Exhibits designed to teach and entertain
By JUDITH W. WINNE
When the USS New Jersey lowers its welcoming gangway next year, planners expect to give visitors an interesting glimpse of life on a battleship.
But it won't be a dry, scholarly, museum-style approach.
"People don't want to study," said retired Capt. David McGuigan, president of the Home Port Alliance. "They want to look and be entertained."
The battleship New Jersey, in showcasing its main deck and two upper decks, is planning to serve up entertainment with its history lesson.
McGuigan said one of the main deck attractions will be officers' staterooms. The wardrooms will show tourists where officers ate.
But the look at life on the "Big J" will not be restricted to the habits of the upper-tier of Navy life.
"We're going to show how enlisted people lived in bunk rooms," McGuigan said.
He said that some exhibits would rotate so that, for example, visitors might get a look at World War II-era bunk rooms. Presumably many of the ship's visitors estimated at 250,000 to 300,000 the first year will be men who served on battleships of the era.
McGuigan added that while it is not required that a historic ship be handicapped-accessible, the New Jersey's main deck will accommodate the disabled, in part because it expects a goodly number of aged sightseers.
The design will include a visitors center on the Waterfront alongside the E-Centre. A walkway enclosed by transparent walls will allow a view, not only of the ship, but also of the Philadelphia skyline and waterfront across the Delaware River.
The "Interpretive Walkway" will be lined with artifacts and exhibits about the USS New Jersey. At the end of the walkway will be a ship-viewing plaza housing food services. By the time visitors reach the ship, they will already be versed in its lore and the contributions of the people of the state.
The ship will rest at an angled T-shaped pier. The pier will be built hundreds of feet into the river between the E-Centre and the South Jersey Port Corp.
McGuigan said planners are expected to install some interactive displays so that visitors might, for example, be able to locate on a map places the New Jersey fought.
He said that a critical mass of development is building in the Delaware Valley, with an aerial tram, the ferry link, the New Jersey State Aquarium, the Camden Children's Garden, the Independence Seaport Museum, the Pennsylvania Convention Center and other attractions drawing tourists to the Camden and Philadelphia waterfronts.
"You do have a circle that's building," McGuigan said. "It's a long time building."
McGuigan said that revenue would come from admission fees about $8, say, for adults and $4 for children as well as gift-shop purchases, an estimated $3 per person, and overnight stays by sea cadets and scouts. McGuigan estimated a per-night charge of about $50 per person.
Although some observers have expressed disappointment in the number of tourists currently visiting the Waterfront, McGuigan is confident that sightseers will seek out the USS New Jersey.
After all, it's both the namesake of the state and one of the Navy's most decorated battleships.