Living History Cruise

What it Was Like as a School...

 This blog was written by Gil Garcia, one of the alumni of the SS JOHN W BROWN, class of 1964.

The Brown was launched on Labor Day, September 7, 1942, at the Bethlehem-Fairfield shipyard located in Baltimore Maryland.  Of the 2710 Liberty ships built during World War 2, only two remain operational.  The Brown is the only one the East coast.

After thirteen voyages, in the maritime service during World War 2, the ship was loaned to the NYC Board of Education by the Maritime Administration.  It was the only floating maritime high school in the country, with the mission of preparing young men for careers in the Merchant Marine service.


The Brown served as a school ship from 1946 to 1982.  It was affiliated with Metropolitan Vocational High School until 1961, Food & Maritime Vocational High School until the late 1970s, and Park West Vocational High School until 1982.

You can imagine my excitement, when in September 1961, I reported aboard as a sophomore student, at the age of 15 years old.  For most of the students, this was their first venture outside of the neighborhoods where they received their elementary education.  We got to meet other students from throughout New York City including such far away places as Long Island and Staten Island.

For a young man, what a great toy this was. We had a World War 2 ship to explore.  We wore our uniforms as a badge of honor.  There was no fooling around on the ship.  Our instructors, most of them having served in the Merchant Service, treated and expected us to act like grown men.  While on board the ship, our actions could get us hurt or hurt our fellow classmates. 

After a six month indoctrination where we all learned to go aloft, go over the side, learn our basic knots and shipboard procedures, we were assigned to our departments, being deck, engine or steward.

I was an engineering student.  My course of study included pipefitting, machine shop, and electrical theory.  In my junior year, I had to learn all of the ship’s mechanical systems, auxiliary equipment, and main engine.  During my senior year I fired the boilers, operated the auxiliary steam equipment and the ship’s main engine.


Having recently retired, after over forty years, as a licensed stationary engineer, I attribute much of the advancement and success in my trade due to the ideals and fundamentals I learned while I was a student on the school ship. 

All of our alumni members firmly believe that the Brown and our instructors were instrumental in our developmental growth and successes.

As students, we would sit at the fantail where we shared our growing up stories, along with a smoke and coke break which we earned from our instructors.  We often spoke and dreamed of what we would do if we were given the opportunity to sail the Brown out of New York harbor.  Never in my lifetime would I have imagined I would be “living the dream” so many years later, when as a crew member of Project Liberty Ship, I stood on the fantail of my school ship admiring her wake and feeling the turn of her propeller under my feet.

Project Liberty Ship originated in 1978 to preserve the ship as a memorial to the men and women that built the ships, and the merchant seamen and armed guards who sailed them.  In July 1983, the Brown was towed from New York harbor to the James River Reserve fleet. 


In 1988, Project Liberty Ship started the restoration of the Brown.  The first Living History cruise was held on the Chesapeake Bay in 1991. This year will be the Brown's 75 birthday.   She has sailed the eastern seaboard from Windsor, Ontario to Jacksonville, Florida. 

The all volunteer crew, from around the country and the world, work tirelessly to maintain the ship in operational condition.  Our motto is:


Please visit the Project Liberty Ship and Alumni Association websites.  Thank you for reading my story and that of many of my classmates. 


Project Liberty Ship, Inc is a 501(c)3 non-profit, all volunteer organization engaged in the preservation and operation of the historic ship JOHN W. BROWN as a living memorial museum. Gifts to Project Liberty Ship are tax deductible.

Adventures in Jack's World

My dad is working and my mom is using that loud monster that sucks things off the floor (I HATE that thing) so I snuck in here to pen my thoughts to all of you. Its been some time and I need to make sure that they are telling the whole story for all of you. 

So, what's been going on?  Back in May, I got to go to Norfolk with the ship.  It wasn't too long of a trip...I'd say it took us about a year to get there, and we were there for like 6 hours (but I can't really tell time, so who knows).  This was a first for me, as it was the first cruise that I've worked, which was pretty cool.  There were a LOT of people on my ship, and that's the truth!  It was a pretty neat experience and people seemed surprised to see a dog on the ship.  Why is that?!?  Lots of people tried to get their picture taken with me, so I will admit, It made me feel like a celebrity dog, like maybe Lassie, or Beethoven or Tramp (in Lady and the Tramp).  

Then came the warm weather.  I was told that they were busy this summer, painting the ship and doing lots of work and that it was dangerous for me to be on board the ship, but then I find THESE pictures on my parents drive...  I'm not so sure what was going on, but some of it looks like monkey business was happening without me.  I tell you, do I have to DO everything around there and supervise everyone???  These people also apparently know how to make messes!

