by Craig Arnold
“A ship is never finished until she’s sunk!” said the late Gerald (“Jerry”) MacMullen, historian of many a vessel, author of four books on maritime history, and co-founder of the San Diego Maritime Museum. The idea of a maritime museum was a new one in the 1920s, when young reporter MacMullen and a group of San Diego friends (later to be known as “The Forty Thieves”)1 bartered for an old iron windjammer named Star of India, brought her here under tow, and launched their dream.
The obstacles seemed endless. Having raised the $9,000 to buy the ship from her former owners, the Alaska Packers Association,2 the MacMullen group (officially called the Aquarium Committee of the San Diego Zoological Society)3 found themselves owners of what might have been called an iron white elephant.
For the next three decades, as the Great Depression and then World War II rolled by, the Forty Thieves struggled to earn nickels and dimes to keep the Star afloat. The Navy sent down her upper masts and yards during the war, and Irish pennants bloomed in her tattered rig. At last, in 1959, the long-awaited restoration of the bark to sailing condition began.4 She sailed off the coast of San Diego on July 4, 1976, and has put to sea three times since then. Tentative plans call for sailing the Star every four to five years. She is the oldest vessel of her type in the world still able to sail.
While Star of India lay in San Diego Bay, awaiting an awakening from her long sleep, a small library began to take shape on board. MacMullen and his fellow “thieves” collected a few dozen books on ships and the maritime arts and sciences, and housed them in the after cabin of the Star (a space also known as the lazarette, and, in Alaska Packer days, her captain’s cabin).
Jerry MacMullen, born in San Francisco in 1897, took a degree in journalism at the University of California at Berkeley in 1921. He returned to his home in San Diego and went to work for the San Diego Evening Tribune.5
Jerry developed a lifelong interest in ships and the sea. His longtime job with the Union was that of waterfront reporter, which daily taught him lessons in his favorite subject. In addition, MacMullen served in the old Naval Militia during World War I, and in its successor service, the Naval Reserve, during World War II. Finally, MacMullen nourished a youthful passion for yachting. His 1902 racing sloop, Butcher Boy, was well known for leaving rivals in her wake on San Diego Bay.6
As time went on and his grasp of maritime subjects grew, MacMullen began writing books. His first tome, Paddle-Wheel Days in California, was written while serving in the Navy in San Francisco during World War II. His second book, Ships of the Redwood Coast, was co-authored with Jack McNairn and appeared in 1945. Along came a third, Star of India: The Log of an Iron Ship, in 1961, and his final work was They Came By Sea, in 1969.7
All his life, MacMullen loved not only maritime history, but local history as well. In 1956, he became director of the San Diego History Center, a position he held for ten years. He was also active in the San Diego Firehouse Museum, the San Diego Corral of the Westerners, and numerous other historical associations and museums. One might almost say that if there was a museum in San Diego between 1920 and 1980, MacMullen had a hand in founding it, had worked there, or at least had a thorough knowledge of the place.
As the years passed and the Star of India‘s restoration began, under the shrewd mariner’s eye of the late Captain Ken Reynard, MacMullen collected volumes on sailing ships. Much of this data was put directly to use in the restoration by Reynard’s sweating deckhands.
MacMullen also started writing a local history column in the San Diego Union, titled “Southwest Corner.” The feature ran every Sunday from 1956 to 1974 and was a mother lode of lore on San Diego’s past.
MacMullen’s papers, books, and journals finally overflowed the walls of his lovely old home on the shores of Coronado. More and more of this matter came across the bay and into the Star’s lazarette. As he criss-crossed the bay countless times on ferryboats, MacMullen pondered an ultimate repository for his treasures. Much of what he owned was long out-of-print and irreplaceable. In addition to the printed material, he kept thousands of maritime photographs. Many of the images were of old windjammers, coal-burning warships of the Great White Fleet, and other vessels which visited his beloved bay from the late 1800s onward. Some photos were bent and stained from scrutiny by grizzled fo’c’s’le hands and gruff old captains, as MacMullen repeatedly quizzed them about ships in the pictures.
