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BATH — Traveling along U.S. Route 1 as a youth, seeing the wrecked schooners Hesper and Luther Little mired on the Wiscasset shore, struck a chord with Chris Timm.
“Each year they’d be listing more and more, and maybe have one fewer mast,” the Maine Maritime Museum curator of exhibits said May 15. “We talk about wooden schooners and wooden vessels sometimes like it’s this kind of distant past, but there are these historical and archaeological resources all around us that are still a testament to this golden age of sail.”
Those sentiments triggered “Shipwrecks & Salvage,” the 243 Washington St. museum’s latest exhibit, which launched May 18 and runs through the rest of the year.
The showcase delves into the dramatic stories that have developed around the shipwrecks, with “amazing examples of heroism,” and also “examples of cannibalism and mutiny, and pointing fingers (and asking) what went wrong,” Timm explained.
Dramatizations of those events tended to come shortly after they occurred, as evidenced by excerpts of three century-old films screened within the exhibit.
“A lot of key moments in silent film, in terms of new technology and special effects, were actually done for shipwreck stories,” Timm noted.
An 1898 film showing people diving into the then-recent wreck of the U.S.S. Maine in Havana Harbor, Cuba, was shot through an aquarium; a 1916 version of Jules Vernes’ novel “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” was the first film actually shot underwater, he said.
“It was just amazing,” Timm noted. “All of a sudden, people across the country could see what it was like underwater.”
An animated film covering the 1915 sinking of the Lusitania covered a serious subject, a change of pace from the usual slapstick cartoons of the day, Timm noted.
Moving panoramas of shipwreck scenes, sort of an early version of film, are also covered in the exhibit. The Bath ship Hanover, which sank and lost all hands at the mouth of the Kennebec River in 1849, was the subject of a large cranked canvas shown weeks later at City Hall.
The museum also delves into the evolution of underwater exploratory and salvage missions. A rotary air pump operated by two people above water, and a hardhat diving suit to which the oxygen would be sent underwater, are among items on display.
“It’s going beyond just stories of the wrecks; it’s actually what’s the technology that gets you down into the wrecks,” Timm explained.
As part of the exhibit Tuesdays and Thursdays at 1 p.m., the museum will run a hands-on, all-ages mock academy for visitors to learn about diving and the history of diving technology.
The exhibit dives into the future of underwater exploration, showing how drone-like devices can swim through the depths without the operator getting wet.
Footage from an underwater remote-operated vehicle is on display of the wrecked schooner Cora F. Cressey, built in 1902 at the Percy & Small shipyard on what is now the museum campus. Once a floating nightclub in Boston, it has spent several decades deteriorating in Bremen’s Keene Narrows.
Various artifacts salvaged from wrecks are showcased, too. One exhibit area polls visitors on whether they would be more likely to take home a relic they found on a beach, or leave it in place for others to observe.
Chris Timm, curator of exhibits at the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath, turned a childhood interest into “Shipwrecks & Salvage,” a showcase that launched May 18.
A rotary air pump and hardhat diving suit are among items on display in the Bath museum’s latest exhibit.