Improved Coast Guard Museum to reopen at academy

Jen Gaudio, curator at the U.S. Coast Guard Museum, shows the original figurehead of the barque Eagle in Waesche Hall at the Coast Guard Academy. The teak-and-oak figurehead weighs 1 ton and was on the ship when it was the Horst Wessel in Nazi Germany.
Jen Gaudio, curator at the U.S. Coast Guard Museum, shows the original figurehead of the barque Eagle in Waesche Hall at the Coast Guard Academy. The teak-and-oak figurehead weighs 1 ton and was on the ship when it was the Horst Wessel in Nazi Germany. Tim Martin/The Day Buy Photo

New London - The U.S. Coast Guard Museum soon will reopen with a new look and rare artifacts that will be on display for the first time.

Housed at the Coast Guard Academy, the museum has been closed for nearly a year while asbestos was removed from the ceiling and the 4,000-square-foot space was reconfigured.

Curator Jen Gaudio said the changes do not negate the need for a much larger National Coast Guard Museum. The Coast Guard had the opportunity to rework the space at the academy because the ceiling had to be taken down anyway, she said.

"It's really difficult to tell the history of over 200 years and at least 11 different missions over time in 4,000 square feet," Gaudio said Tuesday. "This was not designed to replace the national museum."

The Coast Guard has yet to settle on a site for the national museum but has agreed to work with the city to find a location within city limits.

When asked about the status of the national museum, Rear Adm. Karl Schultz, director of government and public affairs, said in a statement that the National Coast Guard Museum Association is still "assessing site options, conceptual designs and other conditions that would allow the museum project to move forward successfully."

"The Coast Guard remains very interested in establishing a National Coast Guard Museum in the area," he said.

The museum at the academy is currently the only space the service has to tell its story, Gaudio said. It reopens to the public with an open house May 12, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Offering a sneak peak on Tuesday, Gaudio showcased the museum's improved design and layout in Waesche Hall. The displays are now ordered more chronologically so visitors may trace the Coast Guard's history from its early roots to the present day.

Artifacts that had to be kept in storage before because of space constraints, as well as recently donated items are now on display, including a rare parade banner for the U.S. Life-Saving Service, which merged with the Revenue Cutter Service in 1915 to become the Coast Guard, and a prototype for a solid wood life preserver from the 1870s. The life preserver was never used since it could sever the head of a person who jumped from a boat while using it.

The museum's new exhibit on Hurricane Katrina features a boat used during the rescues in New Orleans, along with the uniform retired Adm. Thad Allen wore when he oversaw the operation and an axe that rescue swimmers used to chop through rooftops.

The Coast Guard spent close to $300,000 on the design, construction and installation of the renovated museum. The contractor was Malone Design/Fabrication of Georgia. It cost roughly $150,000 to move the collection and store it off site while the work was performed.

The academy's Class of 1950 paid about $25,000 for the original figurehead from the Coast Guard's training ship barque Eagle to be repaired while it was off site, in honor of the ship's 75th anniversary last year. Cracks on the figurehead were evaluated and patched and dry rot was removed.

The displays could be disassembled and moved when the national museum is established, Gaudio said. In the meantime, she said, this museum will be better able to protect its artifacts, attract more people and look more professional.

"We're doing what we can with what we have," she said.

j.mcdermott@theday.com

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