In Which I Visit a Museum

And there see a submarine.

Some years ago, for reasons that matter not to our story, I was driving around northern New Jersey when I saw something by the side of the road.  “By golly,” I said, “that looks like a Holland submarine!”  I pulled over and walked to it.  It was!  Holland boat #2, Fenian Ram.  The precursor of all modern submarines.  In the US Navy, USS Holland (AKA Holland boat #6) was SS-1.

I never saw it again though I looked for it every time I passed through the region.  Then, thanks to the Miracle of the Internet, I decided to search for it and to my joy found that it was now in a more congenial place than rusting away by roadside: Fenian Ram was now an exhibit at the Paterson Museum.

Then I had to wait the opportunity to visit: I’m not in the Greater New York area all that often any more.  So when Doyle and I decided to go to Heliosphere, a plan came together.  Amidst other running-around, a visit to Paterson!

Outside the Paterson Museum

So on Friday last I punched the address (2 Market Street, Paterson, New Jersey) into the naviguesser, and we set off.  After circling the block by Paterson Great Falls (waterpower — the key to America’s early industrial economy!), we came to the site. The museum is located in an old locomotive engine assembly plant, where an old locomotive in the parking lot (“Old 299,” with a surprising Panamanian connection!) was the first clue that we’d come to the right place.

Virtue was rewarded as we found a parking space in the lot right away.  A two buck donation at the door, and we were in!   Various exhibits ranged before us, including Native American, silk production, nursing, Colt firearms, Lou Costello, fire fighting apparatus, and other Patersonian stuff, until, at the far end of one wing, there it was: Fenian Ram.

Fenian Ram

The Ram got its name from the Fenian Brotherhood, which had financed Holland’s experiments.   Holland had noticed that all the navies of the world were going to ironclads after the battle in Hampton Roads back in 1862.  He figured that the way to attack ironclads would be from beneath the sea (a conclusion that the US Navy also reached at the time, and addressed with the building of the AlligatorAlligator, although never commissioned, and never in combat, was later commanded by LT Thomas Selfridge, Jr., a survivor of CSS Virginia‘s attack on USS Cumberland in Hampton Roads ).

In any case, despite the name,  Fenian Ram was not intended to ram its targets: it was armed with a nine-inch dynamite gun (the years immediately post-Civil-War were great ones for naval innovation).  Fenian Ram never operated as the Fenians intended, to destroy the Royal Navy and free Ireland.  Rather than pay for it, they hijacked it one night, then made an important discovery: none of them knew how to operate it, and Holland refused to tell them.  So the Ram remained in the USA, passing from hither to yon, then back to its birthplace in New Jersey.

Holland boat #1

Also in the museum, beside Fenian Ram, is Holland boat #1, which he built as proof-of-concept.  When he was done with it, Holland removed everything salvageable and scuttled his boat #1 in the Passaic River.  Holland boat #1 was raised in 1927, at which time, allegedly, a local sandwich shop operator renamed his grinders  “submarine sandwiches,” and the name stuck.





We left the museum, and continued on our Major André tour, of which more in a later post.

Fenian Ram with some very nice radio-controlled ship-and-sub scale models
Fenian Ram stern
Fenian Ram bow.

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