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By BARBARA S.ROTHSCHILD
The USS New Jersey, moved without fanfare last month to its final destination on the Camden Waterfront, will open to the public as a museum on Oct. 15.
On Friday, acting Gov. Donald DiFrancesco and Home Port Alliance leaders Patricia Jones and state Sen. John Matheussen, R-Gloucester, announced there will be a ribbon- cutting at 8:30 a.m., and public boarding will begin at 9 a. m. The alliance is the nonprofit group in charge of restoring the ship.
A special grand opening for dignitaries and invited guests will be held on board at 1:30 p.m. on Oct. 14.
"The battleship is and will continue to be a work in progress," Matheussen said. "But the tour route we've already planned is great. Our volunteers have brought back the great luster the ship had. I'm very proud."
For now, the visitors center is a temporary one on the pier - the Alliance would like to build one on land eventually - and "the aesthetics of the pier are not complete," Jones noted.
The ship is berthed behind the Tweeter Center. Originally, it was to move Sept. 16 from its repair site at the Broadway Terminal to its final berth. The move was postponed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C.
Among the more than 500 guests expected Oct. 14 are U.S. Sens. Robert Torricelli and Jon Corzine, both D-N.J., Reps. Rob Andrews, D-N.J., and Jim Saxton, R-N.J., and other New Jersey congressmen. Also expected are business, civic and religious leaders, former crew members and volunteers who helped refurbish the retired BB-62 warship.
Camden Mayor Gwendolyn Faison and members of the Home Port Alliance will preside over the Oct. 15 ribbon- cutting.
Officials have not yet decided how to handle the crush of visitors expected during the first weeks of display.
"The ship looks huge from the outside, but inside everything is compartmentalized," Jones said. "If we let people through without really stopping to point things out, we might get 2,000 to 3,000 people through a day. The real tour takes about two hours, accommodating about 1,500 people."
People will be encouraged to get timed tickets in advance, Jones added. "We don't want anyone who comes to be denied. We're not sure how that will be at this point," Jones said.
Visitors will be able to tour a gun turret and see the operations room where monitors kept the captain informed of what was going on. Other stops on the tour include the admiral's and captain's quarters, the officers' ward room and the sailors' quarters.
The 59-year-old warship has fought in three major wars - World War II, Korea and Vietnam - since its launching in 1942. It was decommissioned in 1991.
The ship traveled from Bremerton, Wash., back to its birthplace, the former Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, nearly two years ago to await word of where it would ultimately be berthed: Camden or Bayonne, the state battleship commission' s first choice.
South Jerseyans, represented by the Home Port Alliance, emerged victorious when the Navy awarded the battleship to Camden on Jan. 20, 2000.
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