May 19, 2024

Museum Reviews - Boston 2024

While in Boston ahead of the Naval Gazing meetup, I was able to tour some of the city's coastal defenses, and go back to one of the ships I saw during my last visit to the northeast that had not been on my iternary.

One of the casemated walls at Fort Independence

First, there was Fort Independence on Castle Island, the oldest continuously fortified site in British North America. Fort Independence is a fairly typical third system fort, a masonry star fort with casemates in the walls facing out to sea. These days, it's a public park, with easy access by car if you're on the south side of downtown (it's not an island any more), although public transit access seems to be lacking.

I was very excited to see the fort

Unfortunately, Boston doesn't seem to believe in fun when it's not proper summer, and the interior of the fort doesn't open until Memorial Day. Lord Nelson and I hiked around it, which gave me almost exactly enough time to explain the rough history of the site, how the fort was built, and what all of the bits we could see were. But even with the ability to see into the inner courtyard, all of the rooms were still off-limits, and we went away somewhat disappointed. All that said, it was cool to see, and I would like to come back some day when it's open properly.

I also wanted to get back to Cassin Young and see the bits that aren't on the main deck, but it turns out that Boston's hatred of out-of-season fun extends to the point that she isn't open except in the summer. Instead, I ended up heading back to see Salem, and was pleasantly surprised by what I found. Her crew have clearly been hard at work, and the paintwork is in significantly better shape than it was during my last visit. I also got to talking to some of the crew, who seemed optimistic about their vessel.

The entrance to the shipyard

The improvements to the visitor experience started with access. The tiny sign on the main road of 2018 has been replaced by a fairly obvious marker of which way to go, pictured above. They've cleaned things up outside, as well as raising their prices to more in line with museum ship norms (which is definitely good for the ship, and thus for visitors long-term). Salem herself remains probably the most technically interesting museum ship in the fleet, the last vestige of the gun age and an exemplar of USN thinking during the war, instead of before it. Aboard, almost everything on second deck is open and in good shape, and her smaller size makes it easy to see the whole "city at sea" without the amount of walking required on a battleship. Turret 2 is open, showing the astonishing guns, capable of firing 10 8" rounds a minute, and there are a bunch of early Cold War systems on the ship that are nearly unique in the museum ship fleet. Even better, Engine 3 is now open, allowing visitors to see the propulsion system, both boiler and turbine, that propelled the ship, a close cousin of the system used on Iowa.

Bulbasaur also enjoyed Salem's engine room

There are only one real problem with Salem as a museum ship: she has almost no signage and no real tour route. Now, if you have the opportunity to tour her with me, this is not a problem at all. I can easily give a tour in an hour or so, with lots of interesting things to see and very little wasted time. But if you don't have a warship geek in your group, then you're going to be largely on your own, which isn't likely to lead to a great experience. If they laid down some arrows and got decent signage, she'd be a true gem, and a strong recommendation as a ship that has an hour or so worth of stuff to see not far from Boston, in contrast to the longer trip and rather overwhelming scale of Battleship Cove. But without that, she's going to remain hard to recommend to those who aren't serious connoisseurs of the museum ship.

Constitution's main deck1

After the meetup, Rebecca went up to Boston and toured Constitution, and her thoughts largely echoed mine from my original review, although she was more put off by the lack of signage onboard and the kid focus of the museum led to a lot of simplifications that I didn't notice when I visited. I've since grown more sensitive on signage issues, and would probably be less kind if I were to visit again today.

1 Photo courtesy of Rebecca Friedman


  1. May 20, 2024Ian Argent said...

    "Unfortunately, Boston doesn’t seem to believe in fun when it’s not proper summer"

    Legendarily, anyway. (I'd link to the TVTropes page in question, but it's been retitled, and CW enough that I will refrain)

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