August 11, 2000
Tours of duty:
Battleship preview draws 11,000 visitors.
By CAROL COMEGNO
Approximately 11,000 visitors toured the battleship New Jersey in a two-day public preview before its restoration and conversion into a permanent museum on the Waterfront.
An estimated 6,000 people went aboard Thursday. The day before, about 5,000 jammed the Waterfront for a look at the most decorated battleship in U.S. naval history, with 16 battle stars.
"It's amazing. I wish I could have gone a little higher and below deck, but everyone is so excited about being here," said Rose Pennino, a housewife from Vineland. "We'll come back to see her again after she's fixed up."
Barbara Ciaramitaro of Detroit, on vacation in Philadelphia with her husband, drove to see the ship after hearing on television that it was open to the public.
"We just had to come," she said. "The ship is so impressive up close. It didn't look this big from the Philadelphia side of the river."
Visitors gobbled up facts given by the New Jersey Naval Militia, Junior ROTC naval cadets from Wall Township High School, Monmouth County, and Sea Cadets from Lakehurst who served as guides and safety observers.
The ship's 887-foot length, its history dating to World War II battles, its 16-inch-diameter guns that can hurl the equivalent of a Volkswagen Beetle 23 miles and its heavy anchor chains most impressed visitors.
Many also were surprised at the new development along the Camden Waterfront and of the view of the Philadelphia waterfront and skyline.
Visitors were restricted to the main deck. When the warship is opened as a museum sometime late next year, they will be able to visit the ship's bridge and go below where sailors lived.
"This is more people than we ever expected. We figured a few thousand would come, but this shows that there is continuing interest and support out there for the ship," said retired Rear Adm. Thomas Seigenthaler, executive director of the Home Port Alliance.
The alliance plans to spend at least $20 million on a new pier, visitor center, museum and ship overhaul. The Navy transferred the ship to the nonprofit coalition of labor, government and political leaders in July.
NOTE: The young and old sometimes stood long lines to board shuttle buses outside the state aquarium and then to walk on to the ship.
"It's a great experience to talk to the military veterans who came board. A lot of the stories they told were heart-breaking," said Rachel Clause, 15, an ROTC volunteer.
Rob Renta, 16, another Wall Township cadet, said most people see just a ship but veterans see more than that. "They see their souls, their hearts, their life stories," he said.