America’s Most Irresistible Figurehead

Of all the enticing artifacts at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, my favorite is the glorious ship’s figurehead Miss Freedom.

She’s so enormous, you might think she adorned a magnificent tall ship, but no—in fact, she was custom-carved for the 88-foot sailing vessel Freedom.

The schooner was a gift to the Annapolis U.S. Naval Academy, where she schooled midshipmen in the art of sailing. This was right before the Pearl Harbor attacks, so the gift could not have come at a more opportune time.

Freedom aroused such affection that a figurehead was demanded, and lovingly created by Academy carver John M. Cook.

Mr. Cook made the middies a doozy.

Weighing in at 450 pounds, Miss Freedom is crowned with a gilded, star-studded Liberty Cap. The cap bears gilded eagle’s wings and a stylized eagle head.

One can only speculate that her gown may have been a second thought, because the carving leaves nothing else to imagination.

Although her ample bust is anotomically detailed—when shooting this photograph, I could see no sculpted signs of any garment except her gilded epaulets and headdress.

Miss Freedom departed her schooner after only a few years. She protruded from the prow so much, authorities feared she might be damaged.

This is the official story, anyhow. I wonder if Somebody Else with gilded epaulets felt her a bit too immodest?

However this may be, Miss Freedom’s adventures at the Naval Academy had only begun. Tucked away in the Academy Museum, the sculpture soon attracted a cult that might make a Greek goddess envious.

Her creator, John M. Cook, writes:

  • Midshipmen entered the Museum where the Freedom figurehead was and rubbed their hands on the large bosoms for luck. One Midshipman wrote his mother and told her what he did and the luck he had. Apparently his mother didn’t agree.  She wrote the Admiral a letter, and the Admiral’s orders were, ‘Move it.’” [SOURCE: http://katelivie.com/beautifulswimmers/miss-freedom-cuts-a-figure]

Thus it was the Academy lent the lady to the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michael’s, Maryland. I regret my splendid spouse wasn’t with me to pose beside Miss Freedom, so you’ll have to imagine the figurehead towering over her—the carving is that ample.

The CBMM counts her as one of the 50 top highlights of its collection. But I’ll bet you a case of St. Michael’s Ale she’s by far and away the most photographed.

 

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