In August, 2019 we went to Philadelphia to visit relatives who live downtown on the Delaware River. The nearby Independence Seaport Museum, is home to two ships; the Cruiser Olympia, launched in 1892, and the Submarine Becuna, launched in 1944.
Most people have not been on a submarine or a cruiser, and have no idea how confining they are especially when they are as old as these are, and as I am. These are not cruise ships.
We toured the two ships and the Independence Seaport Museum. Having recently come to enjoy cruise ships due to our advanced age, we were impressed by the older ships. And, coming from Kansas and Iowa, I have always been attracted to ships.
A third ship, next to the other two, has a formal restaurant and a cafe. No one in the formal restaurant, but in the cafe, we had a shared lunch on a sailing ship. Half of a Cuban sandwich.
The submarine is not for someone who cannot manage tight spaces; narrow passageways, and low doors from one waterproof chamber to the other. It is a single narrow path through the submarine. It is climbing up and down ladders and keeping your head down. Things have probably changed in the last 80 years, or so, but I think that they must still be confining. Going through the sub is difficult, especially if you are my age, and/or have knee or balance problems. The sub is divided into sections with small (3 ft) water tight doors between them, and you have to step up and over. The hall is narrow – a fat man in front of me almost couldn’t make it through. Old person alert!
A submarine is out of my comfort zone, but irresistible. You wonder how sailers managed to get along; and, the psychological testing that they must have gone through to be assigned to a sub.
The Cruiser Olympia, is larger and had a crew of 33 officers and 396 enlisted men. Except for officers, all the sailers slept in hammocks suspended from the ceiling throughout the ship. They were narrow and suspended from hooks only when in use. You wouldn’t believe the bathroom facilities, medical areas, and the kitchens.
On the shore next to the ships is a museum of nautical exhibits. Three of the exhibits are especially interesting.
The first is devoted to the slave trade and Philadelphia, complete with photos, bills of sale, and slave success stories. They describe the horror of the slave trade which brought from 20 to 50 million slaves to the US. A moving exhibit that everyone should see. They also feature a number of slaves who were successful in Philadelphia.
The New York Times Magazine in its 1619 Project, devoted to slavery, is worth reading, and helps understand the Seaport Museum Exhibit.
The second, the ship building exhibit, follows the life of a sailor on board a ship and sailing in Philadelphia.
The third, Workshop on the Water, is not an exhibit, but a fully equipped boat building shop. There are complete boats in various stages of completion, lots of tools, and an amazing assortment of wood in various stages of shaping. Four men concentrated on the construction of several boats the day we were there.
There is one completed boat for sale for $3000.
A notice seeks teen-age apprentices who want to learn the boat-building trade. I was surprised that there were not a thousand teens lined up. If I was 65 years younger, I would be there.
The bottom line is that it is worth seeing. The space available in 100 year old ships and submarines makes assisted living facilities look like palaces.
The Seaport Museum is on the Delaware River, which runs from the Atlantic to Downsville, NY where there is a dam and the Pepacton Reservoir, a 101 miles NW of New York City. It supplies about 25% of New York’s water. It is patrolled by New York City Police Officers and is fenced and limited to boats without motors.
THINK OLD! TRAVEL MORE!