The Courier Post Reports: Battleship New Jersey visitors offered new interactive experience
CAMDEN — A newly added tour aboard the retired battleship New Jersey promises to be an action-packed experience for visitors.
Now visitors will be able to execute some of the same tasks crews did when loading and firing the most powerful naval guns ever built by the U.S.
The Turret II Experience interactive tour begins Sunday and initially will be offered only on Sundays at the Battleship New Jersey Museum and Memorial on the Camden Waterfront.
During a 90-minute guided tour on the museum ship, a maximum of 15 visitors will climb inside the five decks of Gun Turret II on the foredeck. It is one of three armored turrets whose combined nine guns are 16 inches in diameter and 66 feet long with a range of more than 20 miles.
“There is nothing like this being offered on any other historic ship in the world,” museum curator Jason Hall said of the new tour on the Iowa-class battleship — the largest class of Navy battleship built during World War II and the most decorated.
“We are trying to be as authentic as possible and allow our visitors to simulate what 77 crew members once did as a team and with ballet precision inside the turret.”
Visitors can perform some of the turret crew tasks from start to finish.
The first step is a climb five decks down to load dummy powder bags that have the same canister-shaped appearance as the real ones but minus the black powder inside.
In a practice session for tour guide training Thursday, trainee and Rutgers-Camden student William Roulette lifted one of the bags into the brass drum on a hoist used to raise them up to the turret level on the main deck for loading into the gun breech and barrel behind ammunition shells the Navy calls “projectiles.” It took six bags to fire a shell from the barrel.
Above the powder deck, tour guide Arlene Baker of Haddon Township pulled a brass lever that hoisted upward a bullet-shaped, 5-foot high, 16-inch/50 caliber dummy shell, which in operation would end up inside the gun barrel and in front of the powder bags. Real shells ranged from 1,900 pounds for shore bombardment to armor-piercing 2,700-pounders that fired at ships.
“It’s pretty exciting and people, especially children, learn best by doing,” said Baker, a retired teacher.
Heading up to the gun plot deck inside the turret, guide George MacCulloch, a 79-year-old Navy veteran from Audubon, put information into the ship’s analog computer, which set firing coordinates for positioning of the guns to strike a target.
Afterward, he hit a brass trigger that sounded a salvo to alert crew to imminent firing and then pulled another trigger to fire the weapons. The trigger is coordinated with a real firing visitors can view in color on a TV monitor as they also hear the firing booms and feel the vibration in the deck floor.
“I think this is the most dramatic tour of any I’ve seen at any museum,” said MacCulloch, who served on the New Jersey in 1955 as a naval reservist and third-class gunner’s mate and who remembered the vibration throughout the ship when the 16-inch guns fired.
Proceeding topside to the main deck, entering the turret gun house and then standing behind a loaded gun barrel, tour guide Jessie Noda of Mullica Hill pushed a salvo button that would first alert the crew the shells were ready to be fired.
Philip Rowan, executive director of the museum, said it took more than two years and nearly $90,000 to convert the turret into a tour area and to secure state and Navy approvals, including safety permits from the state Department of Community Affairs.
He said the ship hired part-time guides — many from its museum volunteer staff — for what he termed a “premium tour.”
The tour costs $29.95 and reservations may be made at the museum website, battleshipnewjersey.org; at the admission gate, depending on availability; or by calling (866) 877-6262, ext. 108.