Who better than a young maritime historian to write the foreword to my new book, The Fyddeye Guide to America’s Veteran Warships? He’s a nautical archaeologist and former executive director of Northwest Seaport Maritime Heritage Center in Seattle. He’s worked on the schooner Wawona (1897), tug Arthur Foss (1889), lightship LV-83 Swiftsure (1904), and the fishing vessel Tordenskjold (1911). He’s also former curator of the four-masted bark Pommern (1903) at the Åland Maritime Museum in Mariehamn, Finland.
Here’s his foreword to the book.
Museum ships and their care, preservation, and interpretation is not simply my profession, but a lifelong passion grown from my own childhood museum ship experiences and an early fascination with maritime history. By age twelve, Saturday morning cartoons were displaced by Moby-Dick, Pearl Harbor, and the Battle of the Atlantic. A favorite among my maritime-themed VHS tapes was the 1952 television series, Victory at Sea, a 26-part saga chronicling the naval campaigns of World War II. Soon, I was frenetically building ship models and begging my parents to turn every family trip into a maritime museum tour, visiting sailing ships like the whaler Charles W. Morgan or the battleship USS Missouri.
On board these surviving museum ships, the black-and-white film footage I so eagerly absorbed came alive; the smells of tar, paint, and engine oil, the hum of ventilation fans, and the feel of heavy armor plate growing hot in the sun. It is an awesome feeling to stand on a bridge wing where momentous historical events happened, to see where the Imperial Japanese surrender was signed on the deck of the USS Missouri, meet docents who sailed on the ship as young men, or to see the cargo hold of a great square-rigger where the economic lifeblood of a region was stowed for an ocean passage.
There is an incredible power in museum ships, a tangible connection with history, transporting us to other times, places, and hardships. They are macro-artifacts, so large that you can go aboard and have a truly immersive experience, completely enveloped in the artifact you are visiting. Built as mobile and self-contained worlds, fortified against the elements, and able to travel to historic events rather than wait for them to pass through, they are unlike any other artifact or historic site.
My most moving museum ship experience was aboard the World War II Liberty Ship, Jeremiah O’Brien. As we were steaming out of San Francisco Bay, as was so often shown in Victory at Sea, I gazed up at the Golden Gate Bridge and, for a moment, felt I was in my grandfather’s shoes. He must’ve looked up at that bridge from the deck of his troopship as he departed on his fifteen wartime voyages to the South Pacific as a Navy surgeon. Jeremiah O’Brien, one of the lucky few museum ships in operational condition, welded my connection to my grandfather in a very special way, years after he had passed. I doubt any other kind of artifact or mode of historic interpretation could have done that as powerfully and poignantly as that veteran cargo ship steaming into the Pacific swell.
Which museum ships have you visited?