By Lowell & Kaye Christie, F47246
Want to step aboard a historic ship? Many can be toured as parts of museums or historic displays. These 13 sites are most interesting and accessible. Most, if not all, of the ships at these facilities have been designated as National Historic Landmarks and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
1. Mystic, Connecticut
Mystic has a long history as a ship-building town, helping to make the Mystic Seaport museum a must-see for visitors. The museum has a living history program, plus 17 acres of exhibits portraying coastal life in the 19th century. As for ships, the collection includes a 163-year-old whaling vessel, the Charles W. Morgan; the 138-year-old Emma C. Berry; and the Brilliant schooner, built in the 1930s. Wear your walking shoes to see these and many other ships. Info: (888) 973-2767.
2. Baltimore, Maryland
The Baltimore Maritime Museum invites you to “walk the decks of history.” Its vessels include Lightship No. 116, the Chesapeake; the Taney, a Coast Guard cutter that is the only warship still afloat after withstanding the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941; and a World War II submarine, the USS Torsk. Info: (410) 396-3453.
3. Challis, Idaho
Travel to Yankee Fork State Park and you’ll find the Yankee Fork Gold Dredge, a 988-ton barge that was used to mine for gold in the gravel of the Yankee Fork as recently as 1952. You’ll want to stop first at the interpretive center near Challis and then travel the old toll road (now free) to Custer. Those driving low-clearance vehicles and those towing behind their motorhome should take the alternate route. The dredge is between Custer and Bonanza. Guided tours are available only during the summer. Info: (208) 879-2771.
4. Omaha, Nebraska
Not all of the ship museums in the United States are on the coast. A worthy port of call is located in the center of the country. Omaha’s Freedom Park Navy Museum overlooks the Missouri River and features several ships. Visitors have nearly total access to the USS Hazard, a World War II minesweeper. You also can see the USS Marlin submarine, which is dedicated to the memory of the men who lost their lives on submarines during World War II. The third ship in Freedom Park, the USS LSM-45, is the only one of the three in the water. Info: (402) 345-1959.
5. New York, New York
How could someone not be intrigued by the name Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum? It has three ships “” the USS Edson destroyer; the USS Growler submarine; and the USS Intrepid aircraft carrier “” berthed on the Hudson River in Manhattan, along with a bevy of aircraft. The museum also has educational exhibits ranging from ship artifacts to discussions of topics such as “Intrepid Remembers 9.11″ and “Defending our Future.” Those looking for a thrill can ride in the A-6 Cockpit Landing Simulator and visit the “Virtual Flight Zone.” The museum recently added a retired Concorde supersonic jet to its collection. Info: (212) 245-0072.
6. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
The Independence Seaport Museum has its own fleet of ships: the USS Becuna, a World War II submarine; and the USS Olympia, the world’s oldest steel-hulled warship still afloat. The Olympia was launched in San Francisco in 1892, and just six years later she helped devastate the Spanish fleet at Manila Bay in the Philippines. The latter action marked the beginning of both the Spanish-American War and the United States’ role as superpower. Her most famous officer, Commodore George Dewey, gained lasting fame when he stood on the ship’s bridge and declared, “You may fire when you are ready, Gridley.” Info: (215) 925-5439.
7. Mount Pleasant, South Carolina
The Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum is one of the world’s largest naval collections. It includes a submarine, the USS Clamagore; the Ingham Coast Guard cutter; the USS Laffey destroyer; and the USS Yorktown (CV-10), the second ship to bear that name. (The original sank in the Battle of Midway in 1942.) Seriously, you need to take a map when you tour the aircraft carrier “” it stretches the length of three football fields. This floating city once housed 3,000 crewmen, along with the fighter and bomber planes. If you aren’t exhausted by the time your feet return to solid ground, you can glimpse wartime life at a re-created Vietnam naval support base. Info: (843) 884-2727.
8. Galveston, Texas
The Texas Seaport Museum invites you to share the adventure of the high seas. You can explore the 1877 tall ship Elissa, where visitors who walk its decks can imagine themselves back in the era when daring sailors set out to challenge the world’s oceans. Later, in the adjacent museum and theater, you’ll learn of the ship’s dramatic rescue from the scrap yard and its restoration. The Texas Seaport Museum also tells the story of a rich legacy of seaborne commerce and immigration. Info: (409) 763-1877.
9. Shelburne, Vermont
Shelburne Museum contains 45 landscaped acres dotted with 39 galleries and exhibit structures built during a span of four centuries. You can visit the 220-foot paddle-wheel steamboat Ticonderoga, a New England lighthouse, a covered bridge, and a round barn. Incidentally, the Ticonderoga was built right in Shelburne. Info: (802) 985-3346.
10. Astoria, Oregon
The Columbia River Maritime Museum features interactive exhibits combining history and technology. Visitors experience what it’s like to pilot a tugboat, to participate in a Coast Guard rescue, and to have lived in Astoria when salmon fishing was king. Huge windows provide a Columbia River backdrop for fishing vessels and Coast Guard rescue craft. Visitors also can investigate a World War II-era Navy destroyer and explore a floating lighthouse, the lightship Columbia. Info: (503) 325-2331.
11. Long Beach, California
The Queen Mary was a luxury passenger liner worthy of its name. Built in Scotland in 1936, it shuttled the upper class across the Atlantic Ocean many times. Oddly, it ended up in California. After it was refurbished, the liner reopened as a hotel, which has become known for its elegance and excellent food. (Having eaten there, we concur.) Today, however, the ship’s ghosts and legends seem to get most of the attention. Certainly, both passengers and crew have reported numerous sightings over the years. After making the Ghosts & Legends tour, you’ll decide for yourself whether the “ghosts” are gimmicks or real. Info: (562) 435-3511.
12. Buffalo, New York
The Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park claims to be the largest inland naval park of its kind in the United States. It is also home to a guided missile cruiser, the USS Little Rock; the USS The Sullivans, a destroyer; and a submarine, the USS Croaker. Along with gaining insight into the history of wars, you can actually experience how mariners and submariners lived and carried out their duties. The park also offers a display of military equipment and other exhibits. Info: (716) 847-1773.
13. Manitowoc, Wisconsin
The Wisconsin Maritime Museum preserves the history of Wisconsin, the Great Lakes region, and the submarines built there during World War II. It is one of the largest maritime museums in the Midwest. Visitors can get an up-close look at life in the “silent service” while touring the USS Cobia submarine and the high-tech exhibits that interpret the role U.S. Navy submarines played during World War II. Info: (866) 724-2356.