Volunteers Requesting Help to Save World War II-Era Liberty Ship SS John W. Brown

Photo Credit: Doug Jones / Portland Press Herald / Getty Images
Photo Credit: Doug Jones / Portland Press Herald / Getty Images

One of the last remaining operational World War II-era liberty ships is at risk of falling into disrepair and losing its certification from the US Coast Guard. The SS John W. Brown, docked in Baltimore, Maryland, is slated to head to dry-dock for repairs, and the volunteer team charged with her upkeep is requesting the public’s help to fund $500,000 of the over $1 million price tag.

SS John W. Brown at sea
Photo Credit: Project Liberty Ship / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Speaking with WBALTV 11, Dick Sterne, secretary of Project Liberty Ship, said, “It’s one of the largest class of ships ever built. It was built right here in Baltimore at the old Bethlehem-Fairfield Yards.”

The majority of liberty ships operated by the United States during World War II were built in Baltimore, after which they were used to transport everything from supplies to US troops overseas.

Presently, just two remain operational, including John W. Brown, which has since been turned into a museum ship. Visitors can attend volunteer-led guided tours of the vessel. Named for labor union leader John W. Brown, the liberty ship was under service with the Merchant Marines during the conflict, and she conducted 13 voyages between 1942-46.

Following the war, the vessel journeyed to New York City, New York, where she served as a maritime high school until 1982, preparing students for the US Navy and Coast Guard.

John W. Brown arrived in Baltimore six years laters, where she underwent restoration. As a museum ship, she offers “Living History Cruises” several times a year.

Brian Hope and Ed Koronowski releasing the forward line of the SS John W. Brown
Photo Credit: Jerry Jackson / Baltimore Sun / Tribune News Service / Getty Images

To keep her certification with the US Coast Guard, John W. Brown must be dry-docked in Norfolk, Virginia, every five years. This time around, the trip and repairs will cost around $1.25 million. While largely funded by public donations and a government grant, those who volunteer with the liberty ship say additional money is needed. This has prompted them to launch a fundraiser.

“We are surviving on the generosity based on our supporters, and we really appreciate it, but we just need to keep it going,” Sterne told WBALTV 11. “Nobody wants to see a part of history die.”

SS John W. Brown docked at port
Photo Credit: MKelly1990 / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0

According to the liberty ship’s official website, the team is hoping to raise $500,000, with the funds being used as follows:

  • $300,000 – Paint the hull.
  • $134,000 – Block, haul, launch and lay days.
  • $82,000 – Replace the deteriorating plating on the bottom of the #3 lower hold (port side).
  • $42,000 – Restore the coating on the interior surfaces of the #4 double bottom tanks (port and starboard sides).
  • $24,000 – Replace the 14-inch gate valve that’s used as the main condenser overboard line hull valve.
  • $22,000 – Clean and preserve potable water tanks (port and starboard sides).
  • $21,000 – Restore bleeder plugs.
  • $18,000 – Range the anchor and its chain on the dry-dock floor for cleaning and preservation.
  • Price TBD – Crop out wasted material at the bottom of the bilge well in the #3 lower hold and weld in new plating (starboard side).

Fueling the journey to Virginia is also expected to cost upwards of $60,000. Anyone interested in donating to the fundraiser can do so here. According to the team of volunteers, the deadline to donate is August 15, 2024.

SS John W. Brown transiting a Great Lake
Photo Credit: Unknown Author / Wikimedia Commons / Attribution

“We’re all here because we like history, and we want to honor shipbuilding,” Sterne told The Baltimore Sun. “We do this to remember Baltimore’s industrial past and maritime heritage of shipyard workers.”

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Those interested in touring the SS John W. Brown can do so every Wednesday and Saturday from 8:00 AM to 2:00 PM EST.

Clare Fitzgerald

Clare Fitzgerald is a Writer and Editor with eight years of experience in the online content sphere. Graduating with a Bachelor of Arts from King’s University College at Western University, her portfolio includes coverage of digital media, current affairs, history and true crime.

Among her accomplishments are being the Founder of the true crime blog, Stories of the Unsolved, which garners between 400,000 and 500,000 views annually, and a contributor for John Lordan’s Seriously Mysterious podcast. Prior to its hiatus, she also served as the Head of Content for UK YouTube publication, TenEighty Magazine.

In her spare time, Clare likes to play Pokemon GO and re-watch Heartland over and over (and over) again. She’ll also rave about her three Maltese dogs whenever she gets the chance.

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