Shipwreck & Lifesaving Museum: About
During the summer of 1967 there was a buzz on Nantucket: Robert “Bob” Caldwell was dreaming of a way to share his extensive collection of lifesaving memorabilia with the public. That fall Bob gathered with island pal H. H. Kynett, former trustee of the Mystic Seaport Museum, and local mariners and marine enthusiasts Robert F. Mooney, Paul C. Morris, Jr., Charles F. Sayle, and Edouard A. Stackpole to make plans for a museum.
On December 6, 1967 at the Town of Nantucket Board of Selectmen’s meeting, the Secretary of the Commonwealth asked the selectmen to clarify that the above mentioned men were all of good moral character as they had put forth an application for certificate of incorporation. Fortunately, all were approved. Soon after, Nantucket Life Saving Museum, Inc. was founded, and the two year journey to build and open the nation’s first Lifesaving Museum began.
In 2018--fifty years later, we praise the fortitude and forward thinking of Bob and his band of mariners, and we thank them. Bob’s generosity of property, possession, and passion paved the way for thousands upon thousands of islanders and island visitors to hear the story and understand the dramatic lifesaving legacy of Nantucket.
As we celebrate fifty years of incorporation, we pause to give honor. We honor Robert “Bob” Caldwell, H. H. Kynett, Robert F. Mooney, Paul C. Morris, Jr., Charles F. Sayle, and Edouard A. Stackpole for ensuring Nantucket’s lifesavers and their legacy of selflessness and service are never forgotten. We honor those who risked their lives to save others. We honor those who lost their life in pursuit of rescuing another. We honor Nantucket and her courageous characters. We honor our supporters who make our work possible. And we honor the first responders of today, who safeguard our community and help all souls in peril.
The Nantucket Shipwreck & Lifesaving Museum features permanent and changing exhibitions that will fascinate both children and adults. Permanent exhibits are devoted to the history of Nantucket lifesaving; famous shipwrecks and rescues; life-saving equipment; the daily routine at a life-saving station; and the workings of the United States Coast Guard in modern day.
From a collection of over 5,000 artifacts, other highlights of the museum include period surfboats; beach carts; vintage photographs; and a Fresnel lenses from Brant Point Lighthouse and Great Point Lighthouse.
In the 19th Century, hundreds of ships passed by Nantucket Island each day, all navigating without the benefit of modern nautical technology. Unpredictable storms, dense fog and strong currents often caught even the most experienced sailors off guard. Treacherous shoals and inclement weather led to over 700 shipwrecks in the surrounding waters of Nantucket, causing the area to be dubbed “a graveyard of the Atlantic.”
The Nantucket Shipwreck & Lifesaving Museum preserves the memory of those Islanders who risked their lives to save shipwrecked mariners. These men served in organizations devoted to maritime rescue, such as the Massachusetts Humane Society; United States Life-Saving Service; and the United States Coast Guard.