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Naval maneuver! New maritime history museum looks forward and back

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Photo gallery

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A new museum at the Brooklyn Navy Yard shows off the current activities and the Yard’s illustrious history as a maritime center. This exhibit presents images of the people and products that inhabit the yard today. The museum opens on Friday.
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Brooklyn Navy Yard CEO Andrew Kimball shows off the new maritime museum and visitors center at the long-isolated shipyard. The museum opens on Friday.
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Ahoy, captain: Naval intercoms adorn the walls of the museum, many of which provide oral histories given by one of the 65 Brooklyn Navy Yard alumni who contributed to the exhibitions. The museum opens on Friday.
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Artwork featuring famous ships and captains from the 19th century.
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This incredibly detailed model created by Steven Myatt represents a 1–72 scale depiction of the USS Ohio, a 2,700-ton, 74-gun warship that battled pirates and slavers off the coast of Africa in the early 19th century.
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The Museum’s second floor exhibit entitled “The Age of Wood and Sail”, featuring a cross section depicting the complex life of a 19th century warship. The museum opens Friday.
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One cool thing in the exhibit is a tape recording of a conversation between then-President Lyndon Johnson and then-Gov. Robert Wagner that is broadcast through an old naval intercom.
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The Brooklyn Navy Yard’s new museum and visitor’s center is as much about the history of what was once the center of American shipbuilding as it is about its even-brighter future.

That much is evident from the moment you enter the sparkling new, environmentally pimped-out, $25-million visitor’s center on Flushing Avenue near the Cumberland gatehouse.

The roof collects rainwater. The heating system is geothermal. The construction materials were sustainably harvested. It’s as if the building itself is saying, “This is not some dusty attic.”

And the attention to the Navy Yard’s modern role as a business incubator is apparent even as its 210-year-old history is on display.

Just inside the front door, for example, hangs a 22,000-pound anchor from the USS Austin, a fitting symbol one of the last warships built in Brooklyn. Near that dead weight is a wind-powered light pole developed by current Navy Yard tenant Baldev Duggal — a modern invention that can provide illumination even when the city’s power grid is off-line.

Other 21st-century, Yard-made products — such as military grade Kevlar vests, precision guided parachutes, packages of Sweet’N Low and lamp shades — are right alongside the artifacts from the area’s 400-year history as a naval center.

“The Yard itself has been a mystery to people,” said Brooklyn Navy Yard President and CEO Andrew Kimball. “We’re going to allow people in and they’re going to be able to experience this unique and fascinating story of history and modern reinvention.”

Of course, this is a history museum at its very heart, so the ship-building center dating back to President John Adams’s executive order in 1801 forms the core of the exhibits.

There are scale models of USS Ohio, the Yard’s first warship, and the USS Maine, whose sinking in Havana in 1898 precipitated the Spanish-American War.

Also on display is the steering wheel of the USS Bennington, which fought in the Pacific during WWII and was famed for having defeated the Japanese super-battleship Yamato.

On the civilian front, a whiskey jug from an illegal 1869 Vinegar Hill distillery sits in an exhibit that details the brothels and saloons that built up around the Navy Yard.

One of the coolest features is a naval telephone that offers oral histories from some of the millions of working men and women who toiled at the Yards. The stories are being collected into a huge database of stories and facts.

“It’s like genealogy.com meets Facebook,” said Kimball.

Brooklyn Navy Yard Center Building 92 [63 Flushing Ave. between Cumberland Street and Carlton Avenue in Clinton Hill, (718) 852-1441]. Free. Open Wednesday through Sunday.

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Reader Feedback

Dennis sinneD from Williamsburg says:
Haven't seen with my own eyes, but this is a positive development. Very, very nice. Next step: University in Williamsburg.
Nov. 17, 2011, 8:21 am
nancy from coney says:
i wa there when they opened not 2 bad im glad they are trying 2 revitilize a neighborhood that was really dexistated and dumpy it was sad 2 see the neigborhood my mom grew up in so decrepid im so happy they are cleaning it up now if they could rescue admirals row t hat would be a big help
Nov. 18, 2011, 7:10 pm
WW from Bay Ridge says:
"then-Gov. Robert Wagner" says the caption of photo # 10

Could that be MAYOR Robert Wagner?????
Nov. 19, 2011, 9:20 am

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