Monday, April 6, 2009

My Visit to the USS Monitor Center at the Mariners' Museum

Today I was fortunate enough to get to spend a few hours at the Mariners' Museum in Newport News. If you have never been, it is definitely a must see. I am not exaggerating when I say that you could spend a whole day at the museum learning about all aspects of maritime travel, construction, and warfare. The building is simply enormous.

I had heard what a wonderful new addition the $30 million USS Monitor Center was to their existing facilities, but I never imagined it would be what I saw.

If you're not familiar with story, the USS Monitor was an ironclad ship that participated in a famous battle with the CSS Virginia (formerly the USS Merrimac that the Confederates turned into an ironclad) at Hampton Roads, Virginia on March 9, 1862. The battle was pretty much a draw, as both sides apparently had had enough after pounding each other that day. Although the battle was indecisive, it ushered in a new era of naval warfare. One exciting feature of the Monitor Center is a very well produced short film titled Ironclad Glory: The Battle of Hampton Roads, that tells the story of the battle in dramatic fashion and in a high-tech-three-screen theater.

In December of 1862 the USS Monitor sunk in a severe storm off the coast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. It wouldn't be until 1973 that the vessel was located, and then 30 more years before it was brought to the surface. Another film (in another theatre) is narrated and hosted by actor Sam Waterston and details the skill, daring, and care it took to raise the rotating turret part of the wreck from the watery graveyard where it had rested for 140 years. This film is also excellently produced and is interactive in that you are asked to make decisions that the archaeologists, historians, and diving crew faced. You enter your answers by pressing buttons and the film takes the audience's poll. Very neat! The raised turret is now in the Center, and a reproduction turret is nearby for comparison. In the Center there is also a partial life-size model of the inside of the CSS Virginia ,and large number of artifacts related to both of the ships.

Again, if you are near Williamsburg, Jamestown, or Yorktown, take the short drive down I-64 to Newport News and check out the Mariners' Museum and the fabulous USS Monitor Center. If you can't make it, check out their excellent educational website at

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