at the Independence Seaport Museum
After the Independence Seaport Museum acquired the cruiser Olympia and submarine Becuna in 1996,
One big challenge it faced was the distance between the museum building and the vessels’ location at Penn’s Landing, two city blocks away.
Then there was the odd pairing between the ships themselves: a Spanish American War cruiser and a World War II/Cold War diesel-electric sub.
There was no obvious narrative that could link these vessels to each other, and even less of one joining the ships to the museum itself.
While the physical distance between the ships and the building can’t be resolved in the short term, narratives are the museum’s stock in trade.
The big driver of heritage tourism in Philadelphia is, of course, the founding of our country.
It is in the best interest of any history museum in this city to find a connection to the nation’s founding story, if there is a credible reason for doing so.
As part of the institutional soul-searching that comes with strategic planning,
The Independence Seaport Museum came up with a solution: “Sail, Steam, and Stealth.”
Philadelphia’s claim as the birthplace of the American Navy is based on a number of important events that took place here.
The original six frigates were designed here by Joshua Humphreys—USS United States was built here.
Commodore John Barry, considered the father of the US Navy, lived here.
Philadelphia was home to both the Continental Congress and the War Office,
The first of which brought the Navy into existence in 1775, and the latter executed those orders.
Sail Steam and Stealth The museum would tell the story of the Navy’s founding.
It would be a tremendous help that its collection houses John Barry’s papers, among other pertinent late 18th-century artifacts.
With the museum ably connected to the narrative of the founding story,
The next challenge to overcome was figuring out how to tie that story to the two retired war vessels tied to the pier down the street.
The planning process led to the conclusion that the centerpiece of every exhibit had to be an activity. T
he first step in appealing to a family audience is to stop the kids in their tracks.
What better way to do that than to build a sailing ship in our most extensive gallery, a full-scale waterline model of a vessel typical to the 1890s?
Research turned up a schooner of the right size and pedigree: the Diligence,
A 65-foot topsail schooner built at Joshua Humphreys’s yard for the US Revenue Marine,
Predecessor to the Coast Guard. Diligence had also sailed with John Barry’s squadron in the Quasi-War with France.
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