A Visit to Frank Braynard’s Basement
Would our world of ocean liner collecting exist today without Frank Braynard?
Since his first book “Lives of the Liners” was published in 1947, Frank championed the history of ships big and small from every corner of the globe. Frank published more than 40 other books in his life and in each one his intense love affair with ships shines through.
So when in the spring of 2007 an invitation came to visit Frank Braynard to see about selling his books, I jumped at the chance. From an old friend of his, Dan Eschen, I had heard the legend of his amazing basement at his home in Sea Cliff, N.Y., which was crammed with liner stuff. I wasn’t going to miss this chance!
By the time I met Frank he was a very old man. His memory was failing. He had a difficult time walking. He needed constant care from Doris, his wife of 58 years. But when I mentioned a tour of his basement he was out of his chair and hobbling with a cane leading me to his incredible collection before anyone could stop him.
On the way down I was most concerned with making sure he didn’t tumble down the steep stairs and I did not pause to look around until we reached the bottom. Frank snapped on the light and the transformation was immediate, both in the man and the surroundings. Frank was an energetic young man again. And all around us was the result of his lifetime of collecting ship stuff, all crammed in a maze of tight passageways made up of filing cabinets, boxes, bookcases, and stacked books, books, and more books.
Off we went on a tour. One passageway was filled floor to ceiling with filing cabinets containing thousands, perhaps millions of ship postcards, brochures, photos, and deck plans, Down another were tall cases filled with bound volumes of steamship records. Around a corner was a builder’s model of the GEORGIC next to a LEVIATHAN plaque, on top of piles of papers of research. A side room was filled to the rafters with boxes from the publishers filled with his many books. And everywhere I looked were stacks of his LEVIATHAN volumes reaching right up to the ceiling as if they were holding up the house. Empty, Frank Braynard’s basement might be no larger than 30’ by 40’, but over many decades he transformed it into a ship lover’s maze.
In a far corner we paused at a bookcase filled with hundreds of hardbound notebooks. These were the journals he had kept since a young boy. He pulled one out and showed me a detailed sketch he had made of the EMPRESS OF FRANCE when he was 10. He told me a wonderful story about his aunt traveling on the ship. He continued thumbing though the notebooks, pointing out drawings and talking in depth about ships of 60, 70, 80 years ago. Frank might have had a hard remembering yesterday but details of half a century ago were crystal clear. His daughter tells me that among these pages were the genesis of many of his books, and that there are more manuscripts still waiting to be discovered.
After an hour’s tour it was time for me to leave. Back upstairs he and Doris poised with me for a photo next to his prized possession, one of the famous “Old Salts” carvings of sailors that stood once guard over the VATERLAND’s and later the LEVIATHAN’s First Class Smoking Room.
Frank passed away early on the morning of December 10, 2007. He was 91. Was there ever a stronger advocate for preserving our steamship history than Frank Braynard? I am proud to offer his wonderful books, many of which I am selling for the Braynard family, on Nautiques.