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American Merchant Marine Museum History

American Merchant Marine Museum History

Almost since the creation of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, there has been some sort of museum on campus.  While wartime plans for a permanent museum were ultimately shelved in 1953, between 1946 and 1958 the old training ship Emory Rice was deemed a pier side “museum ship.”  While not much is known about this facility, we do know it served as an inspiration for Midshipman Charles Renick, who would graduate in 1947.  While the museum ship was scrapped in 1958 and its collections scattered around campus, the idea did not die.  Renick returned as an administrator on campus in 1961, and almost immediately began advocating for a distinct museum space.  The theft of the MacArthur “Surrender Sword” in 1973 from a midshipman lounge in the barracks underscored the need for a secure space to display the Academy’s treasures.


A permanent site for the Academy’s collection of art, ship models, and nautical artifacts was found in the late 1970s, after the Alumni Association donated the neighboring Barstow estate to the Academy.  Renick and other alumni successfully campaigned for a Museum to be located on its ground floor, with storage in the basement, while a sort of hotel for Academy visitors occupied the second and third floors.  The Museum officially opened its doors on May 20, 1979, under the care of the American Merchant Marine Museum, Inc., a non-profit entity empowered to exhibit, store, and even restore the Academy’s heritage assets, and apparently allowed to receive new items on its own authority.  It also engaged in a vigorous fund-raising campaign from the Barstow building, and on occasion MARAD would provide proceeds from scrapping ships, as it did in 1992 to the amount of $334,000.


Since March 1, 2009, the Museum has been operated under federal control with federal employees augmented by volunteers and contractors.  MARAD’s Federal Preservation Officer has supported a number of initiatives to bring it into compliance with federal requirements, as has its staff.  Resources have been found to install a new boiler, overhaul dated bathrooms, and even to provide a new roof.  New exhibits find new audiences, and have even brought notice in the on-line edition of New Yorker magazine. The facility is used almost daily for midshipmen classes.  In fact, midshipmen participation has been a key element in the continued success of the Museum since 2009, and has provided much of the labor necessary to clean and organize spaces.


 

In sum, the Museum’s history is nearly as old as that of the United States Merchant Marine Academy.  Thanks to the vision of alumni like Captain Renick, knowledgeable staff like Frank Braynard, and loyal volunteers, the American Merchant Marine Museum has become a dynamic and valued part of King’s Point since its establishment in 1979.

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