. 3, 1978. Her full name, Jennifer Louise Papineau, and the date, were engraved on the bell.
“Papineau, now 29 and living in Illinois, wanted to see the bell during her honeymoon trip to the East Coast with her husband, Robert Kehrer. She contacted the museum and arranged a tour on June 23.
“Braving an approaching lightning storm, Papineau and Kehrer rushed outside and onto the Nautilus, where the bell hung on the sail.
“ ‘Oh my God,’ Papineau said, as she saw her name.
“ ‘It’s in good form to ring you on,’ Nautilus command Chief Matthew Acevedo said, ringing the bell. ‘That would be Ms. Papineau arriving.’
“ ‘Now it’s real,’ Papineau said. ‘Before it was always photos or stories. It’s very emotional. I’m having a hard time with words now, but I’m proud and I’m honored.’
“Papineau’s father, Paul, retired from the Navy in 1994 as a commander after 31 years of service. He was the last engineer on the Nautilus, which was decommissioned in 1980. His wife, Carol, also served in the Navy and retired as a lieutenant commander.
“Paul Papineau said in a telephone interview he got the idea for the baptism from his commanding officer, and called it a ‘gift for his daughter’ that brings a tear to his eye whenever he thinks about it.
“ ‘That ship was so many things, and when you’re aboard it, you become part of the ship, and it becomes part of you,’ he said.
“After it stopped raining, Papineau and Kehrer toured the inside of the Nautilus with museum curator Steve Finnigan.
“Papineau stood on the brow between the submarine and the pier on her way out, looking back at the bell.
“ ‘We’re going to have kids, is there any chance?’ she asked Finnigan.
“Probably not, Finnigan replied, saying he was surprised the Navy allowed her baptism.
“So Papineau and Kehrer continued on their honeymoon, safe in the knowledge that she would forever be the only baby baptized on the Nautilus.
“ ‘I will never forget this, never, never,’ she said.”