The American Merchant Marine Museum, located on the grounds of the United States Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, NY, brims with fascinating collections of maritime art and memorabilia. It features historic artifacts including one of only five surrender swords given to General Douglas MacArthur, a number of exquisitely rendered models of ships, and exhibits that tell the story of seafaring, all stressing the theme, "Ships Made America." The impressive collections are housed in a former Gold Coast mansion, and best of all, it's free and open to the public.
World War II Troop Ship Propeller
The American Merchant Marine Museum, with its collections of all things maritime, is located in the former mansion of William Slocum Barstow, an associate of Thomas Edison. Barstow later went on to found his own electrical engineering company. He was the inventor of the electric meters that are still used to this day, and he became the first mayor of Kings Point. The mansion was first built in 1910 and later expanded from 1929 to 1930.
Directly in front of the impressive house stands a huge propeller salvaged from one of the World War II ships originally used to carry the troops to and from the United States to serve their country abroad. This historic propeller measures 20 feet, 6 inches in diameter, and weighs 19 tons.
World War II Surrender Sword
Walk up the stairs to the second floor, and on the landing, housed in a glass case is a rare historic artifact: the surrendered sword presented by Vice Admiral Matomu Ugaki -- World War II commander of the Japanese naval forces of Hokkaido and North Honshu -- to General Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964). The sword is one of only five in existence. The Japanese Vice Admiral surrendered the sword to the general on the deck of the battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay.
On October 18, 1945, MacArthur presented the sword to the United States Merchant Marine Academy "as a memento to the valiant service rendered by the sons of the Academy in our struggle in the Pacific."
One strange bit of trivia: in 1971, the sword was stolen and no one could find out who the perpetrator or perpetrators were. But then, 20 years later, the sword was returned, although, to this day, no one knows who took the artifact or who brought it back to its rightful place.
Model of the SS Washington
The American Merchant Marine Museum boasts a wide array of model ships, all faithful to their originals, right down to the last details. This impressive reproduction of the S.S. Washington replicates one of the impressive ships of the U.S. Lines Fleet. Built by New York Shipbuilding of Camden, New Jersey, the 705 feet long, 86 feet wide transatlantic liner was in service starting in 1933.
While en route to New York in September 1939, the captain of the S.S. Washington was informed that war had broken out in Europe. The ship was responsible for rescuing the crew of a British ship, the Olive Grove, that had been torpedoed by a German U-boat. And for months to come, the ship participated in a number of emergency evacuations from European ports.
In 1942, the S.S. Washington went into the service of the U.S. Navy for use as a troop ship. Eventually, the ship went back to sailing between New York City and Southampton, England, and in 1965, it was scrapped at Federal Yards in Kearny, New Jersey.
Statue of Richard Henry Dana
Long Island artist John Turken, who resided in East Meadow, created the statue of Richard Henry Dana (1815-1882), Jr., now on display at the American Merchant Marine Museum on the grounds of the United States Merchant Marine Academy.
In 1834, with his sight failing, Dana left his studies at Harvard and enlisted as a merchant seaman, in the hopes that a voyage might cure his eye problems. The voyage would take him round-trip from his native Boston to California via Cape Horn. Based on his journals from this long voyage, Dana wrote Two Years Before The Mast in 1840.
Bell from the SS America
Among the many maritime artifacts in the American Merchant Marine Museum is a bell from the S.S. America, a luxury ocean liner that was launched on August 31, 1939, for the United States Lines. At the time, the America was the largest U.S.-built liner.
The Wilhelm Heinrich Miniature Ship Models
One of the most unique collections of the American Merchant Marine Museum is the assortment of Wilhelm Heinrich miniature ship models, which, as the sign says, spans "Five Millennia of Maritime History - 2900 B.C. - 1900 A.D.
Heinrich, a resident of Eschwege, Germany, built these diminutive vessels in the 1990's, and each 1:1250 scale model represents 100 feet as a mere one inch. However, small does not mean insignificant. Each minuscule ship features exquisite details, from the Lilliputian oars on a Viking vessel to the minute masts of later crafts. There are only 15 sets of these pint-sized vessels, and the collection at the museum is the sole complete set in the United States.
Ships' China Collection
Among the unique exhibits at the American Merchant Marine Museum is a comprehensive collection of ships' china.
When William Slocum Barstow lived in the mansion, he had it adorned with a vast, opulent carved wood screen for his mansion's pipe organ. The carvings remain to this day with finely shaped figures cut into the wood.
The National Maritime Hall of Fame
Within the museum, an area is dedicated to the National Maritime Hall of Fame which celebrates the many ships and people who contributed to the long history of shipping.