The SS John W. Brown, a World War II era Liberty Ship, has been restored by dedicated volunteers in Baltimore.
The Brown, docked in Fells Point
Called “the cargo-carrying key to victory” by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Liberty Ships of World War II were part of a national effort to build ships faster than the enemy could sink them.
Shipbuilding began in Baltimore in 1941 at Bethlehem Fairfield Shipyard. Ultimately 19 shipyards produced some 2,700 ships during the war. And 2,500 survived the war. Today, the SS John W. Brown is the only surviving, operating Liberty Ship on the East Coast.
Now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it calls Baltimore home. It still gets around a lot for an old girl, with Voyages into History on the Chesapeake Bay four times a year, visits to other ports, occasional charters and dockside tours.
I got a chance to take a look around on Fourth of July Weekend in Fells Point. She’s a big ship, over 400 feet long with a steam engine that takes up three decks. She’s a merchant ship, not a war ship. But she carried guns and an armed guard from the U.S. Navy.
After you take a look outside…
U.S. Navy personnel served as an armed guard when a convoy of Liberty Ships went out.
The boat has both an inside and outside bridge.
Head inside the ship for a look at the different quarters for the merchant marines and the U.S. Navy, the engine room, the inside bridge.
The boat’s namesake.
A reminder that these ships sailed in wartime.
On the bridge is a collection of signal flags, neatly stowed. A modern radio has been installed below.
I don’t know about you, but I would rather not have to get sick and go here.
Captains’ lids. Behind them is a photo of liberty ships in convoy.
Photos around the ship pay tribute to the merchant marines and sailors who served aboard the Brown.
Pass the mustard.
Captain’s quarters were pretty posh, with gorgeous woodwork and a private bath, the only private bath.
Sailors’ quarters were spare and tight.
There’s even a chapel, with a nautical theme of course.
And finally there’s a museum and gift shop.
Additional displays occasionally are featured. I met a woman who collects Victory pins — which I’d never heard of before.
Lots of uniforms are on display.
A model of the ship when it served as a school ship.
The Brown’s volunteers don’t forget the kiddies. There are little stations for them to visit along with this very big ship.
© Text and photos Mary K. Tilghman