A Sinking Ship
Submarine Library and Museum, Middletown
It is downright silly of me to attempt to write about this defunct museum. It shuttered its windows with the passing of its lone curator, Ben Bastura. And from all I can gather from the internet, Mr. Bastura was quite a figure. I will simply copy and paste a few snippets from the items I’ve found online and leave it at that. At least I drove to and took a picture of the former museum building:
My personal experience with the museum was nothing more than a drive-by snapshot. The former museum was located in a house on a busy street in Middletown, which is now lived in by a family. His complete collection was bequeathed to the St. Marys Submarine Museum in St. Marys Georgia, so that’s cool. Maybe someday to prove how hardcore I am, I’ll make the trek.
Then again, we do have another submarine museum here in Groton, so that may not be necessary. In fact, it was a visit to that museum back in 1954 that inspired Mr. Bastura’s passion:
After touring the museum Ben was so impressed with the subject of submarines and their history that the following week he returned with note pad and pencil. From this point on submarines became a major part of Ben Bastura’s life.
He then purchased an expandable cardboard file folder and whenever articles pertaining to submarines appeared in the local newspapers, he would cut them out and put them in his submarine file. Ben also purchased books as well as plastic models, that were available in local stores. These were assembled and proudly displayed throughout his house. It was then that his interest in submarines really took hold.
The preceding two paragraphs and the rest of this report is taken from various articles found here: Submarine Libary and Museum archives. I’ve changed some verb tenses for clarity.
This was probably the largest privately owned Submarine Museum in the United States, so says the article.
Mr. Bastura wrote “tons” of letters to commanding officers of every submarine to get their patches and plaques. Persistence was the key word for Ben Bastura. He did not quit and his venture finally paid off because today, the Submarine Museum has on display numerous original ship’s plaques and approximately 300 ship’s patches:
Ben and his brother started this outstanding library and museum in 1954 and have been adding to it ever since. It is a totally private endeavor that has been Ben’s avocation over the years. He has 18 full file cabinets that contain a wealth of pictures and information on every boat from the USS HOLLAND to the newest Trident boats.
He lives in an old fashioned duplex which is approximately 70 years old. Bernard occupies 3 rooms as living quarters, the other 9 rooms, upstairs and downstairs are used for the museum.
A different article:
He spent many long tedious hours in Groton just sitting in the car, waiting for the submarines that were either coming back or were leaving the submarine base. All of these submarines were recorded on 8MM color movie film.
In this museum is one of the largest and most complete set of files on submarines on the East Coast and possibly in the country. There are individual files on each and every submarine from the Holland to the Tridents, plus individual files on all the submarine tenders, submarine rescue, ship yards, either government or privately owned. There are files on submarine bases, naval facilities, personnel, each and every research vehicle (government or privately owned), oceanography, and hundreds of other subjects pertaining to submarines.
Also in this museum is housed one of the largest collections of submarine models. Most of these models are hand carved and highly detailed.
Numerous battle flags are on display, including the USS HAMMERHEAD battle flag donated by Capt. A. F. “Art” Rawson. Ben’s close and good friend Adm. “Fearless” Freddie Warder, donated a solid brass model of the USS SEAWOLF, and a Khaki uniform that he actually wore while commanding the USS SEAWOLF SS-197.
For years when the submarine base had open house and cameras were allowed on both the upper and lower base, Bernard was there with his trusty movie camera. His movie collection consists of all the old WWII Fleet Boats that were stationed at the Submarine Base plus others that came there for visits and for training purposes. Also included are movies of submarine special events, and launchings. There isn’t anyone, anywhere except Ben, that actually knows what treasures he had recorded on film in his collection.
At that time the fleet boats were being used as reserve training submarines. He either took movies of all these reserve submarines himself or he sent rolls of movie film to the officers in charge. They would then have someone take the movies of the boat and send the film back to Ben. By using this system, he has recorded movies of all these old submarines from throughout the country. Now those submarines are gone and can never be brought back again except through Ben’s collection of movies.
I’m bummed I never got to see this museum.
George Marions saysMarch 4, 2010 at 11:38 am
Thanks for the information.
I appreciate it.
Qual’d on USS Salmon (SSR573), 1060.
Tony Tofani saysFebruary 5, 2011 at 2:48 pm
I remember visiting this museum in 1986 or 1987 with my young son. It was fascinating. I could have spent months in there reading the technical manuals and other books all related to submarines. For a small donation, we got a roster of every submarine produced by the US Navy for WWII, along with specifications. The old guy who ran the place was very kindly and understanding of a young dad with a toddler.
Lorie saysJune 16, 2018 at 4:39 pm
I probably should have checked your website first as I tried to find this place today – very sad.
Brett Larner saysAugust 19, 2020 at 7:42 am
I walked by this place all the time when I was in university and finally went in one day. Ben was happy to make time and spend a few hours talking about different things in the museum. I remember him saying that Tom Clancy had come up to spend time with his archives when writing “The Hunt for Red October.” Glad to hear his archives had landed in a good home. Here’s to a life spent in pursuit of one’s passion.