S.S. John W. Brown Liberty Ship


Project Liberty Ship [Attribution], via Wikimedia Commons

One of our favorite homeschool curriculums is Five in a Row, which seeks to develop a love for literature in children through in-depth study of an illustrated child’s book. Since we recently moved back to the mid-Atlantic, near Chesapeake Bay, we felt that Jane Yolen’s All the Secrets of the World was the perfect choice to start the school year. The story follows Janie, who moves to her grandparent’s house on Chesapeake Bay, after her father’s departure to fight in World War II. The story deals with a number of topics to include family, perspective in relation to distance and time, and the home front during the war. While playing with her cousin one afternoon, Janie spots a convoy of Liberty Ships leaving the Chesapeake, similar to the one her father departed for Europe on. The ships and the perspective of distance

Liberty ships were an important part of the Allied war effort. Built quickly and on the cheap, their role was to overwhelm the shipping channels between America and Europe with a steady supply of cargo and troops. These ships were crewed by Merchant Mariners, with a compliment of U.S. Navy Armed Guards to man each ship’s defensive weapons. During the war, over 200 ships were lost due to enemy action, fire or collision. The S.S. John W. Brown was one of these Liberty Ships.

Built in Baltimore, Maryland and completed in the summer of 1942. During World War II, the John W. Brown completed a total of 13 voyages, to include the the transport of soldiers to the European Theater of the war. During World War II, she supported the invasion of Italy on several voyages, carrying cargo and men across the Atlantic. Following the war, the John W. Brown was converted into a floating school in New York City. In the late 1980s, the ship was acquired by Project Liberty Ship. The John W. Brown has since undergone a process of restoration and acts as a living monument to the Merchant Marine and the sailors and soldiers who sailed on the ship.

The Blue Line Tour is the primary visitor circuit through the ship and hits nearly all of the high points. A brochure outlining the tour is available, allowing visitors to see the ship at their own speed. If arrangements are made in advance or if a crew member is available, guided tours are available. As this is a working ship and renovations are constantly being undertaken, there are plenty of crew members to ask questions along the way. The tour hits all of the primary points of interest on the ship, to include the fore and aft gun mounts, flying bridge, wheelhouse, crew and officers quarters and the galley. The tween deck has a number of collections outlining the history of the John W. Brown, Liberty Ships, the Merchant Marine and the U.S. Navy Armed Guards during the war. Of interest to those visiting the ship in connection to All the Secrets of the World, is a section of bunks and interpretive displays outlining life as a soldier traveling to the European Theater. Just like Janie’s father did.

In addition to Five in a Row, the ship can be used to study topics like the Merchant Marine, World War II (especially the home front), and sailing. Display areas in ship also feature topics like semaphore, knots and nautical terminology. In addition to the printout for the Blue Line Tour, young visitors can receive a Young Mariner Activity Guide.

Know Before You Go: The S.S. John W. Brown is a working ship requiring constant upkeep. Elevators are not available and passageways/stairs in the ship can be cramped an steep. Visitors should take care and watch their step when on the deck.

Location: When in port, the ship is located at 2020 South Clinton Street, in Baltimore Maryland. To park, turn onto the John W. Brown’s pier and proceed about 300 feet. The pier’s shed offers free parking.

Hours: Visits to the ship, when in port, can be made on Wednesday and Saturday between 9AM and 2PM. Check the ship’s website or call 410 558-0646.

Admission: Admission is free, but donations are highly recommended. There is also a ship’s store where memorabilia can be purchased.



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