MONTEREY — Entering this city's Allen Knight Maritime Museum is like opening a chronicle of the sea. Here on display are nautical memorabilia tracing the port's past dating back to its Spanish days when Monterey was the Spanish capital of California; the era of Mexican rule, and its history following its acquisition by the United States.
The extensive collection includes many ship models, bells, compasses, lanterns, navigation instruments, steering wheels and scrimshaw. There are thousands of ship pictures and an extensive library used by writers and artists. A ship's name-board, the Flavel, hangs on one wall, a reminder that the ocean and the craggy shores of the Monterey Peninsula coast line can be a destructive force.
On Dec. 14, 1923, the Flavel, a schooner out of Aberdeen, Wash., with a cargo of more than 1 million board feet of lumber, struck rocks near Monterey during a heavy fog. As the vessel broke up, boards were scattered like flotsam along the beaches. Fortunately, the crew was saved.
A Prized Exhibit
One of the museum's most prized exhibits is the giant Fresnel lens that was once in the Point Sur Lighthouse south of Monterey. Originally designed in 1822 by Augustin Fresnel, a French physicist, the huge lamp was installed at Point Sur in 1889. The Coast Guard replaced the light in 1972 with an automated beacon. The old lens was later placed on an extended loan by the Coast Guard to the museum.
Richard D. McFarland, the museum's curator and a retired Army colonel, recalled how the lens was dismantled and moved to Monterey:
"The old lighthouse had been boarded up. It sits on a a promontory overlooking the ocean. Accompanied by two Coast Guardsmen, we went to work with screwdrivers removing the prisms. There were eight of them, each weighing 200 pounds. In the center of each panel is what is called the bull's-eye. This magnifies the light from inside. The seldom-used road descending the cliff was now but a trail. We had to push our fragile cargo down to a waiting truck by wheelbarrows. It took three days."
McFarland paused to run his hand over the glass. "We got it back together here," he continued, "but it was a tight squeeze. It almost touches the ceiling. There are a couple of slight nicks in the glass. These were made by someone on a passing boat. Can you imagine anyone shooting at a lighthouse?"
The Maritime Museum was established in 1970 by the Monterey History and Art Assn., which named it in honor of the late Allen Knight of Carmel whose many nautical artifacts formed the nucleus of an ever-growing collection.
Colorful Sea Career
Rear Adm. Earl E. Stone USN (Ret.) serves as the museum's director. The admiral, 89, had a career at sea as colorful as many of the adventurous sea captains who commanded the great wooden vessels during the age of sail.
A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy's class of 1918, he served aboard the Cleveland in World War I. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Stone was the executive officer of the USS California, which was struck by torpedoes and bombs, sinking in her Ford Island berth. Repaired, the ship later rejoined the fleet. Stone next became executive officer of the heavy cruiser Salt Lake City.
Stone was promoted to captain and placed in command of the Wisconsin, which was launched on Dec. 7, 1943, the second battleship to bear the future admiral's home state's name. Stone grew up in Milwaukee. The huge dreadnought towered higher than a five-story building. The ship normally carried a complement of more than 2,000 officers and men.
The Wisconsin joined a task force in the reconquest of the Philippines. It was around this time that the fleet was caught in the center of a violent typhoon. Three American destroyers capsized and sank. The Wisconsin proved her seaworthiness by surviving the storm to participate in a number of major engagements.
During the Korean War, Stone commanded a division of three cruisers from 1950-51. The admiral retired in 1958.
He was now seated at a table, a re-creation of one found in the captain's cabin of an old sailing vessel. Behind him, a glass case was filled with models of sailing ships of assorted types and riggings.
"Basically, our objective is to portray that sailing ship era," he pointed out, "the old fishing and whaling days in Monterey and our own local naval history, which began when a U.S. squadron landed here in 1846 to occupy California."
Like most of his staff, the admiral volunteers his time, driving to the museum daily from nearby Carmel. "We've got a number of retired officers who belong to our museum association," he added. "There are three more admirals, commanders, Navy captains, Army majors and colonels, and there are always two of them standing watch. They are here to answer questions about the artifacts you see in the museum and Monterey's maritime history. It's a rich one and a fascinating story."