Meanwhile, the Maritime Museum went into a phase of dramatic expansion. With Star of India‘s restoration almost finished by 1973, the museum acquired two more ships: the 1898 San Francisco Bay ferry Berkeley, and the 1904 Scottish steam yacht Medea. Now the era of steam marine transport could be examined, along with sail. The Berkeley, with her spacious main deck, promised the necessary space not only for exhibits, but for museum offices and a real library. The library would also be the center for production of Mains’l Haul, a newsletter started by MacMullen in 1964.
But now MacMullen’s health began to fail. He gave up his column in the Union, and turned over the editorship of Mains’l Haul to his close friend, Captain Gregg L. Chandler (USNR, Ret.). Jerry lived long enough to see a small, one-room library open on the Berkeley in 1980. When he died, in January 1981, Capt. Chandler named the facility the Jerry MacMullen Library.
MacMullen’s widow, Roberta, soon donated his personal collection of thousands of books, papers, and photos to the Maritime Museum. Capt. Chandler hired an assistant, Carol Kettenburg, and together they went to work on the task of cataloging this treasure trove.8 Eventually, all of MacMullen’s photos and books were cataloged, and his papers housed in acid-free file folders in twenty-one archival boxes. A unique cataloging system devised by Ms. Kettenburg enabled rapid access to a wide range of subjects. The bulk of the references are, as might be expected, to individual ships.
Once the word was out that San Diego now had its own maritime library, the donations started pouring in. Capt. Chandler decided that the MacMullen Library must have its own special organization, to meet the demands imposed by a highly technical and arcane field of research. Accordingly, he divided the books of the library into ten sections. These sections, which remain in effect, include the following subject areas:
A: Loan Section (for Maritime Museum members)
B: Naval History
C: Sailing Ships, Yachts and Fisheries
D: Powered Merchant Vessels
E: Nautical Sciences, Ports and Exploration
F: Seamanship, Admiralty Law and Salvage
G: Shipbuilding and Ship Models
H: Marine Arts
I: Rare Books
R: Reference Works
Few areas of historical study are as complex as maritime history. A good grounding in marine terminology, past and present, is needed before researching man’s use of the sea. In this regard, a good selection of marine dictionaries is an excellent starting point for a maritime library. One of the best still in print is Paasch’s From Keel to Truck, originally published in English, French, and German in 1901.9 All nautical terms are printed side-by-side in these three languages, and are illustrated with a superb series of steel engravings of all parts of vessels, both sail and steam. A 1978 reprint in hardcover is still available.
Another classic marine dictionary worth mentioning is Falconer’s Marine Dictionary of 1769-1815. Foyle, Ltd., of London published a useful abridged edition in 1930, under the title, The Old Wooden Walls.10 For understanding the age of wooden ships, Falconer is indispensable.
In the 1980s, the Jerry MacMullen Library expanded by two rooms toward the “San Francisco End” of the Berkeley, and by another toward her “Berkeley End.” (Double-ender ferries do not have bows or sterns; the ends are named for whatever community that end loaded at.)
The most recent expansion aboard the Berkeley is the Gregg L. Chandler Research Room, named for the late Capt. Chandler. This room houses important reference sets, such as Merchant Vessels of the United States, 1885-1980; The United States Naval Institute Proceedings, 1884-1992;Transactions of the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers, 1904-1992; Record of American Bureau of Shipping, 1940-1979; and Lloyd’s Register of Shipping, 1914-1978. Along with marine dictionaries, these works are vital to maritime research. They are used on a daily basis, and some of the older ones, especially the Lloyd’s Registers, are all but impossible to obtain.11
Another section of this room houses various editions of the works of major maritime authors. Among those represented are Braynard, Chapelle, Conrad, Dana, Lubbock, Lyman, Mahan, Melville, Morison, and Villiers.
