June 21st, 2007

little review

Poem for Thursday & Virginia Beach Trip 3

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It was raining by the time we finished breakfast, so we left early for The Mariners' Museum in Newport News, and it was a good thing we did because we spent more than four hours there. This is a fantastic museum with huge galleries devoted to the history of boating on the Chesapeake Bay, the Age of Exploration and the development of the steamship, plus model tall ships and nautical art, but the major attractions are Civil War-era -- in particular, the turret of the USS Monitor, most of the rest of which is still sunk off the Outer Banks where the ship went down.

It's hard to pick an exact date for the start of the Age of Fighting Sail, but easy to name the end: March 9, 1862, when the Monitor met the CSS Virginia and it became obvious that even the most advanced wooden ships didn't stand much of a chance against a steam-powered ironclad ship. The Mariners' Museum has several galleries devoted to this event, since it's local history and pieces of both ships are in the collection; there's a slide-show-in-the-round about the battle (narrated by Salome Jens of Deep Space Nine), a multi-screen movie about the sinking of the Monitor in a winter storm and a short film about the discovery of the ship and raising of the turret. Then there is a scale model of the ship, several galleries where people can attempt to maneuver the frigate on a computer, see the inside of the ship during the Battle of Hampton Roads and walk through a replica of the turret as it looked when brought up from the bottom of the sea. The original turret is in a conservation facility visible through windows, kind of like where the Mary Rose is being preserved in Portsmouth, UK.

As if that weren't enough, the museum has a temporary exhibit on "The Nelson Touch" first opened for the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar. The gallery is organized around Nelson's actions at the battles of Cape St. Vincent, Copenhagen, the Nile and Trafalgar and how they entered the popular imagination as well as how they affected military strategy (I did not know until today that "turn a blind eye" came from Nelson's refusal to see the signal to withdraw being sent by his admiral, but this exhibit had little 19th century action figures and book illustrations of the incident). The museum also has many of the features of other domestic maritime museums, from knot-tying practice to seafood harvesting equipment to USS Constitution memorabilia to the rise of naval aviation (particularly important in this region). We had lunch there but didn't even begin to explore the surrounding marshes and hiking trails, nor did we spend a proper amount of time in the small craft center, scientific collections, art galleries or model ship rooms.

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In the late afternoon we went back to Virginia Beach, but it was still overcast and the kids' legs were stinging from a combination of goosebumps, salt water, sunblock and chlorine from the pool, so after a bit of wave-jumping and digging for sandcrabs (we saw a great many and I found a shark's tooth, too), we got dressed and walked more than ten blocks trying to decide what we wanted for dinner, only to opt for going back to the hotel and finishing the sandwich meats and hummus we had brought for lunches and hadn't finished. Then we went out for ice cream as all the local musical acts were taking up their positions on street corners and walked briefly on the beach. I am very sorry to be leaving but younger son has an orthodontist appointment at the end of the week so there's no help for it! Have a wonderful Litha/Midsummer/Solstice!