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Maine Maritime Museum Celebrates 50th Anniversary
12/26/2012   Reported By: Tom Porter

2012 was a big year for the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath. It was 50 years ago that a group of local residents got together to publish a book about the Midcoast city's proud history of ship-building. From that book came a vision of an institution which is now listed as one of the top 10 maritime museums in the world. Tom Porter spoke recently with the museum's chief executive, Amy Lent, about the early age of Maine shipbuilding.

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Amy Lent, head of the Maine Maritime Museum, which is celebrating it's 50th anniversary.

The story begins in 1962, when seven local residents formed the Marine Research Society of Bath, and set out to chronicle a local shipbuilding history.

"What started as a book then grew into a museum, then grew into multiple sites, then became this museum ground that we're standing on now," says Chief Executive Amy Lent.

IMG_0138Lent says the museum (left) now boasts a campus of 20 acres, more than 36,000 feet of exhibit space and more than 21,000 artifacts. It attracts more than 50,000 visitors a year, from all corners of the globe.

"There's a lot of connections with Maine shipbuilding and the rest of the world," Lent says. "In fact, it's said that no matter what port you went in, anywhere in the world, you would find Maine-built ships."

Take, for example, the legendary schooner Wyoming, built in 1909 at Bath's Percy & Small shipyard, one of the three former yards on which the museum's grounds are now situated. As we head outside to a full-scale sculpture of the Wyoming's bow and stern, Lent explains it is the largest wooden vessel built in America, and arguably, in the world.

"Well the ship was over 400-feet long. The evocation that we show here is the bow and the stern, positioned almost exactly as it was where it was built. The bow of the ship hangs over Washington Street - the masts would have been more than 120-feet high, without their top-masts, and you can imagine just as it was going to be launched into the water, which is where it's positioned right now, it would have been on the ways and that blocking mallett would have been used to pound out the blocks that were holding it back, and it would splash right into the water, right where we're standing here."

Tom Porter: "This is the site of actual shipyard with the original buildings, and that sculpture gives an idea - you don't really get an idea until you see it - how big the Wyoming was, and it was built here."

Amy Lent: "It was built right here, and, in fact, up and down Washington Street in Bath, where the museum is located, there were ships with the bows hanging over the street as they were being constructed before launching. It must have been an incredible place. We've got photographs, of course, of all of this, but when you see this evocation and you see the bowsprit hanging towards Washington Street, and the absolute magnitude of this thing, and you imagine people building this with hand tools - you know, yes, there's some steam engines and some other more modern technology involved, but a lot of this was hand work, hand labor, and just spectacular to contemplate."

The next phase of the sculpture, says Lent, involves adding six 135-foot replica masts, and fundraising is underway to pay for it.

The Maine Maritime Museum's 50th anniversary exhibit, Full Ahead at 50, runs through next May.

Hear folksinger Tom Munch perform "We Build the Ships," a song especially written for the Maine Maritime Museum's 50th anniversary.

Photos by Tom Porter.

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