I was born and raised in the City of New York. I’ve driven down the West Side Highway a couple million times in my life (perhaps I exaggerate a tad) and passed the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum (the Intrepid) about half as many times. But until last week I never actually visited the Intrepid. For as many times as I’ve passed it, gazing out at it from the front passenger side window of my car and thinking to myself “Gee I’d like to visit that” I’ve come up with multiple reasons why it would be impractical. It’s too hot, it’s too crowded, it’s too touristy, it will take too long, parking is difficult, parking is prohibitive… blah blah blah. But last Friday as we found ourselves approaching the GWB (that’s the George Washington Bridge for you out-of-towners) “sans” children, I said to the hubby “How would you like to visit the Intrepid?” He replied “Yes!”
I knew he’d say yes, of course. The man can’t resist a historical monument of any kind. He is a huge history buff, majoring in it at NYU (that’s New York University for you out-of-towners) even though he planned to study dentistry. And so instead of taking a walk in the Village (that’s Greenwich Village to you… oh never mind), we headed to the aircraft carrier.
Three things surprised me upon arriving there. The first was “The Growler” – the resident submarine. It was an amazing experience visiting it and I had no idea what to expect once on it. For starters, I was surprised to see signs cautioning people not to enter it if they were not in good health. Visitors were also required to pass through a hatch (one of the doors separating the compartments on a sub) under the supervision of a staff member. If you couldn’t make it through the hatch above ground, you would not be visiting the sub. I passed through the hatch easily but I was uneasy about “good health” part, not that I am in poor health. I just wondered why they made an issue of it. It turns out that if you are claustrophobic you could really “freak out” in a submarine under water. The Growler is not submerged, but it is in the water. You become very aware of that as you stand inside it and hear the water outside. Yes, you hear it. And if you stand still you can sense the submarine’s movement.
So what did I learn about submarines? Submarines of this class, presumably attack class, are small. Despite being long (over 300 feet) it felt short. Secondly, they are really really narrow. Super narrow. Super it-will-make-you-claustrophobic-even-if-you’ve-never-been-claustrophobic-before narrow. Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t have an anxiety attack nor did I become claustrophobic. It is perfectly safe and I knew that all along. However, having only seen submarines in the movies, I was surprised how tight the accommodations are, how small the bunks are, how tiny the break areas are, and how brave the men who work in them are. I went in expecting The Hunt for Red October and came out thinking Bumble Bee Tuna. The only thing that did make me claustrophobic was the line of people ahead of and behind me. You move at the mercy of those ahead. However, I loved the visit, and I would do it again.
The second thing that surprised me about the Intrepid was how large an aircraft carrier is. I certainly knew it was large just from seeing it so many times, but it wasn’t until I was in the Hangar Deck, the deck where they stored the planes, that I really understood it. The carrier itself is full of planes within the Hangar and on the Flight deck as well. There are other outstanding displays like helicopters and model space capsules. (Actually on the pier itself next to the carrier is a Concorde jet!) There is also a very large children’s activity area with many interactive displays.
However, the third and most surprising thing of all is that I became a little “verklempt” as I walked around the ship – a little choked up, a little emotional. While there we were able to see a multi-sensory movie detailing what it was like to live on the Intrepid during the Second World War while under a kamikaze attack. And as the stereos blasted around us, and multiple screens showed photos and videos of the attacks while smoke poured out of simulated cargo boxes around us, I cried a bit. I imagined what it must have been like to be a kid from NY finding himself on board a carrier in the middle of the Pacific and wondering if he would live past the next 10 minutes. What struck home to me was that the narrative in Kamikaze: Day of Darkness, Day of Light was “told” in part by the Fire Marshall on board the ship whose job it was to see to it that any fires on deck were extinguished. He was struck and killed by a kamikaze jet while extinguishing the fire that the another kamikaze had caused.
My hubby and I plan to return with our three girls one day soon. Perhaps the film mentioned above is a little hard for the younger two, but it is appropriate for the oldest. There are so many hands-on activities, simulators, and scientific learning zones for them that they will not miss a thing. And the view on the flight deck is extraordinary. The Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum does not glorify war nor denigrate the enemy. It is intended to teach adults and children about what life aboard these vessels is like, the sacrifices made for our freedom and the extraordinary advances in science that enabled such feats of engineering.
In hindsight I was silly to put off this visit. It is easy to find parking in an adjacent lot, and there is always public transportation. It is not expensive and there is a wonderful walkway over the highway to lead you there. Finally, if you pick a weekday perhaps a bit off tourist season, it will not be crowded at all.
I will post more photos in the days to come. Scout’s honor!