I had to do some dog-subliminal-messaging with the Captain, to let him know that things needed to change, and wouldn't you know it?  It worked... he told me that I could go to New York City on the ship.   This trip was a bit longer and it was pretty hot, too. I was the first one off the ship, and I had to leave my mark on the pier.  Let's say that my bladder must have been waiting for dry land, because people on the pier actually started clapping and cheering me as I was going to the bathroom.   Yep, I was blushing.  What? You don't think that dogs blush??? Well, I do!  

It was a neat trip and I got to hang out with lots of my favorite people.   The kids from New York's Harbor School were fun to hang out with too.   And then wouldn't you know it... I somehow hurt my paw.  They babied me each day but finally, midweek, my dad brought me to a nice vet clinic in Manhattan and they gave me medicine to kill the bad stuff that was making me sick, they wrapped my paw nicely and they gave me pain medicine and a very horrible cone of shame. That thing...   ugg {insert whole body shake and shiver},  THAT lasted all of one afternoon, until I convinced them that I was NO idiot and was not going to take off the bandage.  People!  Jeesh, its not like I'm dense...I get it!

But other than that, I got to hang out in New York City, and I saw the Statue of Liberty. I slept on the floor with the Captain half the time (not ALL my doing,  his wife asked me to keep him company since he would be missing her), and the other half with my dad. Sorry dad, but someone's got to hang out with the Captain and it's my job.  Here are some of the pictures I could find to show that I was there.  I'm just glad they didn't think to take a picture when they picked me up and put me on the surgery table to look at my foot, before deciding to take me to the vet. That was embarrassing, for pete's sake. 

Finally, this past weekend, we held our holiday party for crew members.  It's always good to hang out with all my peeps, especially when they're not covered in paint and smelly grease. Plus everyone dresses up nice and they smell good.  And don't tell my dad, but they also gave me food. AT THE TABLE, when my dad wasn't watching.   Hahaha...

These people writing the blog have been busy, so i'm sure they wont mind that I jumped in here to get the job done.  Hopefully I'll have more to tell you soon.  Until then, stay away from cats (they are mean and think they're better than everybody else!) and buy lots of treats for dogs (like me...hint, hint, hint...) 

~Jack (from the SS JOHN W BROWN)

Project Liberty Ship, Inc is a 501(c)3 non-profit, all volunteer organization engaged in the preservation and operation of the historic ship JOHN W. BROWN as a living memorial museum. Gifts to Project Liberty Ship are tax deductible.

The Living History Cruise Air Show

The air show portion of the Living History Cruise is always a crowd favorite.  The ship arrives at the Bay Bridge just after lunch has finished.  Andy, who coordinates the planes for the air show, is on the Flying Bridge listening for the signal from the planes that they have arrived and are ready to commence the attack.  Crew members have manned the guns and guests are ready with cameras and phones.  The show will begin with a training flight.  The planes fly close to the ship and the pilots like to wave to the guests on board.  The next to arrive are more serious.  Japanese planes fly in for an attack and the gunners answer with volleys of bullets.  After several close passes the enemy planes are chased away by an TMB Avenger.  She's a graceful lady in the air and once the danger has passed she'll fly by with her torpedo bay doors open showing off her fire power.  Last, but not least, a B-25 Mitchell Bomber "Briefing Time" flies directly overhead.  There is no mistaking the sound of the engines of this beauty.

The Stearman was a primary training plane during World War II.  This plane comes to us from the St. Mary’s County Airport where you can take a ride over southern Maryland. I’m not sure the pilots would have been this friendly in 1944.

The white Val is actually a Vultee BT-13 Valiant that was converted for the Tora, Tora, Tora movie to look like a Val. The green "Zero" is a Russian Yak 52TW.  The air show is spectacular to see from the ship and we're fortunate to have photographs taken from the air too.

You'll never be closer to the planes in an airshow than you are on the JOHN W BROWN.  The sights and sounds of the planes are an experience you'll never forget.

Here is the Zero coming in for a dive bomb run.

She's the Boss is a WWII Grumman TBM Avenger torpedo bomber.  She chases away the enemy planes and saves the day.

Briefing Time is a B-25 "Mitchell" Bomber that comes down for the air show from the Mid Atlantic Aviation Museum in Reading, PA.  There is no mistaking the sound of this engine with any other aircraft.  What a way to end the show!

Another image you won't see anywhere else but a Living History Cruise.

Another image you won't see anywhere else but a Living History Cruise.

As you can see by comparing this photograph from a voyage of the JOHN W BROWN in 1944 with the photograph from one of the Living History Cruises we work hard to provide as authentic an experience as we can.  There really is nothing else like it anywhere!


Project Liberty Ship, Inc is a 501(c)3 non-profit, all volunteer organization engaged in the preservation and operation of the historic ship JOHN W. BROWN as a living memorial museum. Gifts to Project Liberty Ship are tax deductible.

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