Maritime journals of special distinction, such as The American Neptune and Sea Breezes, are kept in this room as well. Sea Breezes, published in Liverpool, remains one of the handiest of all guides to world shipping news.
Last but not least, this room houses several collections of maritime manuscripts. Chief among these is the MacMullen Collection. The writings of Jerry MacMullen span nearly the whole spectrum of West Coast maritime history. MacMullen researched as far as Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo’s voyages of 1542-43 for material for his hundreds of magazine and newspaper articles.
More narrow in scope is the Richard E. Brown Collection on passenger liners, riverboats, and ferryboats. Mr. Brown, a teacher and resident of Bakersfield, California, is among the nation’s most respected authorities on such vessels. His collection is housed in eleven archival boxes and two file cabinet drawers.
Housed in folders in seven file drawers is the Ronald Kingsbury Collection. The late Mr. Kingsbury was a Naval Reserve officer and world travel enthusiast. From the 1920s through the 1970s, he traveled on many of the major passenger liners of that era — most of which have long since gone to the breakers’ yard. During his years on the liners, Kingsbury collected memorabilia: menus from the Queen Mary, souvenir programs from the Normandie, brochures from the United States, cabin plans from the Rotterdam — virtually anything on paper he could acquire. He often wrote to shipping lines and travel agents for additional material.
The result of all this pack rat activity is now available to researchers. Folder after folder is crammed with fascinating tidbits about daily life on the most glamorous vessels ever launched. The Kingsbury Collection is one of the most complete memorabilia collections on passenger liners in the world, covering every major and most minor American and European lines for over fifty years.
Books and papers are scarcely all of the library’s collections. Also present are ship plans, charts, marine art, postcards, periodicals, ships’ logs, and photographs. Ship plans are vital to the repair of the museum’s vessels as well as showing construction details of many others. Such plans include outboard profiles, general arrangements, half deck plans, sail plans, engine plans, and so on to cover all aspects of naval architecture. Organized by a retired naval architect, the ship plans of the MacMullen Library are kept rolled or folded (depending on how received) in Navy flat file drawers. Numerous requests are made for them from ship modelers. Also, whenever repair or further restoration is considered for a museum ship, examination of her plans is the first step. A recent example of such work was repair of the steam yacht Medea‘s hull. Multiple copies of her 1906 lines plan were made to assist the repair crew.
Charts are a matter of life or death for mariners, from Christopher Columbus to the present day. Our chart collection continues to grow with contributions from yachtsmen and merchant mariners.
Marine art and postcards are popular expressions of the lore of the sea. Capt. Chandler collected hundreds of ship postcards from around the world. A favorite pastime in Victorian and Edwardian times was sending postcards of ships, harbor scenes, etc., to one’s family and friends. Some postcards contain touching personal messages about man’s romance with the sea, e.g. “This is the boat we took to Boston. Big storm. I got sick.” In Edwardian times and later, one could acquire large sets of postcards devoted to a single theme — the British Royal Navy, perhaps, or views of the Panama Canal. Cigarette companies added to the deluge with brands like Player’s Navy Cut offering a card in every pack sold. Not content with putting the whole Royal Navy on cards, Player’s covered the American, French, German, Russian and other naval fleets prior to the First World War. Their sets were a sort of Jane’s Fighting Ships in miniature.
Periodicals are an important part of every library. A total of 113 periodicals are carried in the MacMullen Library, some of which are no longer published. Some of the better known titles are Wooden Boat, Marine Digest, The Mariner’s Mirror, Sea History, and Yachting. Less familiar gems include Steamboat Bill, Blue Peter, The South Spainer, and The Titanic Commutator (the official organ of the Titanic Historical Society).
The MacMullen Library’s photo division is by far our busiest. Half of our library volunteers work in this division, supervised by the Librarian. Demand for photos is nonstop. Alan Thewlis, a Yorkshireman by birth and a naval architect by trade, began to organize the photos in 1980. He thought that it might take as long as six months. Twelve years later, he is still at it.
