The Visitor's Battleship--electronic

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THE VISITOR’S BATTLESHIP: A VISITOR STUDY OF THE BATTLESHIPNORTH CAROLINADanielle M. WallaceA Thesis Submitted to theUniversity of North Carolina Wilmington in Partial Fulfillmentof the Requirements for the Degree ofMaster of ArtsDepartment of HistoryUniversity of North Carolina Wilmington2010Approved byAdvisory CommitteeTaylor FainWilliam MooreTammy Stone-GordonChairAccepted byDN: cn Robert D. Roer, o UNCW,ou Dean of the Graduate School &Research, email roer@uncw.edu,c USDate: 2010.10.17 21:52:15 -04'00'Dean, Graduate School

TABLE OF vINTRODUCTION.1THE BATTLESHIP NORTH CAROLINA AS A PRIME ARTIFACT.15The Battleship Organization.18The Battleship Tour-Route: Artifacts as “Touch andPlay”.21BATTLESHIP VISITORS.50Visitor Motivation.52Visitor Behavior.59BUSINESS RELATIONSHIPS AND THE OTHER-KIND OF BATTLESHIPVISITOR.87The Business Side of the Battleship.88The Living History Crew.94The Battleship Ghosts.100Military Ceremonies, Weddings, and Other Group Events.104CONCLUSION.109BIBLIOGRAPHY.113VISITOR INTERVIEWS.115CITED EMAILS AND WEBSITES.117APPENDIX.118ii

ABSTRACTThe Battleship North Carolina indicates that a naval shipcan be effective as a museum by enabling a variety of visitorsto have powerful experiences.This happens because theBattleship organization allows them to invest the ship withtheir own purpose and meaning.In recent years, as a result ofdeclining visitation, the organization began to subtly shiftaway from its function as a memorial and moved towards servingas a family friendly museum and tourist-attraction in an effortto increase visitation that provides needed admission, giftshop, and program revenues.iii

ACKNOWLEDGMENTSMy thanks go to Dr. Tammy Stone-Gordon whose guiding handas my thesis advisor through this process was invaluable.will never forget her patience, insight, and wisdom.II am alsothankful to my committee members, Dr. William Moore and Dr.Taylor Fain, whose feedback and suggestions helped me to craft amore a cohesive work.This work would have been impossible without the Battleshipvisitors who allowed me to interview and observe them.Mydeepest thanks to them all.To the Battleship North Carolina staff whose enthusiasm andsupport for this project was both inspiring and helpful.Special thanks goes to Captain Terry Bragg, ExecutiveDirector of the Battleship North Carolina, and Roger Miller,Assistant Director, for the countless conversations on theBattleship, her visitors, her history, and for theirencouragement and trust.To my friends, Martha Latta and Kathy Pinnick, who alwaysbelieved in me and never tired of keeping me on track to finishthis project.iv

DEDICATIONI would like to dedicate this thesis to my parents, Johnand Jo Anne Wallace, who have always shown me unconditional loveand support in everything I have chosen to do.To Lucky, mydog, for his loyalty and companionship is constant and dear tome.And to the Battleship North Carolina, my own ship ofdreams.v

INTRODUCTIONThe Battleship North Carolina appears to be a silent andblank steel canvas as it sits in Wilmington, North Carolina,waiting for a new day of visitors to experience her.When theycome, they walk through the ship and see huge machines that nolonger work and small iron bunk beds (or berths) where most ofthe crew slept during World War II.They read quotes from crewmembers that were spoken years after they had served onboard theship.They climb down ladders and smell a mixture of diesel oiland dust.Battleship staff members ring in visitor admissions,sell them souvenirs, maintain the ship by replacing lightbulbsand keeping the steel ship from rusting, place interpretativeand directional signage on the tour-route, make reservations forschool groups and weddings, and develop programs like Easter egghunts and behind-the-scenes tours.For the Battleship, this is a regular day.So why shouldpublic historians, scholars, and museum professionals care aboutthe Battleship North Carolina?They should care because of thisquestion: can battleship memorials effectively function as amuseum?By studying the Battleship, its visitors, and itsorganization, this study will answer that question.TheBattleship North Carolina is important because it indicates thata battleship memorial can be effective as a museum by enabling avariety of visitors to have powerful experiences because the

