The city of Mobile sits on Mobile Bay, an inlet of the Gulf of Mexico. We visited the Gulf Quest National Martime Museum which celebrates this area with 90 interactive exhibits. It is a large and creative building designed to look like a container ship with ramps leading up to six different “decks” or floors.
The museum features exhibits on weather, hurricanes, marine life, shipbuilding, navigation and shipwrecks to name just a few. Some of the exhibits are geared for the younger set, but I found it a pretty good learning experience. I think that Mark got a little bored with it after awhile and found a place to sit and wait. He said he really doesn’t miss being in the 6th grade. As so often seems to happen since we have been traveling, there were few people in this beautiful and modern museum on a weekday. My favorite exhibit was the ship simulator where you could pilot several different vessels in Mobile Bay. Below is a picture of me captaining a huge cargo ship. We were told by museum staff that it was designed to be realistic with an accurate modeling of the Port of Mobile.
As you walk up the ramps there are many historical nautical sayings that are now common phrases today. Below is a picture of one that I liked. I was actually surprised at how many sayings are nautical in origin. For example, “Make a Clean Sweep” is when you win every contest. Centuries ago, the Dutch navy hoisted brooms aloft boasting they could “sweep” their enemies from the seas. This practice continued into modern times aboard submarines returning from successful patrols.
The museum has outdoor decks where you can view activity in the port. Shipbuilding is an important industry here and we had a view of the Austal Company, one of the largest ship builders on the Gulf Coast. They build combat ships for the U.S. Navy, like the one pictured below.
The Port of Mobile is a deep water port, the 9th largest in the nation and the only one in Alabama.
A Carnival Cruise ship was docked right next door to the museum. When we were done at the museum, we heard that the ship was getting ready to leave so we went outside and waited for it to depart. A tugboat with darkened windows was parked right next to the ship waiting to escort it out of the harbor. All of a sudden a voice from the tug boomed out, “What are you waiting for, why don’t you get on the cruise ship?” So, we had a little back and forth conversation with the unseen tugboat operator while we waited for the cruise ship to leave.
Mark and I have not yet been on a cruise ship. I wouldn’t mind giving it a try some day, but I don’t think Mark is game. As the cruise ship backed out of port, the tug followed along on the side.
The most famous resident of Mobile Bay is the Battleship U.S.S. Alabama, the centerpiece of Battleship Memorial Park.
The ship was commissioned August 16, 1942 and served during WWII in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters. The Alabama led the American fleet into Tokyo Bay on September 5, 1945, the day after the surrender documents were signed. The ship was decommissioned on January 9, 1947 and docked at Bremerton, Washington.
When the Alabama was to be scrapped, a statewide campaign began in 1963 to fund the ship’s voyage back to Alabama. I think the most interesting appeal was made to the school children of Alabama. If a child contributed any amount of money, they would receive a ticket of free admission to see the battleship once it arrived. The children alone raised $100,000 with 300,000 tickets issued. This was a huge amount of money in 1964. In all, $800,000 was collected to bring the ship back to Mobile Bay.
It took three months to tow the ship 5,600 miles from Bremerton to Mobile Bay with arrival on September 16, 1964. It was not an easy trip as along the way, one of the two tugs towing the ship sank with two men aboard losing their lives. In addition, the ship had to wait out two hurricanes. The Alabama passed through the Panama Canal with only eleven inches of clearance. Battleship Memorial Park first opened for public tours on January 9, 1965, dedicated to Alabama veterans of all branches of the armed services.
Outside there are many gun placements to climb on to see what it would be like to handle and sight the big guns.
Battleship Memorial Park is very large, with not only the battleship to tour, but also the U.S.S. Drum submarine, a pavilion of aircraft and a variety of tanks and other weaponry on the grounds. Just touring the ship takes hours, because there is a lot to see here with several floors of exhibits beginning at the deck and going below via stairs/ladders. In addition there are several levels above that can be explored.
At first being in the “bowels” of the ship and going up and down the stair/ladders felt a little confining to me but the more I was there, the more I didn’t want to leave but continue exploring the passages and rooms. In order to stay on track, you follow a series of routes marked with either red, green or yellow arrows depending on which tour or area of the ship you want to visit. Ideally, it is great to walk it all so you can experience as much as possible what it was like to serve here.
Did you know that ships have hatches and doors? Above, Mark is standing by a hatch which leads down to the second level. (Hatches go up and down and doors go across). Below, a picture of one of the watertight doors designed to protect the ship in case of flooding.
The Alabama had a crew of about 2,500 and as I wandered about, I was amazed that so many could work and be housed here. People had to eat and sleep in shifts (watches as they call them). It was really like operating a small town. We were able to see all the main compartments that took care of the basic necessities of the crew and the original furnishings and equipment displayed were very interesting. Below are pictures of sleeping rooms with hanging bunks. You had to be pretty trim to fit into those beds!
And another picture of one of the sleeping areas with a locker demonstrating how a crewman had to fit everything in. Boy, those mattresses were thin! Reminds me of summer camp or a road trip I went on with my sister Barbara to Idaho and Montana when we stayed in KOA cabins with mattresses that looked similar to these, ha ha.
This is a picture of the dining area or mess deck. During the day, there were more tables here, but at night they were removed and hammocks were slung from the ceiling. That would make sense, since there were so many men that needed to sleep some where on this ship!
Below, it looks like a yummy breakfast is being served in the mess deck! Not a sausage and white gravy fan so it would probably have been corn flakes for me. But I know what Mark would have chosen, he is biscuits, sausage and gravy all the way!
This would have been my favorite part of the ship – the soda fountain which was called the “Gedunk” stand. It was here that ice cream, candy, sodas and other small snacks were given to crew members. I read that more than 100 gallons of ice cream (made on the ship) and sodas were served here daily.
If I were to have a favorite, I also would have my least – the dental office where all dental work was completed including oral surgery and denture work. An x-ray dark room was next door. That chair doesn’t look quite as comfortable as the ones we get to recline in today.
This was a great visit and I hope you have enjoyed seeing some of what the U.S.S. Alabama offers for visitors.
Thanks for checking in!
4 thoughts on “Mobile Bay and the U.S.S. Alabama”
I like the picture of you on the gun mount.
Thanks John! It was fun checking out everything both inside and outside the ship!
I agree with John about the pictures of the guns, especially with Dad at the base, some impressive weaponry. Reminds me a lot of the tour of USS Midway, which I found fascinating and gave me way more respect for our Navy. Very harsh conditions. Looks like an amazing tour, there wasn’t any opportunities to practice on a sailing simulator! That sounds fun. They could film horror movies inside that dental office haha
Thanks for your comment Matt! I thought the Midway tour was fantastic as well. Really interesting to see how people live on these ships, especially in such close quarters. A little claustrophobic for me and all that cold, hard steel around you! Ugh, that would take some getting use to.