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Nantucket Life Saving Museum

They were the 911 firefighters of the 19thCentury. Men who put their lives on the line for people they had never met. Men who subscribed to the creed: "You have to go out, but you don't have to come back."

These are the men of the U.S. Life Saving Dept., the precursors to the present day Coast Guard and the closest thing to super-heroes the youngsters in the 19th Century had. Their exploits were recounted in the major publications of the day and if there was talk radio, they would have been all over that as well.

Their heroic deeds are now recounted in the Nantucket Life Saving Museum, an institution dedicated to keeping the memory of America's first heroes alive in the 21st Century.

The museum is the brainchild of Robert Caldwell, a Nantucket native, who served in the Coast Guard and began a private collection of lifesaving paraphernalia.

In 1971, he built a replica of the Surfside Life Saving station to house his growing collection, and opened to the public. The museum, which merged with the Eagan Marine Foundation in 2004, will be adding on to the current building to increase its exhibition space.

The first life savers served pretty much like today's volunteer firefighters, but as sea commerce – and shipwrecks – continued to proliferate a more formal organization was required.

The Massachusetts Humane Society stepped in to organize the effort helped develop technology used in life saving efforts Cannons to fire rescue lines to wrecked ships near shore and breaches buoys to bring survivors to shore. Later, covered surf boats were sent out so that more sailors could be brought in at a time.

Efforts were expanded to rescue sailors father from shore, using the skill sets and technology islanders had already developed during the whaling era. Surf boats would be launched through the waves and crews of oarsmen would pull their small vessels out to where the wrecks lay.

Housed within the museum are all sorts of rescue equipment, an actual lifesaving surfboat and beach cart. Also exhibited are items recovered from the Andrea Doria, lightship photos, and the original Fresnel lens from Brant Point Light.

The Nantucket Life Saving Museum is dedicated to the braves souls who risked their lives to rescue others.

Need to know

Address:158 Polpis Road

Organization: Egan Maritime Foundation

Telephone: 508-228-1885




9:30 a.m. - 4 p.m.daily through Labor Day

Don't Miss:

Mass. Humane Society rescue equipment

Andrea Doria exhibit

Fresnel lens from Brant Point Light


Adults: $5

Children (5-14): $3