Battleship organization has created an environment that allowsvisitors to invest the ship with their own purpose and meaning.The Battleship organization acts as a protective steward of theship by focusing on the financial and preservation issues thatare necessary for keeping the ship open as both a museum andmemorial.Because this financial need is so great and importantfor the Battleship’s survival, the organization is subtlyshifting away from its memorial identity and is focused oncreating a family-friendly museum and tourist attraction.Thisshift is driven by the financial need to increase visitation,and thereby admission, gift shop, and program revenues.In his analysis of the Intrepid, an aircraft carrierlocated in New York harbor, James Loewen raised seriousobjections concerning its ability to function as a museum.InLies Across America, he wrote “the Intrepid is a feel-goodmuseum that would rather exhibit anything but the realities ofwar.”1And because any mention of the ship’s service duringVietnam is left out of the ship’s historical narrative, themuseum “does violence to the ship’s past and brings no honor toits veterans.”2Loewen would probably describe the BattleshipNorth Carolina as a “feel good museum” that does not exhibit the“realities of war” because there is little or no mention of1James Loewen, Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong (NewYork: The New Press, 1999), 404.2Loewen, 407.2

World War II as a major conflict on exhibit panels.However,this could change as the need for such dialogues becomesapparent in a way that was similar to how a new social historywas introduced at Colonial Williamsburg in the 1970s.In The New History in an Old Museum, Richard Handler andEric Gable wrote that “social history came to ColonialWilliamsburg out of the turmoil of the previous decade as a newway of telling the American story.of declining visitation.”3And it was brought at a timeFor museums like ColonialWilliamsburg and the Battleship North Carolina, decliningvisitation numbers tend to dictate important narrative changeswhich make it important to understand the visitor experience atmuseums.And though Loewen, Handler, and Gable focus on a museum’sor historic site’s narrative, Gaea Leinhardt and Karen Knutsonargue in Listening in on Museum Conversations that museumsshould function as “environments in which to experience theindefinable power of authentic artifacts to resonate withus .Museums present narratives about what we know about ourworld.And these narratives are presented in a highly designedenvironment that creates a unique and powerful physical3Richard Handler and Eric Gable, The New History in an Old Museum: Creatingthe Past at Colonial Williamsburg (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1997),4.3

experience for visitors.”4By adding the importance of the“designed environment” to a museum’s function, it allowsbattleship museums countless opportunities to use theirartifacts in effective ways that may eventually depict therealities of war.Primarily through their interactions with artifacts in its“highly designed environment” do Battleship North Carolinavisitors get a strong sense of purpose and meaning through the“artifact-historical past-me” process that is shared betweenBattleship curatorial staff and visitors.5How this processcontributes to a powerful and meaningful experience for visitorsis only one way that the Battleship North Carolina functionseffectively as a museum.The Battleship North Carolina is an example of a battleshipmemorial, and exhibits both similarities and differences withother institutions in this category.Currently, there are eightbattleship memorials: the Alabama, Arizona, Massachusetts,Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Texas, and the Utah.6They all belong to the Historic Naval Ships Association (HNSA).As of 2008, the HNSA fleet that is known as the “world’s third4Gaea Leinhardt and Karen Knutson, Listening in on Museum Conversations(Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press, 2004), 45.5The “artifact-historical past-me” process is discussed more thoroughly inChapter 2.6Please see Appendix 1 for a more detailed account of the differentbattleship memorials. This will include when they became memorials, 2009visitation, their location, and other helpful comparative information. TheWisconsin is noted but it should be understood that it is not a memorial,only a museum.4

