Tag Archives: Spanish-American War

Room with a view

If you’re up on your Past in the Present trivia, you’ll recall that a few years ago we looked at some distressing news about the Olympia, one of the most important warships in American history.

Well, tonight I’m staying at a hotel near Philadelphia’s Independence Seaport Museum, and I can see the Olympia from the window. Pretty neat.

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Filed under Museums and Historic Sites

Volunteers at war

While my cousin and I were in Nashville last week to see the Emancipation Proclamation, we visited a collection I’d managed to miss on all my previous trips to Music City: the Tennessee State Museum’s Military Branch.

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Jacket, cap, leg guards, medals, and dog tags belonging to Alvin C. York

Located inside the War Memorial Building near the Capitol, the Military Museum focuses on America’s wars from 1898 through 1945 and Tennesseans’ participation in them.  It’s a small facility, but it’s chock full of impressive artifacts.  Historical weapons and uniforms make up the bulk of the collection, but you’ll also find models, medals, propaganda posters, the silver service from a battleship, and a jacket worn by Dwight Eisenhower. Some of the items on display are trophies carried home by Tennessee veterans, such as Philippine and Japanese swords and German sidearms.

Although the exhibits give you a pretty general overview of America’s wars, special attention is paid to Tennessee connections.  A special highlight is a case devoted to Alvin York containing a uniform jacket, the Congressional Medal of Honor he received for his exceptional exploits of October 8, 1918, and some additional items.  (The museum is currently running a temporary exhibit on Sgt. York and the effort to map and excavate the site of his most famous engagement, so this is a great time to visit if you’re interested in WWI’s most famous soldier.)

The exhibits are a little dated, but the items on display more than make up for the lack of bells and whistles.  Give yourself about an hour and a half to tour the museum; hardcore weapon and military buffs will probably need additional time to take it all in.

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Filed under Museums and Historic Sites, Tennessee History

Wanna hear something ironic?

Out of Philadelphia comes a news story so bass-ackwards that it belongs in The Onion.  Dimitri Rotov has the details over at Civil War Memory.

The Olympia, veteran vessel of the Spanish-American and First World Wars and the oldest steel warship still sitting on top of the water anywhere in the world, is at the Independence Seaport Museum.  The Olympia was Dewey’s flagship at Manila Bay; he was standing on her decks when he gave the order, “You may fire when ready, Gridley.”  She also happens to be the ship that brought home the remains of America’s WWI unknown soldier. 

Dewey and the crew of the Olympia at the Battle of Manila Bay. From Wikimedia Commons

Now, the ideal culmination of any effort to locate and preserve some historic vessel is to raise the wreck, conserve it in a lab, and then put in on display where you can interpret it for the public.  Olympia never went to the bottom of the ocean.  She sailed home to acclaim and ended up as a museum.  No sinking, no salvage.  So far so good.

The problem is that the Independence Seaport Museum can’t afford the upkeep anymore, so they’re looking to dispose of her.  Here’s the money quote:  “‘Another option would be scrapping Olympia,’ said James McLane, interim president of the museum, which owns the ship and is adjacent to it at Penn’s Landing. ‘But the Navy has told us that ‘reefing’ is better because it would allow divers to go down on it and would preserve Olympia.'”

“Reefing” basically means towing it out to sea and then sending it down to Davy Jones’s locker, where it would be inaccessible to everybody except for scuba divers and fish, subject to the very same kind of deterioration that’s causing the Monitor and the Titanic to crumble to pieces.  

I’m not trying to criticize the museum.  Lots of museums are in a bind.  If they don’t have the funds, then they don’t have the funds, and scrapping the ship wouldn’t do anybody any more benefit than reefing it.  But the irony here is just absolutely sickening.  We spend millions of dollars and thousands of hours trying to raise historic ships from the bottom of the sea, get them afloat, and turn them into exhibits, and now here we have a historic ship that’s already afloat and on exhibit, and it might end up at the bottom of the sea.  Unbelievable.

There is, fortunately, a group of people dedicated to keeping Olympia afloat, and I urge you to visit their website.  Please consider a donation to this organization, or at least sign their online petition.

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Filed under Historic Preservation