I recently had the pleasure of greeting ladies from The Library of Congress, (Juretta, Susan, & Kris) who were in town for the Virginia Forum at Christopher Newport University. They had been to The Mariners’ Museum on Thursday for a meeting and dinner and had time for a small sampling of the treasures of the museum. They decided it would be a good opportunity for a further look. They were especially interested in The Monitor Center, and I was pleased to provide them with a few of the in-depth aspects of the center and the historic Battle of Hampton Roads. I also gave them a view of our new and innovative slide-show highlighting the other galleries. What a joy to have real scholars who are interested in what the museum has to offer. I expect to see them on a return visit in the future.
When I give school group tours, I always tell the students that we can only see a part of the museum, and that they should come with their family and spend more time, as there are lot of great history related things to see here. Recently, I was giving a tour to some 5th graders from Williamsburg, and gave them the usual welcome back and bring their family. The next day, on a Saturday, a young student came in with his mother, his soccer practice having been rained out. He and his mother co-mingled in the tour I was giving with some adults, and the young student seemed to know all the answers to the question inter-play. I said “have you been here before?”. He answered that he had been in my school tour the day before!
Some where along the line the “seeds of history” had been planted. What a nice feeling!
I recently had the pleasure of giving tours to some young elementary students from Kentucky, and while I was waiting, I told them that I enjoyed giving these tours and teaching history to them. Especially since I was a grandfather of nine and enjoyed them so much over the years, and that when I was their age, I had no grandfathers. They had both died. One little girl spoke and said “I did not have grandfathers either.” I said “how about if I be your grandfather today!” A second little student stepped forward and said “I did not have grandfathers either”. Needless to say, I filled up over this experience.
This is another reason that being a docent is so gratifying at The Mariners’ Museum.
Improvements since the 1930’s of Skinner’s Paintings
The term “Better ships” in the exhibit’s title begs the question: “Better than what?” Better might be the result of cheaper to own & operate through better (more focused on economics) designs. The original motto of Newport News Shipbuilding was:
The Mariners’ Museum has a large collection of very old—to ancient navigation instruments. These include astrolabes in the Age of Exploration gallery, quadrants, cross staffs, back staffs, octants & sextants in several galleries. A reproduction of the even more primitive Kama’l can be found in the Age of Exploration Gallery, and it was one of the earliest devices to estimate the elevation of a heavenly body above the horizon. That observation put the ancients on the same track that we “modern” navigators used—until satellites, computers, and GPS made the satisfying and elegant art of celestial navigation obsolete.
The earliest astronomers through painstaking and detailed observations and record-keeping recognized that the stars seemed to rotate about a single star in the heavens, Polaris, in the constellation Ursa Minor. The ancients eventually realized that the angular elevation (altitude) of Polaris above the horizon corresponded almost exactly with the latitude on the earth from which the altitude measurement was made. From the altitude of Polaris, and a few corrections the Latitude can be easily calculated. (Corrections are necessary since Polaris is not exactly due north, in fact, because of precession of the earth’s axis, Polaris was not always and will not always be the North Star. Around 14,000 CE, the star Vega will be in that position for 500 or 1000 years.)