largest navy” had members from twelve nations, 115organizations, and 175 ships.Organized in 1966, the intentionand purpose of HNSA was to create a forum where organizationscould exchange ideas, deal with problems, and provide supportfor each other. HNSA is an important organization because itserves as the cohesive organization that brings a variety ofship museums together with the joint purpose of honoringindividuals who performed naval service through education andinspiration.7Knowing how these eight battleships became memorials isimportant.These ships and Civil War battlefields (orbattleparks) have similar memorial origins because they wereboth preserved by the efforts of veterans.Civil War veteranswere motivated because they wanted “the parks to bereconciliatory items, object lessons, patriotic icons, and mostof all, memorials to the living and the dead that had fought inthe war.”8In ways similar to Civil War veterans, World War IIveterans were motivatedby nostalgia and memory and myth andtradition. For these men, their battleshipas a ship embodies the habits and valuesformed when they were young men. Theirbattleship as a memorial holds theirdreams and expectations now that they are7Edward J. Marolda, “HNSA Visitor’s Guide Introduction,” HNSA,http://www.hnsa.org/intro.htm.8 Timothy B. Smith, The Golden Age of Battlefield Preservation: The Decade ofthe 1890s and the Establishment of America’s First Five Military Parks(Knoxville, TN: The University of Tennessee Press, 2008), 9.5

old men with hopes of being rememberedafter they are gone. Their battleship asa museum represents a conversation betweentheir past and their descendants future.9Though their motivations were essentially the same, howthese veterans were able to fund their memorials are not.Luckily for the Civil War battleparks, the 1890s “was still atime when Civil War veterans dominated Congress (who would fundthe parks) and state legislatures (who would appropriate moneyfor monuments to their states’ units).”10Though Civil Warbattleparks enjoyed government patronage, battleship memorialsare almost all self-funded and receive no state or federalgovernment funds.11For most ships, their only connection to astate is through their name and by being part of that state’spark or historic site department.Knowing the motivation andfunding for a memorial helps a historian to understand how theycontinue to affect it today.Do the similarities between these memorials mean that theyare the same?categories.Battleship memorials fall into two differentIn the article, “War Memorials as Political9Angus Kress Gillespie, “The U.S.S. New Jersey (BB62): Name, Image, andIdentity,” The Salad Bowl 25 (2000): 13.10Smith,7.11The Arizona Memorial (which also includes the Utah) is funded by theNational Park Service and is operated by the US Navy. It is unique amongbattleship memorials because the ship was destroyed on December 7, 1941. Allother battleship memorials are self-funded, however, they may receive somestate appropriations for major preservation projects. Jeff Nilsson(Executive Director of HNSA) in a phone conversation with the author, April7, 2010.6

Memory,” James M. Mayo described two different types of warmemorials: the sacred and the non-sacred.He wrote that “non-sacred memorials may also have high utility, such as enterprisesrelated to war or actual war artifacts.”12The battleshipmemorials, except for the Arizona Memorial, would be nonsacredmemorials according to Mayo because “their practical purpose isnot sacred commemoration but rather profitability or utility”.13The battleship memorials must be profitable because they areself-supported and must be able to afford the expense ofmaintaining such a large ship.When many of the battleship memorials were established inthe 1960s, or what can be called the “golden age of battleshipmemorials,” these ships gained the added role of “museum.”Their educational and interpretative role was an important onebecause the ships were not originally designed to serve as amuseum.Angus Kress Gillespie noted that “critics argue thatthe aging USS New Jersey cannot function well as either a museumor a memorial .By its very nature, the ship can function only asa highly specialized museum with exhibits on military history ornaval technology.”14Though this criticism could refer to mostbattleship memorials, it can also be dismissed since the shipshave functioning exhibits, programs, and special tours on a12James M. Mayo, “War Memorials as Political Memory,” Geographical Review 78,no 1 (January 1988): 64.13Mayo, 64.14Gillespie, 11.7

variety of subjects.The success of a ship’s ability to serveas museums may seem to be clear from the “Guide to the Naval andMaritime Museums of North America” by Channing Zucker who notedthat “museum ships welcomed record numbers of visitors in 1999.More than 10 million persons boarded the vessels in the US andCanada.”15However, visitation alone does not determine if abattleship museum has been effective or not.A visitor study provides one means to determineeffectiveness.That is why a visitor case study was needed topropel this scholarship forward.The current scholarship onbattleships is dominated by military history or reference bookswhich focus on their role in the war, their technology, or lifeat sea.16Because there is limited literature on battleshipmemorials, a visitor study of the Battleship North Carolina willbe important for public historians because they will be able tolearn and understand what motivates visitors, how they behave,what they remember, and how they invest these atypical museumswith their own unique meaning.Some scholarly works that offered insight into visitorexperiences at the Battleship North Carolina included American15Channing Zucker, “Sea Classics Millennium Guide to the Naval and MaritimeMuseums of North America,” Sea Classics (2000): High Beam Research (April 10,2010), http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P3-4979449.html. Reported visitationnumbers represent all naval ship museums: carriers, battleships, submarines,destroyers, and many others that are part of the HNSA fleet.16Some examples of the works on battleships are: The American Battleship bySamuel Loring Morrison, An American Battleship at Peace and War: The U.S.S.Tennessee by Jonathan G. Utley and Battleship at War: The Epic Story of theU.S.S. Washington by Ivan Musicant.8

