We present a lot of these in my day job, and I’ve rarely thought much about what they are and where they come from. I got a little bit of lore from a Naval officer today that explains “the shadow box”, and I thought I’d pass it along.
The presenting of a shadow box to a retiring sailor is born of superstition from the earliest days of sail… and has endured throughout the centuries. In the old days, it was considered extremely bad luck for a retiring sailor… upon his departure from his ship… to see his shadow fall upon the pier before he himself actually set foot on land.
In order to ensure no such misfortune would befall their revered shipmate, the crew would construct a box of the finest woods, often with gold and silver inlays befitting the prestige and mysticism associated with life at sea. Within the box would be placed all the things, which reflected the sailor’s many accomplishments throughout his arduous career. This often consisted of ranks attained, medals received, and the other trinkets sailors are prone to collect in their worldly travels.
Only then would the retiring sailor have a complete “shadow” of his life at sea… his real life …secured safely and forever in a box. With this beautiful box of memories, the retiring sailor was assured of always seeing a true reflection of his life after moving ashore with those ever-curious land lubbers. Knowing that his shadow… his true spirit and soul… was contained within his box, the retiree could step smartly ashore without fear of what ill fate might befall him in his new and uncertain world ashore… even if his shadow was cast upon the pier before him.
File that one under “you learn something new every day”