After much thought and discussion, Alan developed a plan of fifteen subject categories for photographs.
1. The Maritime Museum Fleet
2. Merchant Sail
3. Government Fleets
4. Merchant Steam and Motor Vessels
5. Harbors, Port Facilities, and Coastal Features
6. Shipbuilding and Repair
7. Shipboard and Seagoing Activity
8. Yachting, Small Craft, Historic Craft and Replicas
9. Fishing and Whaling
11. Artifacts, Exhibits and Equipment
12. Ship Construction and Design
13. Marine Life and Physical Characteristics
14. Wrecks, Collisions, Sinkings, Damage, and Disasters
15. Explorations and Voyages
Among the most valued collections in the library are those of ships’ logs and diaries. The library holds about ninety percent of the Star of India‘s logs (a high percentage compared with most museum ships — especially for one 130 years old). Other logs preserved include the log of the Atlantic packet Francois I of 1835, the Alaska Packers’ sailing ship Indiana, and the deck log of the famous destroyer U.S.S. Johnston (DD-557), which went down fighting the bulk of the Imperial Japanese Navy off Samar in 1944.
Many of New Zealand’s families are descended from settlers carried there in the late 1800s by the ship Euterpe — now our Star of India. A number of descendants have donated diaries and letters which their ancestors penned on these voyages.12
These logs, diaries, and letters have been copied on microfiche for the use of researchers. Pages filled with lines of pale blue ink bespeak the true nature of life at sea. They tell us of yards and sails riven by shrieking gales, of mountainous seas and vast icebergs, of standing off and on before barren ironbound coasts, of the emigrants’ hunger and their battles with ship rats and each other, of men swept off the bowsprit into the churning sea, of a captain’s gory suicide, and of the great joy and relief of all hands on sighting land. Their words are the stark testimony of those who sought new lives against all odds, braving hazards men would think impossible today.
Most publications generated by the Maritime Museum also have their origins in the source materials of the Jerry MacMullen Library. The oldest of these is Mains’l Haul, our quarterly journal of maritime history, published continuously since September 1964. Mains’l Haul began as a simple two-page newsletter, peppered with the historical musings and bon mots of its first editor, Jerry MacMullen. MacMullen began the publication as a way of keeping the museum membership informed of the restoration of the Star of India.
As the years passed and the museum grew, so did the newsletter. Successive editors — Capt. Gregg Chandler, Carol Kettenburg, and this writer — gradually introduced larger quantities of purely historical articles. Today, Mains’l Haul has grown to forty pages and is essentially a journal of maritime history, although museum news and announcements are still carried. The journal is microfilmed by the state libraries of California and Wisconsin; it is also subscribed to by colleges, museums, libraries, and history-minded individuals.
In addition to Mains’l Haul, a newsletter called the Full and By is now published monthly by the Maritime Museum. The Full and By, a monthly, covers the bread-and-butter public relations aspects of the Maritime Museum. This is a trend being followed by many larger maritime museums, such as Mystic Seaport, Connecticut.
Along with its periodicals, the Maritime Museum launched a book-publishing program four years ago. The first two volumes were Euterpe: Diaries, Letters and Logs of a British Emigrant Ship, and a reprint of Jerry MacMullen’s They Came By Sea. On the lighter side, a nautical cookbook and a coloring book for children have appeared. Publications scheduled for the near future include two more books: Medea: The Classic Steam Yacht, and a reprint of Star of India, by MacMullen. Possible future books under consideration include a study of 16th century Spanish ships such as Cabrillo’s San Salvador, a record of the U.S.S. Bennington disaster in San Diego Bay in 1905, and a history of the San Diego fishing industry.
