Any really big city has things to see that receive little or no publicity. Houston, TX, the USA’s 4th largest metropolis, for example, has a little known maritime museum on Canal Street. Steve, who gave Ruth and me a lengthy tour if it, told us that most Houstonians don’t know that there is a maritime museum in their city. That will change in a couple of years.
The Houston Maritime Museum was the project of a seafaring man named Jim Manzolillo. He was the naval architect and marine engineer who founded it in the year 2000. During his working years Manzolillo was a Merchant Marine, a shrimp boat designer, a Cunard employee. a shipbuilding company owner, and an avid collector of marine memorabilia. A lot of what he collected is in this museum, like the painting above of the first voyage up Buffalo Bayou on the steamship Laura. This maritime museum began in a private home. For now it’s in a small, inadequate building and running out of display space.
We began our tour of the Houston Maritime Museum by studying its very fine model ship collection that currently takes up so much of its space that there is little room to tell the considerable story of Houston as a major shipping port. The ship models include many famous names. I never saw representations of all 3 of Columbus’ ships until I went through this museum. The most unexpected model was the Nina, which gave Steve a chance to explain ship differences that are especially seen in their size and sails. NIna was basically a cargo ship. About the time that Steve was explaining the Nina, I realized that he was a deep well of information about all things nautical. The ship collection didn’t stop with Columbus. My favorite model seen above is Victory. This historic ship saw action in the Battle of Trafalger and still exists. It’s tourable In Portsmouth, England. Steve talked about its many cannons to explain that any winning warship is known for the number of its large weapons: 100 guns was the minimum needed, and the Victory had more that that. I loved the models of the Vasa and the Titanic. Steve refreshed my memory of the richly decorated Vasa that sank in Stockholm’s harbor just after its launch because its guns were too heavy and numerous. I had never seen a photo of the Titanic being built until I visited the Houston Maritime Museum.
Next I learned a lot about little known naval engagements. Discussing them Winston Churchill said, “The only thing that really frightened me during the war was the U-Boat peril.” Steve and I discussed the ships that went down in 1942 in the Gulf of Mexico, a major battle zone. In 1942 alone 135 ships sank worldwide, and 42 of them went down in this gulf.
Ruth and I soon learned that the Houston Ship Museum will be moving. Steve showed us a picture of its stunning new facility in the upcoming Midway East River development along Buffalo Bayou. This new facility will provide lots of room to add to its displays of ships in bottles and international cups, its currently cramped whaling industry info, and the what sailors eat display created by a woman at Texas A & M.
Steve warned us that this new museum will not be fully launched for perhaps 2 and maybe even 3 more years. One thing’s for sure. When it opens, Houstonians will no longer be able to say that they didn’t know their city had a maritime museum.