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The Centennial Exhibit Moves On

After a most successful run of over three years and over ten million visitors, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History closed “Fast Attacks and Boomers-Submarines in the Cold War” on June 1 and dismantled it. For the past nine months the Naval Submarine League (NSL) has been working with the Naval Historical Center (NHC) and the Naval Historical Foundation (NHF) to preserve and move the exhibit from the Smithsonian to the Washington Navy Yard Museum. A Memorandum of understanding (MOU) between these organizations has been executed and implemented.

During the planning for the Submarine Centennial Celebration the Committee wanted to prepare an exhibit that would fulfill the League’s Charter to ” … to stimulate and promote an awareness, by all elements of American society, of the need for a strong submarine arm of the U.-S. Navy.” By all accounts, the Centennial Celebration succeeded in bringing the submarine message to the forefront of the American people. By far the most impressive piece of the Centennial was the 3000 square foot exhibit that was placed in the Smithsonian through the combined efforts of our planning committee and was successfully launched with a grand opening reception during the April 2000 Centennial celebrations.

Several NSL members served as docents and guided the millions of visitors through our exhibit for the past three years. An informative brochure was prepared for our visitors and provided a historical perspective of the Submarine Force and our missions. Two exploded view pictures are included to show the interior views of”fast attacks and boomers” to demonstrate the complexity and functionality of these magnificent machines. NSL recognized the performance of nine of our docents during our Annual Symposium in June.

With the closing of the exhibit in June, the three parties of the MOU agreed to work with the Smithsonian to preserve as many of the artifacts and displays as possible with the intention to reestablish the exhibit in the newly renovated Navy Museum at the Washington Navy Yard. Navy funding renovated the original towing basin building used by David Taylor and NHC has set aside over 7000 square feet to redisplay our exhibit, with additional items that they have accumulated. For example, a TRIDENT I (C-4) missile was recently acquired by NHC from Strategic Systems Programs (SSP) for this purpose.

NSL and NHF have jointly funded $44K needed for the dismantling and transfer of the exhibit from the Smithsonian to a secure Navy facility pending the completion of the renovations of the new museum facility and the design of the new exhibit. NHF sponsored a video tour of the exhibit prior to its closing with one of our docents providing the narrative to preserve the exhibit “as displayed”. NSL will also contribute $25K to help fund the design of the new exhibit and ensure that the integrity of our “Fast Attacks and Boomers” exhibit is preserved while incorporating the lessons learned during our stewardship of the exhibit in the Smithsonian. Two NSL members have been assigned to the Exhibit Design contract review team at NHF to provide the oversight desired to preserve our exhibit.

The Terrorist Attacks on September 11, 2001 have also impacted the planning to display the exhibit at the Washington Navy Yard. The Navy recognizes that the increased security required to protect our government assets also impacts the access of visitors to our government facilities. Several proposals have been made to move the Navy Museum to locations outside the Navy Yard and are under evaluation. NSL will have representation in these deliberations and will work to ensure that our exhibit is available to the public in the best forum available within the Navy Museum venue.

Completion of the new exhibit will take at least three years with substantial additional funding required to recreate the new presentation. NHF has the responsibility for raising the funds for the new exhibit and will be initiating a fund drive shortly.

Naval Submarine League

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