An odd collection of mementos can be found in the little town of Lincoln, New Mexico in the United States that brings together a famous German ocean liner and a famous American outlaw. The Lincoln museum houses a collection of ‘Billy The Kid’ memorabilia because the outlaw made his last great escape from the town’s jail in 1881.

But the museum also houses a large sailing ship model, and, in an outside garden, a large rock with a shield and the word ‘Columbus’ engraved on it. According to the museum’s curator, most first-time visitors think the rock must have something to do with Christopher Columbus, but it does not. In fact, the rock and the sailing ship model were left by the crew of the German liner Columbus, scuttled off North America in the early days of World War II. The passenger ship, part of the North German Lloyd fleet, was on a Caribbean cruise when war broke out in Europe. Her passengers, mostly Americans, were landed at Havana, Cuba and the ship was taken to Veracruz, Mexico for refuge.

On 14 December 1939 Columbus attempted to return to Germany but was followed by two US destroyers and finally intercepted off the US East Coast by the British destroyer HMS Hyperion. Ordered to stop, the liner’s master, Captain Wilhelm Daehne, told his crew to open the sea cocks and set fires, with the result that the vessel went down 420 miles south-east of New York City. The crew, numbering over 570, were safely removed by the US cruiser Tuscaloosa and landed at New York’s Ellis Island on 20 December 1939. They were then moved in stages to an internment camp, Camp Stanton, only a few miles outside Lincoln.

It is not known if the German crew knew much about Billy The Kid, or his famous escape from Lincoln, but both the Kid and crew are now well remembered in the museum. On one wall of the building hang old photos of Columbus, some of her crew members, and a copy of the 1 January 1940 issue of ‘Life’ magazine, which details the liner’s demise. On the other wall is a painting of Billy The Kid, both six-shooters blazing, as he busts out of jail with lawmen in hot pursuit.

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