A maritime treasure chest will dock in Tacoma

By C.R. Roberts - Bellingham Herald

In a Tacoma-area warehouse, curator Joseph Govednik of Foss Waterway Seaport’s Working Waterfront Maritime Museum counts and catalogs the largest known private collection of artifacts related to the maritime history of the Puget Sound.

These items are spread across a floor of 6,000 square feet, and Govednik slowly brings order to the confusion.

In a few months, the collection will be ready for the world to see once again.

“This is an amazing windfall for the Seaport,” Govednik said one cold day last week.

Collected over decades by winery owner and old Sound salt Bill Somers, the collection rested for decades in a barn on Stretch Island, near Grapeview in Mason County. Somers called his passion the Puget Sound Museum, and he welcomed the occasional guest or schoolchildren who happened by.

When Somers died at 93 in 1995, the fate of the collection was uncertain.

Thanks to donations by retired Tacoma businessmen Jim Milgard and George Russell, the Foss Seaport Museum was able to save the collection from being split, auctioned, dispersed and left to the whims of home decorators and theme restaurants.

“Bill was a history buff in its truest form,” said museum executive director Tom Cashman. “When people saw the collection, they said, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe there’s so much stuff here.’”

Stuff. Items. Eclectic and specific, miscellaneous and fundamental – it’s a concentration of unique mementos that speak primarily to the steam-powered heart of our maritime heritage.

Cashman knows what most of it is. But not all.

There’s a pilot house wheel nine feet in diameter. Steam whistles, funnels, binnacles, anchors and charts.

Hawsers as thick as a wrestler’s forearm. Finely threaded brass nuts the size of a knee. Rope fenders.

Nautical macramé of many uses, including the tethering of Japanese green glass fishing-net floats.