Philadelphia – More than Rocky and Cheesesteaks

Terminal leave continues to march along. On Friday I will officially have my last day on active duty – that sure arrived quickly. After that I return to a drilling status and, eventually, a paying job. I’d like a bit more time before that starts. For decompression, you know.

What that means is we’ve done some family travel to places accessible from the National Capitol Region, including the fair city of Philadelphia. For purposes of this blog, Philly is most notable for being home to USS Olympia, commissioned in 1895 as the sixth steel cruiser in the U.S. Navy. I visited several years ago and attempted to take the tour, but was denied due to air conditioning issues on a very hot day. This week, the weather was temperate and I was permitted to embark, which was basically like Christmas in September for this very eager SWO.

Some pictures and thoughts follow.

First, here’s a view of the ship from the river side, so you know what we’re talking about (courtesy of Wikipedia):USS_Olympia_2

In this picture, the bow is to the left and the stern on the right – the design is such that a novice might not be able to tell. Olympia is 344 feet long and displaces 5,870 tons, putting the 1890s cruiser about 200 feet shorter and 4,000 tons lighter than today’s Ticonderoga-class cruisers. Built in San Francisco, Olympia led the U.S. squadron at the 1898 Battle of Manila Bay, in which the Spanish fleet in the Philippines was sunk and Spanish influence in the Pacific essentially ended. You may agree there is at least a trifle of historic value in this vessel. (Bonus historic points: The battle gave us the namesakes of two current Navy destroyers, USS Dewey and USS Gridley)

When boarding this steel ship, the first thing to strike a visitor is, “Wow, that’s a lot of wood.” Welcome to Officers’ Country (though I’m not sure if that’s what they called it at the time). The very wide corridor aft of the wardroom is lined with officers’ staterooms.



Forward of the staterooms is the wardroom, placed roughly amidships on what today we would call the main or first deck. Warships of the time were lined with medium-caliber weapons, and even the wardroom, where officers dined and entertained, played its part:



But apparently even in the 1890s ensigns could be a rowdy lot, so if their seniors decided to banish them to the kids’ table, they had a place for that, too:


In comparison, here is enlisted berthing:


One of many random curiosities along the way is a brief narrative of what they did before Oscar came along:


Moving on, the coal-fired steam plant is not on exhibit, but you can at least glance down into it and admire the ability of Olympia’s firemen to conduct wipers. Wow, that plant is clean (it helps to be a museum).


Something we thankfully haven’t dealt with since the transition to oil is disposal of solid combustion byproducts: ash (now we just dump it all directly into the atmosphere – much easier). So at several locations throughout the ship are ash hoists, available for pulling ash out of the burners and keeping the boilers clean.


What then? Don’t show this to your Environmental Readiness Officer…

Would this count as oily discharge?

Would this count as oily discharge?

The tour then leads to the superstructure and gun deck, on what today we’d call the 01-level. Here’s the breech of a five-inch gun:


The gun deck was also a crew living space. So they could sleep securely.

This is the admiral’s cabin, which, all in all, looks pretty nice. Just to the right of the frame, with a couple components visible, is his own five-inch gun. I’m sure the carpet was there to prevent dings in the deck when it ejected spent powder cartridges.


Pretty sure the flatscreen TV is not an artifact of the period

Near the admiral’s and captain’s cabins was a Marine stateroom, in which this helmet was visible. Did people actually wear these outside of the Reich? This helmet might be the only thing in the tour I had truly never seen nor heard of before.


Of course, eventually you can get yourself topside, where my native Northern California self could find some pride.


Tourists cannot step onto the bow or get very near the eight-inch guns, but this is a good view of how the forecastle and turret are set up. A five-inch gun is visible at bottom.


That view was from the starboard bridge wing, but it was near the starboard engine order telegraph where history was made:



So, yeah, go see these guys:


No 121-year-old steel warship will continue to float in saltwater indefinitely. Visit before it rusts out!



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