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Life of a Sailor on Old Ironsides

Interactive Exhibits Aboard the USS Constitution Museum

The USS Constitution, a warship dating back to 1794, boasts an impressive amount of titles and bearings, including being the oldest floating warship in the world, and still proudly afloat today in Boston Harbor. Once a sinker of enemy ships, the USS Constitution is now a museum, educating all who visit about the ship’s glorious history. Anne Grimes Rand, President of the USS Constitution Museum, says, “I’ve been here for almost 30 years and been able to do what I enjoy.” Be ready to not only see the ships history, but scrub, tamp, furl, and even sign up to be a sailor—the USS Constitution Museum is all about making history a fully hands-on experience. “The museum has focused on trying to serve a family audience,” says Rand. “Lots of hands-on interactive challenges.”


Feel what it was like to serve as a sailor in All Hands on Deck: A Sailor’s Life in 1812. This fantastic upstairs exhibit includes climbing onto a scaled model of a yard and furling a sail, reclining back in authentic canvas hammocks that the sailors would have slept in, and even getting on your hands and knees, grabbing a holystone, and feeling what it was like to scrub the deck of the ship. “It’s building that sense of appreciation for what it was like to serve aboard the ship,” says Rand, “learning what it was like, standing aboard the ship, climbing.” More than actions, guests will get to “meet” the sailors that help keep the USS Constitution afloat.

“The personal stories are what I like best,” says Rand, “when you can bring to life someone like that through the tiny bits of research we’ve done.” Along the walls of the exhibit are life-sized cutouts of notable crew members, each with a plaque telling their own unique story aboard the USS Constitution.

In addition to learning about life on board the USS Constitution, the museum showcases the life of the ship itself, from its beginnings as lumber to the tall and glorious beauty that it is today. “It makes you think about designing them,” says Rand. “We’ve never built a navy and frigates before.” A notable part of this exhibit is one showcasing live oak, the amazing material used to build the USS Constitution. During the war of 1812, the USS Constitution was struck by the British frigate Guerriere, the largest ship the enemy commanded. Rather than being sunk, the ship merely glanced off the USS Constitution’s iron-hard sides—earning its famed nickname “Old Ironsides.”

When is the best time to visit? Summer certainly seems to be the busiest, so to avoid crowds plan on a spring or fall outing. “Over 96,000 visitors in one month, July,” says Rand, “that is a lot to keep us busy.” No matter what time of year, the museum and the USS Constitution is the perfect attraction for any family’s budget- it’s free! The museum only asks for donations, and their main goal is to share their love of the ship’s history. “The Constitution museum offers a hands-on and minds-on experience of life at sea 200 years ago aboard Old Iron Sides and makes history fun and exciting for all ages,” says Rand.

Starting in 2018 the USS Constitution will be offering harbor cruises. “It takes a while to get her fully re-rigged,” says Rand. “Next year she’ll be afloat again and back to her glory.” Seats aboard the harbor cruises are awarded via participation in a public lottery, so history buffs stay sharp and watch for news.

-By Ettractions Digital Content Editor, SARAH LEITH

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