Museum ships are popular attractions in the United States. Few artifacts are as impressive, imposing, and imminently capable of transporting a visitor back in time as is a ship from a bygone age. Panoramic photos of such vessels are always favorite souvenirs, but what happens if you take a closer look? What facets of the ship’s personality are revealed by looking at an unusual view of the vessel? What connection can one make with the daily life of sailors and technology past by focusing one’s attention on a single detail?
Here is a brief tour of some of the United States’ more popular museum ships, but each one is examined from a single, unique perspective. Sometimes the shot is used to emphasize the sheer size of the vessel; other times the perspective provides a glimpse into the daily life of the sailors who used to live aboard the ship.
Never underestimate the power of an unusual view (be it an extreme close-up or an usual angle or perspective) to tell your readers a powerful story.
The “cat head” is a large beam jutting from the bow of an old sailing vessel that was used to support the raising and lowering of the anchor. Cat heads were often finished by carving an actual cat’s head on the end. This cat head is aboard the frigate USS Constitution . Launched in 1797, Constitution entered service (“commissioned” in today’s terminology) in 1798. She is the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world, and is, along with the World War II carrier USS Enterprise (CV 6), one of the two most decorated surface ships in Navy history. Today she is permanently berthed as a living Navy museum at the Boston Navy Yard. The ship has seen four centuries (18th, 19th, 20th, 21st), and served under 44 of the 45 Presidents of the United States. Charlestown, Massachusetts. (Nathanael Miller, 21 July 2018)
Battleship USS North Carolina (BB55) dwarfs a maintenance worker. Lead ship of the North Carolina -class, she was in service from 1941 – 1947, and came to Wilmington to become a museum ship in 1961. Wilmington, North Carolina (Nathanael Miller, 2 Feb. 2018)
Protected cruiser USS Olympia (C 6) on display at the Independence Seaport Museum. Olympia was commissioned in 1895 and reactivated several times, finally decommissioned in 1922. Most famously, she was Commodore Dewey’s flagship during the 1898 Battle of Manila Bay. A cursory glance shows a typical steel warship, but a closer look reveals numerous details that show Olympia’s status as a turn-of-the-century era vessel, most notably the portholes on either side of the ship’s name. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Nathanael Miller, 9 May 2018)
Most people would not expect an escalator on a U.S. aircraft carrier, but the concept was experimented with a few times. The idea was to reduce the physical stress on aircrew ascending to their planes on the flight deck after they were decked out in all their survival gear. The plan never took hold, partly due to difficulty keeping the escalators working. This rare example is aboard USS Lexington (CV 16), on display in Texas. Named for the previous carrier Lexington, which was sunk at the 1942 Battle of the Coral Sea, Lexington was commissioned in 1943 and served until 1991. It was the last Essex -class carrier in service, and the last U.S. carrier in service from World War II. The ship became a floating museum in Corpus Christi in 1992. Corpus Christi, Texas. (Nathanael Miller, 31 Oct. 2018)
Take a moment and see if you can recognize this device. Hint: There’s a small water outlet on the right, and a drain on the left. It’s an early 20th-century scuttlebutt (drinking fountain) aboard the New York -class battleship USS Texas (BB 35). Texas was in commission from 1914 – 1948. It is one of the few American ships (and only battleship left) that served in both World Wars I and II. The ship has been a museum since 1948. La Porte, Texas. (Nathanael Miller, 01 Nov. 2018)
Get up close and personal to a ship, and the shape of the hull takes on very unusual proportions. Standing under the bow of the Iowa -class battleship USS Wisconsin (BB 64) reveals just how gracefully streamlined the ship’s hull really is. Wisconsin is on permanent display at the Nauticus National Maritime Center. Wisconsin was in service from 1944 – 1991 and launched the first strikes of the Jan. 1991 Gulf War. Norfolk, Virginia. (Nathanael Miller, 26 Jan 2018)
Not all museum ships were warships. There are a tiny handful of cargo vessels from World War II that survive, telling the incredible story of the men who kept the supply lines moving despite the danger. Launched in 1945, SS American Victory saw service through the end of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. Today a museum ship, she is one of only four operational WWII-era merchants ships left in the country. The “Victory Ships” were the successor design to the “Liberty Ships” of early World War II. Tampa, Florida. (Nathanael Miller, 21 Feb. 2018)
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