The Houston Maritime Museum
By William Dylan Powell Sea Treasures
EVER DREAMED OF SAILING AROUND THE WORLD? Hoisting sails; riding the winds; charting your own course? Houstonian Jim Manzolillo has lived that dream. Seven times. After retiring from the shipbuilding business in Mexico, Jim made a total of 95 ocean voyages, circling the globe seven times and hitting ports of call in the Mediterranean, Caribbean, and Pacific. At each port he did two things when possible: visit a museum and pick up a quality model ship. When he settled back down in Houston, he had both a heck of a lot of model ships and sailing apparatus, and an ocean of knowledge about world geography and history. So in 2000, Jim opened a place where he could share both his boats and his brains: the Houston Maritime Museum.
The museum displays more than 100 intricately crafted model ships, from a replica of the Santa Maria thats taller than you to a small, but intricately crafted galley made by an inmate at Louisianas Angola prison. For a small admission fee, a docent will take you on a guided tour of the facility, letting you explore replica ships of the U.S. Navy, the Merchant Marines, the Greeks, and the Romans, and dozens of other fascinating naval vessels. Each ship was painstakingly made by hand using raw materials. The closer you look, the more mesmerizing the detail. And the boats are just the beginning.
Aside from the model ships, Jims museum showcases such artifacts as ceramic vases from shipwrecks from around 500 B.C., an astonishing collection of sextants and other navigational equipment, pearls from Tahiti, coal from the Titaniche was there when parts of it were raised in 1996and even space paraphernalia. (Both Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldren have sailed with Jim.) Dont forget to check out the megalodon-shark tooth Buzz and Jim found in Antarctica; its 2.5 million years old.
Learning plays a big part in the Houston Maritime Museum experience. For both adults and children, the museum offers a lecture series on subjects that include the tying of a proper knot and the origin of the oceans salinity. The whole place emits a sort of reverence for mankinds offshore understanding and accomplishments. The eyes of sailors past follow you from framed photos on the wall, commanding respect for their stories of adventure, tragedy, and glory. An on-site naval-research library lets museum patrons and visitors explore these stories in detail. And as for the model ships that focus on the worlds naval history, the museum does more than just serve as a warehouseits helping preserve the art of ship modeling.
A number of master ship modelers, some with work displayed in the Smithsonian Institution, make the Houston Maritime Museum home for both their craft and their crafts. Ship-modeling enthusiasts can take courses on the basics of modeling or attend meetings of the Gulf Coast Historical Ship Modelers Society, which meets at the museum every other month. And kids can sign up for a program that lets them try their hand at model building, taking home not just the experience but also the model. Theres even a model ship repair yard, where enthusiasts and owners can send their damaged model boats and sextantsand get them back shipshape.
Houston is the second-largest port in the country, says Jim, and when I heard there wasnt a maritime museum here, I opened one up myself. Now, dozens of national and international maritime organizations hold their meetings, luncheons, and happy hours here at the museum. Its a focal point for the maritime community; it has really taken off, says Jim.
In 2007, the museum is planning to move from its modest location near Houstons Medical Center to its new home, a 20,000-square-foot building at 426 Austin Street, directly across from Minute Maid Park and right in the middle of Houstons downtown action. Passersby will be able to glimpse into a shipbuilding room, with a giant window facing the street, and watch as master modelers rebuild maritime history.
For now, the Houston Maritime Museum is at 2204 Dorrington (77030), near the intersection of Holcombe Blvd. and Greenbriar, near the Medical Center. Call 713/666-1910; www.houstonmaritimemuseum.org. Hours: Tue-Sat 10-4. Admission: $5, $3 age 12 and younger.
Nautical Terms We Use Every day
Above Board. Meaning honest and legitimate, this phrase may come from the pirates practice of pretending his ship was a non-threatening merchant vessel by hiding his hands below the boards.
Cup of Joe. One theory maintains that this nickname for coffee originated in 1914, when Secretary of the U.S. Navy Admiral Josephus Joe Daniels prohibited wine on board. Thus, coffee was the strongest drink on board.
Devil to Pay. If you do something you shouldnt have done, and then say, There will be the devil to pay, youre using a phrase that probably originated at sea. The long seam in a wooden ship was known as the Devil, and it needed to be caulked with pitch, or pay. This was a big, messy, and much-despised job.
Feeling Blue. This phrase, meaning depressed or sad, likely came from the naval tradition of flying blue flags and painting a blue stripe along the hull when a ships captain died at sea.
From the November 2006 issue.