There’s a historic battlefield on par with Gettysburg and Yorktown right here in the Philadelphia area—and it’s located on the Delaware River Waterfront.
Battleship New Jersey was first established as an educational museum in 2001, and over the years, the ship has served as a classroom for students, a memorial for veterans and a way for people to experience some of the largest battles in our country’s history that were fought on the water. By bringing the ship to port, Philadelphians might not exactly hit the exact spot that these conflicts were held, but, they can take a peek behind the scenes at what happened, and walk where people like Admiral Halsey and Admiral Spruance did during some of the largest skirmishes ever fought.
“What we want to do is allow guests who visit the Battleship to experience what life aboard the ship was like. The beauty of these different tours, it shows different parts [the ship],” explains Battleship NJ CEO Jack Willard. “Tours allow you to dive deeper into the Battleship, and allow you to learn more about why she is the greatest battleship afloat.”
Now through Sept. 5, Battleship New Jersey Museum and Memorial will be open seven days a week for various tours and immersive experiences. Visitors can purchase memberships or tickets for tours that include interactive experiences and special exhibits on display throughout the decks.
The structure offers both self-guided or guided tours for an overall view of the ship. Throughout the 57,000-ton structure that was home to thousands of sailors, guests can explore five levels up and two decks below. You walk through gun torrents, a combat engagement center and tomahawk missile launch boxes—it’s also a great way to experience how the sailors lived aboard the ship, according to Willard.
“What we find out a lot… People come aboard, they’ll do the firepower tour, and they’ll say this ship is really cool and it has a fascinating history. They want to learn more about it,” Willard continues.
That curiosity is where the ship’s Director of Curatorial and Educational Affairs, Ryan Szimanski, comes in. “The first reaction is typically a feeling of awe,” he explains. “As a teacher, I absolutely love how captivated the kids are. They’re so awe-struck when they see the ship, I’ve got their attention for the next two hours.”
Battleship New Jersey already showcases certain areas of the vessel, some areas have plaques and signage, and some are meant to look as though the crew just left it. On top of the GA tours, there are also Overnight Stays, Twilight Tours and Evening Tours to check out as well.
“Tours come in a couple of different flavors,” Szimanski explains. “During the Evening Tours, with the ship closed to the public we are able to go into some of these spaces with a lot more detail than we can with guests walking around. We do tours of one of the gun torrents after hours, which is actually a five-story structure that would have taken 80 men to operate. We go through one of the Engine Rooms to talk about how the ship is powered, or, [we have our] Twilight Tours to get into some of the more macabre histories of the ship, and, some of the Rated R stuff that you wouldn’t do with kids around.”
After visiting rarely seen parts of the ship led by a curatorial team member, visitors who are 21 years or older can then enjoy a cold beer, glass of wine, or a soft drink on the Main Deck during the Twilight Tour as well.
Overnight Stays also happen on the Battleship New Jersey. Typically for different youth groups (from schools, troops etc.) the stays consist of an extensive tour of the ship, dinner and breakfast served in the chow line, the opportunity to fire the saluting gun through a raffle, and the chance to sleep in the same bunks that sailors did back in the day aboard the ship. The Overnight Stays are also an option for families with a parent/ legal guardian and kids ages 5-17.
Overall, the vessel tries to have a little something for everyone. Szimanski explains they have had 80-90 year old veterans aboard, some who served on the Battleship NJ (and Willard also comments on the “inspiring” stories they’ve told.) The ship also hosts activations for the younger crowd in their Kids Compartment which holds a Sixers basketball hoop, a brow made by the ship’s carpenters to simulate feeling like a captain, and even uniforms to try on.
“We kind of take it for granted because we are here all the time, but, when somebody comes and sees the ship for the first time—they really are blown away just from the massiveness of it,” Willard explains.
The Battleship New Jersey also offers memberships. Not only do you get to help the nonprofit by becoming a member, but you also get invited when a new tour room opens up, receive notices about special events (such as beer festivals or firework activations), plus, complimentary or discounted tickets to come aboard. And as Szimanski is always looking to open up new parts of the ship, there is always a lot of activity happening.
But the tours, in general, seem to inspire.
“I absolutely love the Engine Room. That’s one of my favorite places to give tours,” Szimanski explains. “On the tour route, my favorite is the Combat Engagement Center. In my opinion it’s the best restored space on the ship. It’s basically a room that was added in the 1980s to control all of the missiles, and it looks like Star Wars in there.”
Willard on the other hand enjoys the Forecastle or the Forward Deck of the ship. “We do a lot of military services out there, so it’s always cool when you’re out there on the front of the ship and you have Navy personnel or Marines or whoever in uniform doing a ceremony. When we have fireworks, it’s also where we go to watch and it looks like they are right over top of you,” he explains.
The Battleship New Jersey also has a popular YouTube channel, amassing 800 videos online exploring different parts of ship, 100,000 subscribers and a couple million views every week. Another interesting facet is that the space is also available to rent for parties, events or meetings.
Szimanski comments on how the vital statistics of the ship still amaze him, and Willard appreciates the meaning that the vessel has for veterans.
“I hope people leave with appreciation to not only the sailors and Marines who lived aboard the Battleship, but also just the regular citizens who built the ship down in the Philadelphia Navy Yard,” Willard finishes.”And the citizens that helped restore the ship so that it’s available for tours. It’s an amazing ship and an amazing vessel, but I always hope people remember the people who helped build her, served on her, and helped restore her.”
For information on the BattleShip New Jersey (62 Battleship Place, Camden), visit battleshipnewjersey.org