SURVEYOR'S NOTEBOOK

Historical Vessels, A Top 10 List

By Rik van Hemmen

Museums are scary things. It would be interesting to figure out when the first true museum was created. I am not talking about curio collections, like animal zoos, that must go back to prehistoric times and church collections that focus on relics, I am talking about institutions that are interested in preserving objects that have human significance. Institutions that preserve objects that provide specific references to our human development. Art would be a part of that and so would be religious objects, but our real progress is measured by all aspects of humanity; commerce, finance, technology, education and trade, and it seems to me there are more and more museums for all these aspects of humanity everyday.

And this is why I think museums are scary things. At some stage one could argue that everything is worthy of preservation, and if everything is worthy of display in museums then at some stage the world will consist of just museums with only a tiny fraction of non-museum stuff like ongoing concerns such as manufacturing, healthcare, education, agriculture and trade.

If we do not show some discipline museums could take over the world!

Fortunately there are some tiny lights at the end of this tunnel of inefficiency. I see many museums that are changing from display to activity. These museums may have some items on display, but to a large extent they focus on recreating experiences that have a meaningful educational function. And at the same time we have the benefit of the internet where we can store almost limitless amounts of information that can be accessed into perpetuity. Even on this website we are engaged in some of this “museum creating” by uploading some of our historical information and reducing the amount of stuff stored in our office basement.

This is good, but meanwhile, maritime nuts like us, are often asked to assist in the preservation of “Historically Significant” vessels in perpetuity.

Undoubtedly there are ships that are so unique that they should be preserved, but on the other hand preserving ships is really really expensive and while I like seeing historical ships tied up along docks, I am also seeing too many maritime museums fighting for the same dollar and ending up with insufficient funds to keep their vessels from deteriorating into non-preservable states. One recent scary example is the deterioration of the Cruiser OLYMPIA in Philadelphia. This is a truly rare vessel and if we are going to preserve any vessels at all this one should be high on the list.

Did anybody say list? Where is Letterman?

Here is my first pass at a top 10 list of the most historical vessels in the United States:

10 The USS “CONSTELLATION”
9  The “CHARLES MORGAN”
8  Just one of the IOWA class battleships
7  The USS “NAUTILUS”
6  The USS “INTREPID”
5. The USS “OLYMPIA”
4. The “LANE VICTORY”
3. The “JOHN BROWN”
2. The USS “MONITOR”

And for number one!

1. The USS “CONSTITUTION”

I am sure the list is incomplete, it is just a first rough draft, but let the arguing begin!

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