“The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” -Robert Burns, Scottish Poet.
Sunday morning, I had it all figured out. I would depart my home and head to Quincy, Massachusetts, to visit the home of President John Adams and his son, President John Quincy Adams, the second and sixth Presidents of the United States, respectively. Their homes are now part of Adams National Historic Park, which is overseen by the National Park Service. The park is so popular that you can only visit as part of a tour group, led by a park ranger. I should have known that things were not going to go according to plan when I realized, halfway to Quincy, that I had forgotten my National Park Services Passport. Then, despite using GPS, I managed to get lost twice while looking for the park’s Visitors Center. Finally, I parked and made my way to the Visitors Center, only to find out that the tours of the park were completely sold out for the day.
Dejected, as I walked back to my car, I scrolled around the map application on my phone, trying to find anything of interest nearby, so as to salvage the trip. There, in the corner of the map, was the United States Naval Shipbuilding Museum, which houses the USS Salem, a heavy cruiser that served in the US Navy in the mid-20th century. I headed east on Route 3A before my GPS directed me into a very gritty train yard and dock. I was about to turn around, figuring that I had gotten lost once again, when I spotted a tiny sign for the museum and an arrow pointing down an access road. Through dirt, gravel, and a bit of mud, I pressed onward until I turned a corner and came face to face with a 17,000 ton warship.
The USS Salem heavy cruiser was designed during the Second World War and built in Quincy, Massachusetts. The vessel was capable of traveling at a very fast 33 knots (which is still an impressive speed for a ship of this size), its four boilers producing 120,000 horsepower. The ship was well-armed, with nine 8″ guns, twelve 5″ guns, and twenty 3″ guns. This 717-foot long vessel was operated by a crew of 1,799 sailors and officers. It served for only ten years, however, as by the early 1950s, it was already obsolete: missiles were the way of the future, and this all-gun design was behind the times. It was decommissioned in 1959, two months shy of ten years of service (via Wikipedia). For a naval warship to only serve ten years is the equivalent of buying a brand new car and only owning it for a year or two before trading it in. The Salem was stored at the Philadelphia Naval Yard until 1994, when it returned to its birthplace to form a new museum.
Despite only being in service for 10 years, the Salem had a busy career. It served primarily in the Atlantic and Mediterranean Oceans. It was called on for disaster relief after an earthquake in Greece in 1953, it patrolled the Mediterranean during the Suez Crisis of 1956, and it paid a visit to Monaco to celebrate the birth of Prince Albert II, who is the current leader of that principality. It has also been a movie star, as well! It portrayed the German battleship Admiral Graf Spree in the 1956 film The Battle of the River Plate. More recently, many of its interior spaces were used during the filming of the 2016 film The Finest Hours, as it stood in for the doomed freighter SS Pendleton, which broke in half off Cape Cod during a violent winter storm in 1952.
The USS Salem is a terrific place to spend a few hours. Less well known than Battleship Cove in nearby Fall River, the ship is a quiet spot, staffed by a friendly and knowledgable group of volunteers. The ship is open Saturdays and Sundays from 10:00 am – 4:00 pm. Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and children 4 -12, and children 3 and under can visit for free. While there were other guests on board, for long periods of time I had entire sections of the ship to myself. If you are in Quincy, I would highly recommend making a detour to this very cool exhibit. Thanks for coming along on another Voyage of DH!