Artifacts edited by Jules David Prown, Performing the Pilgrimsby Stephen Eddy Snow, Destination Culture by BarbaraKirshenblatt-Gimblett, The New History in an Old Museum byRichard Handler and Eric Gable, The Museum Experience by JohnFalk and Lynn Dierking, and Presence of the Past by RoyRosenzweig and David Thelen.In American Artifacts, Jules David Prown believes that anobject always has some kind of functional, original purpose.Astime passes and the object is no longer needed for its originalpurpose and function, it can become a piece of “art” or an“artifact”.Its purpose and meaning then changes to suit thatof a particular institution or viewer.17 The Battleship NorthCarolina is one huge artifact.During the war, its purpose wasto be a modern, strong war machine enforcing the will of the USgovernment.Today, she represents fun, a tourist destination, amemorial, and a National Historic Landmark to the thousands ofvisitors who see her each year.In Performing the Pilgrims, Stephen Eddy Snow explains howthe recreated Plimoth pilgrim village is always 1627 forvisitors.The living history performers who act as thevillage’s pilgrims interact with visitors as they go about theirdaily routines of cooking meals, farming, and getting married.17Jules David Prown and Kenneth Haltman, ed, American Artifacts: Essays inMaterial Culture (East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press, 2000).9

Plimoth Plantation is a complete physical experience drivenprimarily by the Pilgrim performers.18At the Battleship,visitors interact with a silent ship and cause it come alivewith their own voices, laughter, and confusion.The ship,though the tour-route and exhibits focus almost entirely on itsrole during the war, shifts to become whatever a group orvisitor wants it to be through their own experiences orintentions for it.In Destination Culture, Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblettdefines the visitor experience as being a shift in the museumfield away from artifacts and exhibits to encompass an entireexperience that uses the senses and the imagination.Part ofthat experience includes ways that the experience “pushes back”at visitors in how they interact with the objects. Visitorexperiences are based on doing things rather than seeing orreading.19The Battleship is a total immersive physicalexperience for visitors.up and down ladders.They crawl all over the guns and climbDifferent experiences are available atdifferent price points.In New History in an Old Museum, Richard Handler and EricGable look at Colonial Williamsburg’s concerns with authenticity18Stephen Eddy Snow, Performing the Pilgrims: A Study of EthnohistoricalRole-Playing at Plimoth Plantation (Jackson, MS: University Press ofMississippi, 1993).19Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Destination Culture: Tourism, Museums, andHeritage (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press).10

and how the institution’s professional historians attempted toinclude realistic portrayals of slavery, gender roles, anddifferent social classes for visitors.Despite these efforts,Colonial Williamsburg’s corporate management continues to focuson what will make the visitor happy and how to exceed theirexpectations.To accomplish this, they have branched out inmerchandise, resorts, and commercial relationships (like withAmerican Girls).20Like Colonial Williamsburg, the Battleship’sfinancial bottom line is the basis for developing special eventsand programs because they are intended to increase visitationand revenue.New efforts to have merchandise as a tie-in to theprograms are being pursued and have proved to be profitable forthe Battleship.The Museum Experience by John Falk and Lynn Dierking givesmuseum professionals a visitor’s perspective of zoos, exhibits,and museums while trying to understand why they go to theseinstitutions, what they do when they are there, and what theyhave learned from their visit.21This work was crucial indeveloping the interview questions that a group of randomBattleship visitors were asked regarding their experience forthis study.Their responses re

Battleship curatorial staff and visitors. 5 How this process contributes to a powerful and meaningful experience for visitors is only one way that the Battleship North Carolina functions effectively as a museum. The Battleship North Carolina is an example of a battleship memorial, and exhibits both similarities and differences with

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