On Veterans Day, the Brooklyn Navy Yard will open to the public for the first time in more than 200 years — showcasing a museum dedicated to its illustrious history.
“People have lived in the surrounding communities their whole lives and never been behind the gates of the Brooklyn Navy Yard,” said Andrew Kimball, president of the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corp.
“Literally for the first time since 1801, we are opening up our gates.”
Once visitors clear the imposing gates, guests can explore a former Marine commandant’s house now full of relics from the yard’s history as the Navy’s top shipbuilding hub.
Dominating the lobby is a massive 22,000-pound, three-story-high anchor from the Austin, one of the last ships built at the yard.
There’s a chunk of steel from the hull of the Arizona, built at the Navy Yard and blown up at Pearl Harbor, and exhibits on other famous ships, like the ship where the Japanese surrendered at the end of World War II.
Beyond the ships and military history, the $25.6 million project celebrates the personal stories of the thousands of men and women who worked at the yard — in 65 oral histories recorded by Navy Yard staff, who also gathered 1,700 photos.
One of the histories focuses on Robert Hammond, an 18-year-old African-American Navy medical corpsman when he was assigned in 1944 to the Brooklyn Naval Hospital, where he helped break the color barrier.
The now-85-year-old, who plans to travel from his home in California to attend the grand opening this week, recalled being banished to the kitchen until a commander intervened.
“They did not want us on the ward because they did not want us to be interacting with the white nurses,” Hammond said. “They put us to work in the kitchen . . . washing dishes and cleaning up.”
Guests can also add their own relatives’ stories to the mix through a computer system that lets them search — and add to — worker records.
“Every third or fourth person I meet [says\], ‘Oh, my grandfather, my uncle, my cousin, whatever, worked in the Navy Yard,’” Kimball said.
The Navy closed the yard in 1966 — despite a call from then-Mayor Robert Wagner to President Lyndon Johnson begging to keep it open. A recording of the call plays at the museum.
After decades of neglect, it now hosts 275 small businesses — 17 of which pitched in to turn the decaying house into a state-of-the-art green building.
The museum is free and open Wednesdays through Sundays.