Tuesday, March 28, 2006

ST. MARY'S SUBMARINE MUSEUM: Submarine museum sails to success after 10 years


By Gordon Jackson
March 26, 2006

Submarine museum director John Crouse is responsible for more
than 20,000 items -- from pictures and scale models to a surplus
periscope -- at the facility, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary
on Friday. Photos by CHRIS VIOLA/The Times-Union

What started as an uncertain project has become a large and unique collection and a popular attraction for visitors.

The St. Marys Submarine Museum opened with about 500 artifacts in 19 mostly empty display cases and a goal to become a viable, self-sustaining tourist attraction.

A decade later, the museum has so many items -- an estimated 20,000 -- the cases are filled with artifacts from not only the U.S. Navy, but from Russia, Germany, Great Britain, Peru and nations from the South Pacific.

The walls inside the two-story building have so many artifacts, it's difficult to see the paint.

Museum officials are preparing to commemorate the 10th anniversary on Friday with a daylong celebration.

John Crouse, the museum's first and only director, said he expected the facility to make it 10 years, but he never expected to have such an extensive collection of artifacts.

"We're not a normal museum," he said. "There a lots to things you can touch. We've got a little bit of everything."

The Navy donated some of the more popular items seen by visitors, such as a working Type 8 periscope, which at the time was the most modern working periscope on public display in the nation.

Perhaps the most significant individual donation came in 2003, when a Connecticut man, Ben Bastura, donated what was described as the nation's largest private collection of submarine memorabilia, which included World War II submarine reports.

The museum's collection of these submarine reports -- many of them classified at the time -- is so extensive, Crouse said submarine historians from across the nation visit the museum for their research.

"Now, we have written history from everything in the Navy," he said.

No funds from city

When the idea of a submarine museum was first floated before the St. Marys City Council in November 1994, the proposal was greeted with enthusiasm and one stipulation -- the city would not pay to renovate the building or pay operation expenses.

Sixteen months later, on March 30, 1996, the St. Marys Submarine Museum opened after organizers raised $60,000 and a group of enthusiastic volunteers to renovate the 85-year-old Arthur Lucas Memorial Building.

The building had been used as a general store, apartments, the St. Marys Post Office, a movie theater and a youth center.

Jerry Brandon, mayor of St. Marys in 1994, said the museum "has been a great attraction for tourists."

Crouse said museum officials have never had to ask the city for financial help.

Private donations, fundraisers and museum visitors have kept the museum running without debt since it opened.

A diver's signal plate and a broken
navigation light from the ill-fated
Russian submarine Kursk are two
of the rare items at the St. Marys
Submarine Museum.

Alternative to base visit

Museum president Tony Cobb said he never expected the museum to have as many items on display or have the number of visitors it's seen in the last decade.

"I look around at the volume of artifacts we have and it's unreal," he said. "We have so many, we can't display them all at one time. We're rotating what we put up."

Many items donated to the museum are on display at nearby Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base, Cobb said.

Ed Buczek, a spokesman at Kings Bay, said the museum fills an important void because public tours of the Trident submarine base are not offered.

The museum is a good way for people to learn about the base's role in national defense, he said.

"You can't come on base, but the museum is there to show people what the Navy is all about," Buczek said. "There is an excellent relationship between the museum and the base."
Anniversary celebration
The St. Marys Submarine Museum is celebrating its 10th anniversary Friday.The museum will be open for extended hours that day, from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.

A ceremony to commemorate the anniversary will be held at 5 p.m. Friday at the Howard Gilman Memorial Park, about one block from the museum. Guest speakers include many people who helped make the museum a reality, as well as Capt. Mike McKinnon, commanding officer at Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base, and retired Rear Adm. Albert Konetzni.

Visitors planning to attend the ceremony are asked to bring lawn chairs. For more information, call (912) 882-2782.



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