This Memorial Day Weekend, Independence Seaport Museum (ISM) is honoring those who served in the United States Armed Forces with various programs and events in person and virtually. From a new exhibition featuring unique animations aboard Cruiser Olympia to the return of Paddle Penn’s Landing, ISM has something for the entire family to enjoy. The museum highly recommends visitors purchase tickets in advance on the official website, where they can also find admission prices and upcoming event information.
On Friday, May 28, ISM will debut a special exhibit on Cruiser Olympia that tells the story of the ship’s transportation of the Unknown Soldier across the Atlantic Ocean. Titled Difficult Journey Home, the exhibit will feature an 11-panel installation that examines the 16-day treacherous voyage home that Cruiser Olympia faced after departing from Le Havre, France in 1921.
The exhibit will also feature animations highlighting the tropical force winds and 20-to-30-foot waves Cruiser Olympia encountered during its journey. Animations in the exhibit were made possible by contributing partner Drexel University Westphal College of Media Arts & Design and Assistant Teaching Professor Dan Rose. Difficult Journey Home will be on display aboard Cruiser Olympia until Thanksgiving weekend.
In addition to the new exhibit, Cruiser Olympia is excited to announce the reopening of the Quarterdeck on the ship’s main deck on May 28, which hasn’t been open to the public in over two decades. After fundraising over $11,000 since October 2020, ISM was able to add the necessary security repairs and upgrades to make the deck safe for visitors. It will now be part of the tour route of Cruiser Olympia, and guests will be able to see from a sailor’s point of view!
On Monday, May 31, at 10 a.m., ISM will host its annual Memorial Day Ceremony. The private ceremony will be streamed live via the museum’s Facebook page and will include remarks from museum staff and guest speakers, including ISM President & CEO, Peter Seibert; ISM Executive Vice President & Chief Operating Officer Mike Flynn; The Chapel of Four Chaplain’s Captain Louis A. Cavaliere, U.S. Navy (Retired); Honorable Patrick F. Dugan, Captain, U.S. Army (Retired); and historian Kara Newcomer.
During the ceremony, ISM will unveil a permanent historical marker on Olympia to commemorate the Unknown Soldier and memorialize his story for future visitors. This marker was created by Seward Johnson Atelier of New Jersey, with Susan Dunsmoor leading the project. Located where the Unknown Soldier’s coffin was laid during its transport in 1921, ISM’s contribution reflects the previous markers in this newly imagined memorial.
The new marker includes the inscribed message from the original plaque from the 1920s, with particular attention paid to reproduce its original font accurately. The bronze slab represents the dimensions of a casket, recalling the second historical marker installed by the Cruiser Olympia Association, which was displayed from the 1960s to 2000. An additional message written on behalf of ISM by Chief Curator Craig Burns honors not only the Unknown Soldier, but the crew and honor guard aboard who so gallantly protected the Unknown’s remains with little thought for their own lives. Lastly, a folded, 1920s period American flag will be placed on the plaque, representing the absence of the Unknown Soldier. The flag remains uncollected to symbolize that the connection between this unidentified soldier and his loved ones has been broken.
At 10:55 a.m., the marker will be unveiled by a team of former Tomb Guards who will represent the Society of the Honor Guard and Tomb of the Unknown Soldier during the dedication. The team is comprised of Kevin Donovan (served from 1981-84), Society Secretary Lonny LeGrand (served from 1981-83), and Case Wilson (served from 2004-06). Honored guests and speakers will then have the opportunity to place white roses on the Unknown’s marker as tribute.
Following the ceremony, historian Kara Newcomer will lead an in-person presentation inside the museum on the Marines and their relationship with the Unknown Soldier at 1 p.m. Newcomer spent 17 years as a historian with the Historical Reference Branch of the Marine Corps History Division before moving to her current position as an archivist with the Air Force Historical Research Agency. Seating for this presentation will be limited as ISM will space out chairs in accordance with local guidelines.
Additional programming and events centered around the Centennial Anniversary of the Return of the Unknown Soldier will take place both virtually and in-person throughout the year, culminating with a ceremony marking the Centennial Anniversary of Olympia’s departure from Le Havre, France, on October 25, 2021. Currently the oldest steel warship still afloat, Olympia was chosen to return the remains of an unknown American soldier to the United States following the end of World War I.
ISM requires all visitors entering the building or boarding Cruiser Olympia to wear a face mask and utilize sanitization stations installed in high traffic areas. The museum has also added signage and floor markers reminding guests to maintain a six-foot distance from others. The museum has increased daily cleanings and adjusted certain elements of exhibits based on interactivity.
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