WILMINGTON—Normally on Veteran’s Day, outside groups utilize the Battleship as a backdrop for events to celebrate the military’s service to our nation.
This year it remains rather quiet.
Though open for self-guided tours, and welcoming upward of 250,000 visitors a year, according to curator of collections Mary Ames Booker, the ship’s 30 events planned annually for the public have stopped because of limited gatherings from the governor’s executive order (now decreased to 10 until further notice). Like most museums and attractions, Booker had to find other avenues to keep its history and mission in the public eye.
So she launched the Battleship’s first podcast, “Showboat,” on Oct. 23. “The staff began discussing a podcast in the fall of 2019,” Booker said.
When Covid-19 hit, she applied for the NC CARES grant through the North Carolina Humanities Council. Awarded in July, the grant allowed for the purchase of equipment (camera/video equipment, audio recording equipment, two flatbed scanners) and other services to produce “Showboat.”
The first episode covers the history of the USS NORTH CAROLINA (BB-55), one of two ships in the NORTH CAROLINA class — her sister consisting of the USS WASHINGTON (BB-56). Together, the ships commissioned 144 officers and enlisted more than 2,000 men, including Marines, during its service in World War II.
The most decorated ship of its kind (15 stars), BB-55 served in the Atlantic first, before the Navy moved it to the Pacific to battle every offensive against the Japanese. Her power was the greatest of its time, shooting down airplanes, while taking hits from kamikazes. Because of her stealth, she only lost 10 men in action, with 67 wounded by the end of the war, Sept. 2, 1945.
“Showboat” tells the story of how the Battleship earned her nickname, and reveals how Wilmingtonians, including Jimmy Craig and Hugh Morton, launched a Save Our Ship campaign in the ’60s to prevent the Battleship from being scrapped after she was decommissioned in 1947 and remained inactive for 14 years. The campaign raised $315,000 — $60,000 from Wilmington — without state funds. Even 700,000 school children donated 10 cents each, and in return got a ticket to visit the attraction.
The success of the campaign led the Battleship to its permanent home in the Cape Fear River, where she was dedicated in April 1962.
“I continue to discover new and interesting things about the ship, past and present,” Booker said. “It is a fun, creative project to share the Battleship in a new medium like the podcast.”
The Grandmothers Club is one snippet of information that fascinates — another grassroots fund that helped preserve the ship. In the 1960s WECT’s Jim Burns started the club, and encouraged grandmothers to donate quarters and dollars to the Battleship fund, in order to have their grandchildren’s names read from a scroll aboard the ship.
Booker includes voices of the original crew, culled from the ship’s library of digitized recordings, and onsite interviews with historians and North Carolinians to flush out the stories. She talks to some of the first visitors to the ship, many of whom remember only paying 25 cents admission when it opened.
Booker plans to release a new episode every other month on the Battleship’s website. The next podcast, “Ship Shape,” will be available in early December.
“Listeners will learn about our hull repair, and what it takes to maintain an 80-year-old vessel,” Booker said. “Our large ‘crew’ of maintenance volunteers share their reasons for preserving the Showboat today.”
The podcast is only one area of outreach under the umbrella, “Showboat Voyages.”
“We’re not planning [in-person] events as far ahead as we did before because of the uncertainty, and neither are outside groups,” Booker said.
Into 2021, she has scheduled a half-dozen Zoom presentations. Included will be “Meet the Showboat,” a Zoom interactive learning program, plus audio-visual presentations, “Discover the Showboat,” available on the Battleship’s Vimeo and YouTube platforms. Folks also will be able to scan original archival materials soon as part of the website’s online portal.
Send tips and comments to Shea Carver at firstname.lastname@example.org