Sunday, February 15

150 Years and 3 Dead Crews... A.K.A. How to Keep Boys Interested At a Musuem:

Back when I gave tours at the Air Museum, we often had groups of kids come through as part of a school trip, pursuing Scout badges, and through other structured group activities. There was almost always an "expert" in the group somewhere - the kid that LOVED planes and was very knowledgeable about them. But most of the kids were just wired to be out and about, and capturing and keeping their attention took intentional effort.

However, my mother has been a teacher since before I was born, and I babysat extensively before I was old enough to get a "real job", so I wasn't unprepared. True to my suspicions, the surest way to capture and keep attention - particularly among groups that were mostly boys - was to start talking about the weapons, the danger, and the death related to any particular exhibit. The Glider Era? So many famous inventors died after face-planting because their glider ripped and went down. The "Golden Age" of aviation? People died all over the place! Fell to their deaths while "Wing Walking", spiraled into the ground when a wing came off (early construction had its issues), or went up in flames when their engine blew out. One of my favorites was talking about WWI aircraft - throwing bricks at each other from open aircraft, trying to shoot at each other without hitting your own wing or propeller, losing entire squadrons at a time - I had their rapt attention for a solid hour!
The remains of the H.L. Hunley.

Given this background, perhaps it isn't unreasonable that my first response when reading about the ongoing restoration efforts on the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley was to think how very lucky some North Carolina museum docents are going to be when the sub is finally ready for display. After all, what can compete with a little boy's imagination and attention when he's looking at an actual submarine that sank an entire battleship? Casually toss in the fact that it's had not one, but three crews of dead men scraped out of it, and you're golden! That tour group will be giving you gold stars and telling everyone they know to come see you!

There's no word on when some lucky museum will get to put it on display, of course. Fifteen years after it's recovery from the ocean floor the sub is still being chiseled free of its rock-solid coating of muck and investigated for evidence of why it sank that final time. But it's still fascinating to think and read about, and hope that when it does make it on display, schools, scout troops and others will take advantage of the incredibly opportunity that rare pieces like this offer to truly engage kids in history and encourage them to explore history on their own outside the pale, bland shadows of what is taught in schools.

Tip: There's an excellent book on the creation, operation, and loss of the Hunley titled Raising the Hunley. Your library should have it, if you want to check out this story for yourself or use it to engage some kids in your life in the magic of American history!  Please note that it does in fact include (non graphically) the scraping out of the dead bodies of the sub's first two crews, so it may not be appropriate for young or very sensitive kids.

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