Essence of a floating city

Puget Sound Navy Museum opens Stennis exhibit.

When walking up the stairwell at the Puget Sound Navy Museum, visitors will notice a rising line of 6-feet tall silhouettes, shaped as sailors, on the right-hand wall.

A giant message, “Beware of the jet blast, propellers and rotors,” is written on the wall leading to the second-floor entrance.

Visitors then enter the first room of the museum’s new USS John C. Stennis’ exhibit, which held its grand opening ceremony Monday.

“We wanted to capture the immense story of a floating city on a 1,700-foot ship,” said Ron Roehmholdt, exhibits chief for Navy Museum Northwest. “The technology and machines are nothing without the people. The people on the ship bring a lot of pride to our country.”

The Stennis is a Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier stationed in Bremerton. It is named after the late senator from Mississippi, whom former president Ronald Reagan once called the “the father of America’s modern navy.”

The exhibit is divided into two parts.

The first is the habitability section, which aims to provide visitors a glimpse of daily life on the ship, said Lindy Dosher, the museum’s curator and deputy director. These details include the crew’s sleeping quarters, athletics facilities and educational opportunities, among other things.

“I think it shows friends and family what it is like to live on the Stennis. It shows their life, which is pretty amazing,” said Betty Brennan, president of Taylor Studies Inc., which was awarded a $445,000 grant in September 2008 to construct the exhibit.

Dosher said the money came as an earmark from local U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Belfair).

The second part is the operations section, complete with an Ouija Board, the tactical diagram used to monitor where the various planes are on the carrier.

“That was a real jewel,” Dosher said. “It’s rare that the ships have an extra one of these laying around.”

The museum plans on adding some of the weapons from the carrier to display in the future.

“It’s a big hunk of metal if it doesn’t have weapons and can’t deliver the planes to where they need to be,” Dosher said.

Dosher did the bulk of the exhibit’s research. During the past two and a half years, she collected a number of artifacts, as well as interviewed members of the ship’s crew.

She said the navy was very helpful during the process, though the research was often disrupted. The ship was deployed twice during the process, to the North Arabian Sea in 2007 to supply services to the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and to the Western Pacific Ocean earlier this year.

“They want their stories told,” Roehmholdt said. “It’s not every day that people come up to them and ask what they do.”

The exhibit replaces a far smaller Stennis exhibit that was previously held on the museum’s second floor. The new model is the first permanent exhibit at the the museum, which opened in 2007.

“From the moment we started working on this, we knew it was going to be a bigger project,” Dosher said.

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