By John Holl
February 12, 2007AFTER
decades of service, the U.S.S. Ling SS-297, a World War II submarine, is docked here along the Hackensack River next to a parking lot and across the street from an auto supply store.
While the Ling never saw combat and spent most of its active career in Connecticut as part of the Atlantic reserve fleet and then as a training vessel, today it is the star attraction of the New Jersey Naval Museum. The museum, which has a building about the size of a double-wide trailer, also has a few deactivated missiles and torpedoes — including one whose nose recently fell off — and other retired vessels.
“We may not look active, but we really are,” Thomas Coulson, the museum treasurer, said during a recent tour of the submarine and the museum.
Since 1972 the museum has paid $1 a year to lease a patch of land adjacent to the river from the North Jersey Media Group, which owns The Record of Bergen County. But last month, Malcolm A. Borg, the chairman of the media group, told the museum that he planned to sell the 25-acre property to developers and that the Ling would have to leave within a year.
There will be no battle, no fights to stay on the site. Instead, the governing members of the museum — mostly retired sailors or submariners themselves — say they see the move as a challenge. Their big problem is where the Ling and the museum will wind up.
The group has spoken to the naval museum in New London, Conn., and written to the operators of the U.S.S. New Jersey, a decommissioned battleship that is docked on the Camden waterfront.
The Ling, a Balao Class diesel-powered submarine, was launched on Aug. 15, 1943; slept nearly 85 men; could reach 21 knots (about 24 miles an hour) and dive to 412 feet; and carried 24 torpedoes, each weighing about 3,000 pounds.
“It deserves to be seen,” said Joseph A. McDevitt, the vice president of the New Jersey Naval Museum. He said he would like to have the submarine and museum moved to the Meadowlands, where it would be easily accessible to people throughout the New York metropolitan area.
But money will be a factor. With the museum having roughly 10,000 visitors a year and an annual operating budget of about $75,000, its backers do not have the money for a move. Plus, moving the Ling out will not be as easy as getting it in.
In the early 1970s, when the Ling was floated up to the museum, backward, the Hackensack River was a different place.
Container ships brought paper for The Record’s printing presses, and a factory across from the museum relied on ships to haul cargo. No cargo ships serve the area now.
“She still floats,” Mr. Coulson said of the Ling. “We’re sure of that. But the river silted up, so we’ll need to get the Army Corps of Engineers in here to dredge the Hackensack.”
Dennis McNerney, the Bergen County executive, called the Ling “a piece of America” and said he was committed to helping the museum find a new home within the county.
If it can happen, moving to a new location might be good for the Ling and the museum. After 34 years in Hackensack, attendance is down, museum officials say. Its Web site, njnm.com, says the museum is open on Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. but advises people to call ahead first “to confirm that the museum will be open.”
While the submarine and the museum were open on the first weekend in February, fewer than 10 people stopped to visit.
“If the move does not happen,” Mr. McDevitt said, “the whole thing will be demolished — the wrecking ball.”