by Laurie Austin, Reference Archivist
Boston treasures its history as a seaport. Its deep water port was a primary source of its wealth from before the country’s founding through the years of the early Republic. It continues to be an active port today. From our vantage point at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, we can see the large container and cruise ships coming and going through the harbor regularly. But for the next few days, Bostonians are in for a special treat—Boston Harbor is once again filled with beautiful sailing vessels large and small for the Sail Boston 2017 event.
One of the many beautiful ships to visit is the United States Coast Guard Barque Eagle. The Eagle was originally a German ship, built in 1936 and commissioned as the Horst Wessel as a training ship for the German navy. The United States took the ship as a prize after WWII and it has since served the same purpose for the United States Coast Guard (USCG) cadets. She makes her permanent home at the USCG Academy in New London, Connecticut.
The Eagle is currently docked at the Charlestown Navy Yard, close to where the USS Constitution is in dry dock for maintenance. I caught a glimpse of it on my way to work earlier this week and was reminded that President Kennedy visited the Eagle in 1962.
Photos show that when the President visited fifty-five years ago the Eagle did not yet have the distinctive orange stripe that the Coast Guard later adopted for its ships, but she did have the same eagle figurehead.
During his visit, President Kennedy came aboard the Eagle greeted by cadets in the rigging. He reviewed the sailors, stopping to greet several, and gave a speech about the importance of the Coast Guard in American history.
Of course, President Kennedy himself was an accomplished sailor, having grown up sailing his boat, the Victura, in the waters of Hyannis Port. He remarked in his speech,
“…there is not anyone who has sailed any of our lakes or oceans who has not at one time or another been the beneficiary of the faithful service of the Coast Guard.”
The Library’s audiovisual archives has a short film of President Kennedy’s visit to the Eagle, which was then docked at Pier Two of the Washington Navy Yard Annex in Washington, D.C.:
Link to Youtube.