Capt. Karl Kortum
Award Year: 1987, 1988
Founder’s Sheet Anchor Award/David A. O’Neil Sheet Anchor Award
The Founder’s Sheet Anchor Award is given to recognize extraordinary leadership in building the strength and outreach of the Society. Originally established in 1988 to honor the founders of NMHS, in 2005 the award was renamed the David A. O’Neil Sheet Anchor Award to honor the late David O’Neil (1939–2004), a dedicated Society trustee and overseer.
James Monroe Award/Robert G. Albion-James Monroe Award
The James Monroe Award/Robert G. Albion-James Monroe Award is awarded to maritime historians, deep-water mariners, preservationists, authors, artists, and educators. As the James Monroe Award, it was given by the South Street Seaport Museum from 1968-1972. In 1973, the Society became the awarding institution, and in 1993, the name of the award was changed to recognize the role of the late Robert Albion (1896–1983) in the development of maritime historiography.
Karl Kortum, dean of the historic ships movement, was raised on a farm in Petaluma, California. The Kortums were a proudly independent family of predominently German stock, who had been winegrowers until the era of Prohibition. As a youth Karl formed a Sea Scout group with his chum Harry Dring. Their great dream was to go to sea in one of the square-rigged deepwatermen laid up in Bay waters. In 1944 the romantic dream came true when Captain Hjalmar Wigsten signed on Karl and Harry as hands to sail the Maine-built bark Kaiulani to South Africa with a cargo of lumber. They heard the news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor while off Cape Horn. Sailing on from Durban to Sydney, Australia, the “old barky,” as they called her, was hulked for use as a US Army barge. Karl helped organize the “small ships” fleet that supplied Allied forces in New Guinea, then went to sea himself as mate of the transport Octorara. After his return to the US after the war, he founded the San Francisco Maritime Museum in 1951, with the help of his great friend the late Scott Newhall and the young newspaper reporter Dave Nelson. It soon became one of the greatest historic ship centers in the world, on a par with Mystic Seaport. Karl went on to found NMHS in 1963 and helped found the South Street Seaport Museum in New York in 1967. —Peter Stanford, Excerpted from “Karl Kortum (1917–1996): A Garland of Remembrance,” SH80:14
Categories: Museum Leadership, NMHS Leadership