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  • Writer's pictureFrank DiGiovanni

The Leviathan Room

Updated: Sep 8, 2022

The history of the Science Museum of Long Island is long and storied. The property has its own story to tell, but the house has stories as well and one story is as big the ocean.

If you were to wander into the basement of the house, you’d come across a room as long as one side of the house. Here we just call it “the basement” but there are at least six other rooms and two bathrooms (yup two); this "basement" has another name, the “Leviathan room”. The reason it has this name is because of the material that covers the walls and stairs. The wood on the walls, floors, hand rails and stairs is from a former ocean liner called the S.S. Leviathan. A ship that had a life from 1914-1938, involved in a world war, a ship-building competition and the Great Depression.

Originally built by the German shipbuilders Blohm & Voss, the Leviathan began its life in 1913 when it was christened as the "Vaterland" by Prince Rupert of Bavaria (of the German Empire). The Vaterland was built as part of a ship-building competition whose goal was to have the most luxurious, largest and fastest ocean liner in the world and at 948 feet long, 100 feet wide and 54,282 gross tons (121,591,680 pounds), it was the biggest ship in the world at the time! Certainly, the ship’s interiors did not disappoint either. First Class boasted public areas such as a Winter Garden, Social Hall, Grill Room and Smoking Room. There was also an entire row of shops, a travel bureau, bank and a gymnasium and pool complex.[1] The Vaterland was capable of 23.5 knots (27 mph). That's fast, even by today’s standards but back then, it was extremely fast!

USS Leviathan leaving NYC harbor, wearing dazzle camouflage, 8 July 1918, Image from Wikimedia Commons

Things would change drastically in 1914 when shots were fired in Eastern Europe, and the start of World War I began. When this happened the Vaterland was in its berth in Hoboken, New Jersey where it would sit for three years, unable to leave the United States. Some of its crew went back to Germany, while others remained with the ship, ensuring it remained in good condition. With president Wilson entering the United States in the war against the Germans, the Vaterland was seized, becoming property of the U.S. Navy. Now she would serve as a troop transport to fight a war against the very country she’d been built by, carrying more than 100,000 people during her service. After the war’s end, the ship returned to New York where it would sit for two more years while politicians decided what to do with it, eventually was given to the US Shipping Board.

Two years later the ship was taken to Newport News, Virginia to be converted back into a passenger ship. Lacking blueprints and unwilling to pay the German builder the $1,000,000 asked for (a lot of money in 1921 and an estimated $14.5 million dollars today), the slow task of measuring every component of the ship started; refitting and changing the entire layout of the ship. Following another two years of being virtually rebuilt, and at a cost of $8,000,000 (in 1921 dollars), the Vaterland was gone and had become the Leviathan. From her launch as the Leviathan in 1923 to 1934 when costs became too prohibitive, the ship successfully crossed the Atlantic numerous times with an average of 1,300 passengers (a fraction of some of the largest cruise ships today).

SS Leviathan leaving New York Harbor. Image from Wikimedia Commons

It was at the end of the Leviathan's career that the owner of the home at the time, Mr. Herman Goldman, who was associated with the United States Lines, a former shipping company, gets involved. In 1937 the Leviathan was decommissioned and sold for scrap. In January of 1938 the Leviathan made her last voyage from New York, to her fate in Rosyth, Scotland. Mr. Goldman was able to secure wood, brass fixtures, portholes, 2-inch thick ship ropes, a bar and other equipment like the binnacle and compass from the bridge, and brought it to his home here in Manhasset to create his “Leviathan Room”. Until 1967 when Goldman passed away, these rescued objects we hidden from public view, but donated to the National Museum of American History Behring Center in Washington D.C.[2] Had this incredible ship lasted just a single year longer, she could have served in World War II, as a speedy and large transport ship, but that is story one we can only start with “What if…?”

Today, the Leviathan room serves a different purpose. While the circular staircase, ship ropes and some wood paneling remain, the room has been converted into a classroom. Here children learn the various branches of STEM during summer camp or field trips, never really knowing the incredible history behind what they see. The Leviathan/Vaterland had an incredible history, was part of incredible tales of pain, excitement, sadness and joy. Part of that history lives on once you head downstairs.

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