By Patricia Reid, Collections Manager
As the Collections Manager at the Maritime Museum my job is largely behind-the-scenes (you can often find me inventorying our historic collections or working on a policy), but recently my work reached new heights (pun intended, keep reading) as we welcomed a new object into our collection.
The Museum collects objects and artifacts that tell the stories of the Champlain Valley throughout history. One key piece of history that we reflect on and talk about is the Revolutionary War and its impact on the region and events on Lake Champlain. One important part of this story is the Philadelphia, one of General Benedict Arnold’s gunboats, which sank during the Battle of Valcour Bay on October 11, 1776. Lorenzo Hagglund raised the gunboat from the lake in 1935, and the Maritime Museum built an exact replica of the boat, the Philadelphia II, which launched in 1991. If you’ve been a part of our community for some time, you’ve probably heard about the Philadelphia before. If you haven’t you can learn more here, and come visit us next season to see the replica, hear from our many talented docents, and visit the Key to Liberty: The Revolutionary War in the Champlain Valley exhibit.
Recently, I got a phone call from Bob Frost, a freelance journalist in San Francisco, who has written a number of pieces about master model maker Paul Reck. Paul, now in his nineties, has built over 100 ship models with precise detail, often using the plans from the original vessels to guide his work. Among them is a model of Philadelphia, made with the same white pine and white oak used in the original Revolutionary War gunboat. Every detail was considered, from the clear resin mimicking water in the buckets on the deck to the handspun string that Paul made for the rigging. It is a gorgeous model, exactly to scale (1:24, for you model people out there), and perfectly representative of the original gunboat, built two hundred and forty five years ago. Here’s a great article talking about the piece when Paul finished the model in the summer of 2019.
Now Bob and Paul were working to make sure these beautiful models made it to the right museums, and Paul had chosen us for the Philadelphia model. The pair sent along some photos, and the team here was very excited to accept it, with only one small problem. Our shipping budget couldn’t easily accommodate the cost of shipping a model from California to Vermont.
Fortunately, we had a workaround: I grew up in Southern California and was already planning a visit to see family in early October. I had planned to bring my grandfather up to Fresno to see some of my cousins, and suddenly the plan was hatched: we’d meet Bob and Paul in Fresno, exchange the model, and I’d take the piece home with me on the plane!
I called United who graciously figured out a way to get the model home safely – by buying it its own plane ticket and having it accompany me on my flights. Talk about a dream seat buddy who doesn’t hog the armrests! The model was perfectly sized to fit in the seat (seatbelt and all) without any of its fragile rigging resting against any part of the aircraft.
It’s worth noting that Paul had generously built a case for the model for shipping, but the crate wouldn’t fit in the airplane seat that was allocated for the model. Instead, the boat had a very careful, open-top journey back to Vermont and I had the chance to interpret the model for all our fellow travelers. Many thanks to the United team members for helping in our journey home, and three cheers for those passengers at my gates in Los Angeles and Chicago, who, even though we were flying a red eye, were very interested in the model, the story, and the Museum.
Whether you met this Philadelphia model on a plane, in an airport, or here in this story, I hope to see you at the Museum next season to see the model, step aboard our full-scale replica, and learn the story of the Revolutionary War on Lake Champlain! We open again in May 2022 and in the meantime, follow our stories right here online.
Enjoy these photos from our journey: