Experience History at Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum


Inside the Cold War Experience in the Combat Information Center of the USS Laffey.

Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum may be a museum based on ships that are around 75 years old, but the stories these historic vessels have to tell is presented with cutting-edge technology of the 21st century. For the past five years, museum staff has worked to create exhibits that bring history to life and create a true experience for visitors. The newest exhibit, the first phase of the USS Yorktown Engine Room Experience, opened earlier this year.

Since joining Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum as the Executive Director in 2010, Mac Burdette has encouraged staff to supplement traditional museum signage with the effective use of technology. “We can put up plaques throughout our museum to share the stories of history and the roles of our ships in our country’s past, but it isn’t going to hit home with our visitors like an exhibit that invites them to experience history in a whole new way,” said Burdette. Major museum exhibits, Burdette explained, are now called “experiences.”

The first such exhibit was the “Mount 53 Experience” onboard the USS Laffey DD-724 — a naval destroyer whose 30-year service began in 1944 during the height of World War II and continued through much of the Cold War. As guests maneuver their way inside the aft gun mount on the Laffey, they start to look around and take in the small enclosed space around them. When they are ready to begin, guests start a video that narrates the jobs of the 12 men who worked inside the gun mount during World War II.

Visitors step inside the Mount 53 Experience on the USS Laffey.


After a brief overview of the gun mount and the individual jobs tasked to the men inside it, the video takes visitors through a perilous Japanese attack in April 1945 when 22 Japanese aircraft relentlessly attacked the Laffey for more than an hour.

Throughout the telling of the story, the mount shakes and vibrates with each gun firing and each bomb or plane that “hits” the ship. In only five minutes, guests get a small glimpse of what it was like for the brave sailors inside that mount during World War II, and when they exit after learning not all of the crew survived, many visitors are visibly emotional.

Inside the USS Laffey Mount 53 Experience.


“We could tell guests with a plaque that the Laffey is known as ‘the ship that would not die’ and that she lost 32 of her crew in a fierce attack off the coast of Okinawa during World War II, but this experience brings that point home in a way that simple words cannot,” said Burdette.

Over the years, additional exhibits have been added including the Apollo 8 Experience onboard the USS Yorktown CV-10 (the carrier retrieved the capsule from the Pacific Ocean after completing a mission to orbit the moon in 1968), and the Engine Room Experience and Cold War Experience aboard the USS Laffey.

Additionally, in 2014 Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum expanded and improved the Vietnam support base landside of the museum to a “Vietnam Experience” with surround sound throughout the 2.5-acre exhibit. The Vietnam Experience uses sight, sound and touch to show guests what it was like to live and work in a U.S. Navy Advanced Tactical Support Base (Brown Water Navy) and a U.S. Marine Corps Artillery Firebase during the Tet Offensive in 1968.

The newest addition at Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum opened in late February when the museum unveiled the first phase of the new USS Yorktown Engine Room Experience. The newly-renovated space uses the latest technology to bring the story of the engine room to life and makes it easier for guests to understand the duties and purpose of this integral part of an aircraft carrier.

USS Yorktown Engine Room Experience.


The USS Yorktown Engine Room Experience features 15 unique halo-lit images; a virtual tour station of the lower decks of the engine room; a touchscreen kiosk using animation to explain how the engine of the USS Yorktown functions; and a “holobox” scene showing a sailor (hologram) lighting a boiler and another of him finding a steam leak. The entire area is accessible to those with mobility challenges and is climate controlled.

The USS Yorktown Engine Room Experience is located along Tour 2 onboard the USS Yorktown, just before guests have the option to descend a series of ladders to reach the engine room. For those who are unable to navigate the ladders, the new Engine Room Experience creates a virtual alternative that allows them to tour the engine room remotely.

These technological additions create a dynamic and interactive experience for museum guests and represent the first phase of a major exhibit planned for the USS Yorktown engine room. The next phase will focus on the engine and fire room spaces below deck and will bring the areas to life and allow the experience to tell the story of the sailors who once worked there. The next phase of the Engine Room Experience, like this first phase, will have interactive and immersive components.

As summer begins, it’s a great time to visit Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum and experience these interactive and immersive exhibits. Admission is free for active-duty military in uniform (and discounted if not in uniform).

Come take a trip around the moon in a replica Apollo 8 space capsule, sit in a combat information center as the crew of a destroyer works quickly to determine if World War III is about to begin, and listen to the sights and sounds of the engine room of a Navy vessel at sea. There is so much great history to experience at Patriots Point.


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