Kumu Crew: Mariner's Museum

April 29, 2016

In from Starr Johnson ‘98

Today we got to spend the entire day at the Mariner's Museum in Newport News. I have been to a handful of maritime museums in my life, including the one in Greenwich, England, and I can without a doubt say this one was my favorite! It was incredibly well done with vast collections and multimedia to feel fully engaged in the experiences of the past.

I dove into the Early Explorers exhibit since it directly connects to the content covered in the European History course I teach. That alone I thoroughly enjoyed but then went from hall to hall shocked at all the cool stuff they had! From mini replica ships, to exhibits on shipwrecks, to the greatest collection of figureheads, to a huge hall of small craft vessels, and then their diamond exhibit in the works – that of the USS Monitor.

This exhibit of the first Iron Clad naval ship used during the Civil War, which sunk during a storm off Cape Hatteras, had a particularly special relevance to me, as my great-great-great grandfather was one of the main engineers to work on the ship and particularly the famous gun turret. Along with the rest of our crew, I knew little to nothing about this famous Civil War ship but we were given a behind-the scenes private tour to see the restoration project underway to bring the turret back to life, a process which will take about 20 years!

We were also taken into the back rooms to see collections such as replica Native American canoes – the best collection in the world. We saw beautiful ivory pieces of scrimshaw wrapped in tissue papers, and rows and rows of maritime paintings. There were many references to Hawai‘i due to the Age of Whaling. It was fascinating to see all the tools and equipment used on the whaling ships, knowing that those sailors, ships and tools were once mainstays in both Lahaina and Honolulu. Even the other night when we visited another maritime center nearby for a sailor's "jam session" I was shocked how many sea shanties had Hawaiian words or place names, all due to the thousands of sailors from this part of the world who came through Hawai‘i as whalers or the hundreds of Native Hawaiian men who sailed off as crew on the whaling ships.

The connections to these places that seemed so far away never seize to amaze me!

Check out the picture of the USS Monitor's gun turret sitting in a bath as treatment to take care of rust and the hundred plus years it was sitting under the sea off the coast of North Carolina. It will have to sit in carefully monitored solutions for 10-15 years!!!!!

Note: Hōkūle'a will be returning to Newport Newson her way back down the East Coast and spending the month of October at the Mariner’s Museum. Contact the Mariner’s Museum for programming.