Finding aids available in the MacMullen Library include extensive subject and accession card files for all books, photos, and memorabilia collections. The book card files have been transferred to an easy-to-use computer program, and other card files will soon follow. One special finding aid is our Master Ship Index. The MSI holds individual cards for some ten thousand ships; each card lists resources in our library on that vessel: books, photos, ship plans, and memorabilia. All this information concentrated in one file makes the researcher’s job much easier. The MSI is currently being readied for the library computer.
A library must always look to the future. As maritime documents continue to flow into the Jerry MacMullen Library, space to house them on board the Berkeley dwindles. Now we are looking toward a move (in three to five years) to a new library facility at the Broadway Pier. The new facility, as planned by an architectural firm retained by the Unified Port District, will include a 3,000-square foot library on the second floor of the main Maritime Museum building on the pier. Besides providing ample space for present collections, the space will allow considerable expansion beyond the l,000-square foot facility now on the Berkeley. The new library will have a darkroom and a Special Collections Room, plus many other needed features. The opening of the new facility will mark a great step forward for all those who value maritime history.
The ships of the Maritime Museum have logged many sea miles since their respective launching dates. Today, their records of storm and tragedy, as well as faithful service, are carefully preserved in the Jerry MacMullen Library. The records of numerous other vessels are kept here, too. And, in a sense, as long as all these records — photographs, manuscripts, logs, and books — survive, these ships will never die. They will sail on in the minds of those who read of them, long after their wood and iron bones have settled to the ocean floor.
The Jerry MacMullen Library
San Diego Maritime Museum
1306 North Harbor Drive
San Diego, CA 92101
Hours: Monday-Friday, 9:00-4:00
Fees: Photograph copying fees according to schedule.
Staff: Craig Arnold, Librarian and Editor, Mains’l Haul
1. Jerry MacMullen, Star of India: The Log of an Iron Ship (Berkeley: Howell-North, 1961), 81.
2. The Alaska Packers Association, headquartered in San Francisco, ran a fleet that once totaled thirty-seven ships to the Alaska salmon grounds each spring, returning with canned salmon in the fall. The Association owned the Star of India from 1901 to 1927.
3. MacMullen, Star of India, 74.
4. Ibid., 108.
5. Trudie Casper, “Jerry MacMullen: An Uncommon Man,” Journal of San Diego History 27 (Fall 1981): 261.
6. Craig Arnold, “Butcher Boy: 1902 Westcoast Workboat,” Seaways 1 (January/February 1990): 46.
7. Jerry MacMullen, Paddlewheel Days in California (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1944); MacMullen and Jack McNairn, Ships of the Redwood Coast (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1945); MacMullen, Star of India; MacMullen, They Came by Sea (San Diego: Ward Ritchie Press and the Maritime Museum Association of San Diego, 1969).
8. Captain Chandler was the Librarian of the Maritime Museum from 1977 to 1981, and a trustee from 1977 to 1990. Carol Kettenburg was the Librarian from 1981 to 1984.
9. Captain H. Paasch, From Keel to Truck (Hamburg, Germany: Eckardt and Messtorff, 1901).
10. Claude S. Gill, ed., The Old Wooden Walls (London: W. & G. Foyle, Ltd., 1930).
11. Lloyd’s Register of Shipping, published by Lloyd’s of London, has been the world’s largest merchant shipping reference work since the mid-1700s.
12. The families of John Griffiths, an emigrant in Euterpe on the voyage of 1875-76, and of George James Lister and Llewellyn Owen, emigrants on the voyage of 1879, were particularly helpful.
[Editor’s note: This article is part 5 in a continuing series on archive and manuscript repositories in San Diego County.]
Craig Arnold is the Librarian of the San Diego Maritime Museum, a position he has held since 1985. He is also editor of Mains’l Haul, the museum’s quarterly journal, and the author of Euterpe: Diaries, Letters and Logs of a British Emigrant Ship (1988), as well as maritime history articles in Naval History, Seaways, and other periodicals. Mr. Arnold is currently working on his next book, Medea: The Classic Steam Yacht.