By Rick Stratton
Northeast Dive News publisher
Part as a promise to his friend and founder of the museum and part as an effort to ensure a lasting legacy,
Dan Johnson, dive store owner and diving instructor, has opened a scuba diving museum.
The 1,800-square-foot museum, called Lockwood Pioneer Diving Museum, is at 7307 North Alpine Road, Love Park, Ill. It is in the same complex with Loves Park Scuba.
The museum is named in honor of James Lockwood, who built scuba equipment in the late 1930s. Lockwood, born in Racine, Wis., moved to Rockford as a young man. He founded Lockwood Oil Co. service stations in Rockford, but sold the company to pursue his passion--scuba diving. He died in 2003 at age 92.
“Jim Lockwood was a scuba diving pioneer. He helped establish the sport of scuba diving and bring it to the mainstream,” Johnson said. “He was active in the sport of diving well before Cousteau ‘invented’ scuba with the first artificial diving lung.”
Lockwood was one of the early pioneers of the sport, building his own rebreathers in 1938. Lockwood developed an underwater camera housing that was used in the Tarzan movies of the 1930s and developed underwater props for the film “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.”
In 1937, Lockwood became friends with well-known diver Max G. Nohl, who set a record of 420 feet in 1937 for deepest dive made in a diving suit. This dive was originally scheduled for 350 feet but Nohl reportedly said, “Hey there’s no bottom here. Drop me down to the bottom.” The support crew did as instructed and broke the record. Project physicist Dr. Edgar End had a fit because he had to refigure his dive tables.
Lockwood and Nohl worked on numerous projects with diving buddies and fellow pioneers Ivan Vestrem and Jack Browne, exploring shipwrecks in the Great Lakes. Lockwood, a peace maker, would smooth things when Nohl and Browne butted heads.
In the 1940s he served in the Navy and the Coast Guard, and ran the rescue for the Wolverine to save pilots who went down in Lake Michigan. He also ran the submarine Peto (the first submarine built in the Great Lakes) down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico on its way to Australia during World War II. Lockwood then set up a shop in Chicago to experiment on military rebreathers. After the war, Lockwood traveled extensively and worked with many professionals in the scuba diving world. In the 1950s he became editor of “Undersea Digest,” an early diving magazine, spending much of his time writing and lecturing on his numerous discoveries and inventions. Lockwood worked as an ambassador of the sport, negotiating for the release of nine American scuba divers held for a time in Cuba by Fidel Castro.
In the late 1960s, Lockwood discovered the remnants of an ancient Haitian temple which pre-dated the Incan and Aztec civilizations. In his later years, Lockwood worked with Dan Johnson in the development of his diving products company.
The mission of Lockwood Pioneer Scuba Diving Museum is to educate the public on the evolution of diving, as well as to teach about the history and future of the sport. The museum also emphasizes how saving the Earth, its oceans and waterways through marine conservation will benefit future generations.
“The key is to educate the general public about the evolution of diving, where we came from and how we need to save our waterways,” Johnson said.
Lockwood Pioneer Diving Museum honors Jim Lockwood’s memory. “Jim was one of our forefathers of diving,” Johnson said. “He helped bring diving into the civilian world.”
Funded by Johnson and the Lockwood estate, the museum focuses on the history of diving, development and manufacturing of scuba equipment through the years and Lockwood’s part in that history. Museum visitors will learn about ocean ecology and Lockwood’s contributions to the diving world through video, audio and artifact displays.
The museum also features shipwrecks in the Great Lakes (a shared love of Lockwood’s and Johnson) and includes two large displays of artifacts taken from the Lake Michigan’s shipwrecks (before shipwreck laws were enacted). A third feature focuses on diving pioneers themselves—now-great divers like Lockwood, Zale Parry, Nohl, Browne, Dr. Edgar End and local pioneers including Gene Turner, John Steele, Paul Ehorn and Dick Race helped establish wreck diving in the early 1950s and 60s.
“Our sport owes a lot to the early pioneers. Today scuba is very safe with well-designed products and training programs. In the early days, it was quite different. Without these brave men and women, we would have a very different sport today,” Johnson said.
“Jim and I became friends about 15 years ago,” he added. “He was the most amazing guy. He’d come into the shop and we’d talk and look at his old photos. After a while I began to realize that this guy was a walking diving history lesson. After a while, he and I realized that I would be responsible for carrying on his legacy,” Johnson said.
Johnson plans to have regular speakers and events at the museum to connect the sport of diving with its past and present. Recent speakers have included Navy Seals from Great Lakes Naval Base and professional divers from Pro-Dive International. He will also open it up for children’s birthday parties and scout troops.
Johnson has created a non-profit organization to assist in running the museum and receives contributions for its operating expenses. The museum is free to the public and open whenever the scuba store is open. A grand opening is scheduled for May 17 and 18; however, visitors can take a tour before those dates.
Dan Johnson has owned Loves Park Scuba for 24 years. He sells scuba equipment, teaches scuba courses and offers diving vacations to exotic destinations all over the world. He also takes groups to a variety of wrecks in Lake Michigan. Johnson believes that he has trained more than 6,000 people to dive in his career and his facility is one of the largest in the Midwest. www.lockwoodmuseum.com.