John Newman

Salem Maritime National Historic Site

John Newman_Osborne Davis PhotographyResponsibilities: Newman works as rigger, first mate, and volunteer coordinator for the Friendship of Salem, replica of a 171-foot East Indiaman “tall ship” built in 1797 to carry cargo from Massachusetts to the Far East. The original ship was captured by the British during the War of 1812. “Safety is a big part of my job. There are a whole lot of things hanging from the rig (mast), such as line, wood, moving parts. There’s also a lot to be secured at deck level. It’s a totally different environment for visitors. The ship is always moving. It’s moored but floating. She has long curves, and the deck is not flat.” Newman also helps sail the Friendship of Salem to tall-ship festivals. “The ship belongs to everyone. She could not run without a corps of volunteers — dedicated folks who are fully invested. They often arrive with no skills. Part of our mission is to train people in maritime trades to perpetuate these skills.”

Years in current position: 16

Years with the Park Service: 20

Career path: Newman says he was “a sailor from the cradle.” He worked as a school teacher, social worker, U.S. Coast Guard captain, and seasonal interpreter at the Salem Maritime National Historic Site before becoming a deckhand. “I always wanted to sail on a square rigger. It’s one of those iconic things sailors want to do because of their size, history, and the teamwork.”

What makes my park special: “I tell people to come to Salem for the witch story but stay for the maritime story. It’s bigger and more important in U.S. history. It’s what got the U.S. running as a world power. Salem was in the thick of it before and after the Revolutionary War. It was the richest port per capita in the country for 20 years. Salem Maritime became a park unit during the Great Depression to tell our economic story.”

Typical day: “Open the ship. Run up the flag. Do a safety check — everything in its place. Repair or replace whatever needs it. Work with volunteers.”

Biggest challenge: “The slow decision-making process within the National Park Service can be frustrating. On a ship, things happen quickly, but the overall historic fabric of the park moves slowly. I remind myself that we’re not in battle dealing with an enemy. Everything needs real consideration because some decisions are irrevocable with consequences.” “We’re told to protect visitors from the park but also to protect the park from visitors. When Congress created the Park Service, it did so for the enjoyment of the people but also to conserve and protect resources, which can create tension.”

Best part of the job: “Introducing lots of international visitors and people from all over the U.S. of all socioeconomic groups to the ship.”

Advice for visitors: “Give Salem eight hours, not two. It’s small, but there is a lot to see. Walk the streets and then get out on the water. Rent a boat or take an excursion. Salem Harbor is an extension of the Atlantic Ocean. Think about the fact that the ocean here extends to Europe.”

Favorite national park: “Grand Canyon National Park. I first went there with my kids long before I worked for the National Park Service. It so exceeded my expectations that I’ve gone back seven times. It’s a natural wonder!”

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