- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 21, 2006

“If it survived World War II, it will survive you touching it,” says Karin Hill, the U.S. Navy Museum’s director of education and public programs.

That’s the prevailing attitude at the museum in the middle of the Washington Navy Yard in Southeast, where unless an item is behind glass or specifically labeled “Please don’t touch,” everything is hands-on, even for the youngest visitors.

“We are a great family institution,” Ms. Hill says. “There is something at this museum for 8 months to 88.”

A quick phone call before visiting the museum will alert visitors to any unexpected closings or changes in the normal museum schedule, but reservations are necessary only for weekend visits. The museum offers a self-guided scavenger hunt. However, it’s well worth calling two weeks in advance for reservations for the guided tours and special programs.

Guided tours accommodate all age groups and are designed to meet state requirements for class field trips. Parents or teachers can call in advance for a list of the social studies, geography or history standards that a particular tour meets for District, Maryland or Virginia schools. The Web site also contains lesson plans and other pre-visit materials suitable for homework or class work.

Ms. Hill assures all visitors that the museum “will make it worth your while,” accommodating whatever special interests groups may have.

“We have set programs,” Ms. Hill explains, “but if there’s something special that the kids are learning, we can do that.”

In addition to guided tours, the museum offers several special monthly programs geared toward specific age groups. Little Skippers is a program for families with children age 5 to 12. In this program, parents are encouraged to accompany their children through a 20- to 30-minute naval history lesson, followed by a family activity. Little Skippers also hosts special events, such as Ghost Ship Barry, a Halloween treat in which the USS Barry will be transformed into a ship filled with fun surprises for children.

The Hip History program, designed for adults, provides what Ms. Hill calls a “unique” perspective on naval history.

“We don’t want people to think that the Navy is all about battles all the time,” she says.

That is why the program hosts such events as Pitchin’ In: Baseball, Homefront and the Navy during World War II. Focusing on the aspects of naval service that most citizens have never heard about, this program is highly educational and fun, Ms. Hill says.

For those who do understand the intricacies of the Navy a little better, such as the families of naval officers, for example, the museum’s history may seem like family history.

“I might end up joining the Navy … or the Marines,” says 17-year-old Kevin Ashbridge, son of Master Chief Petty Officer Scott Ashbridge. Kevin and his 15-year-old brother, Ryan, toured the museum recently with their mother, Dorie Ashbridge. Master Chief Ashbridge joined the Navy six months before he married Mrs. Ashbridge, so the Navy has always been a part of the family.

One of the major highlights of the museum is the Trieste, a research bathyscaph or deep-diving boat, crafted by Swiss scientist Auguste Piccard. The Trieste was sent to the bottom of the Gulf of Naples, a 10,300-foot dive, in 1953. The Navy purchased the bathyscaph in 1958 and modified it for deep-submergence tests in the Pacific Ocean. In 1960, Trieste was sent it to the bottom of the Mariana Trench to make the deepest ocean dive in world history.

“Trieste is our unique puppy,” Ms. Hill says.

In addition to Trieste and other noteworthy exhibitions, the U.S. Navy Museum is situated right next to the USS Barry, the Navy’s oldest ship still in commission. It was named after Commodore John Barry, an early national hero, and serves as an imitation submarine combat information center. This ship has a crew of 24 active Navy officers who support the Navy and help make the Barry a “living history site of the Cold War,” Ms. Hill says.

Though the museum and the ship are maintained separately, they work together to preserve naval history and educate the American people. According to Ms. Hill, the ship “draws people” to the museum and proves that the museum itself is meant to be interactive.

Four-year-old Robert Lawless smiles as he leads his uniformed dad around the U.S. Navy Museum, pointing, touching and delighting in the ships, guns and other naval machines on display.

“I liked it when we saw the ships and stuff,” he says, particularly the aircraft carrier. He explains that “planes land on it.”

When you go:

Location: The U.S. Navy Museum is at 805 Kidder Breese SE in the Washington Navy Yard in the District.

Directions: From downtown Washington, take Ninth Street Northwest south through the tunnel under the Mall. Turn left onto Interstate 395 (Southwest Freeway). Take the Sixth Street Southeast exit to the Navy Yard. Continue straight to Eighth Street Southeast and turn right. Go two blocks to M Street. On weekdays, turn left onto M Street and turn right into the gate at 11th and 0 streets at the first stoplight. On weekends, turn right onto M Street and enter through the gate at Sixth and M streets.

Hours: The museum is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends and holidays. Weekend visits require reservations, and guided tours must be booked two weeks in advance, both by calling 202/433-4882.

Parking: Parking is free, but limited. Be aware that all vehicles must register upon arrival. Call 202/433-8421 to ensure space is available.

Admission: Free

Information: Call 202/433-4882, or visit www.history.navy.mil.

Food: An assortment of chain food options are available at the Washington Navy Yard, as well as picnic tables for packed lunches.

Notes: A photo ID must be shown before entering the Washington Navy Yard. Calling to verify procedures and schedules is recommended.

Upcoming events:

• The U.S. Navy Band Clarinet Quartet will play at the Thursday-night concert series at 7:30 p.m. Thursday.

• A free candlelight tour of the Washington Navy Yard will be held at 7:30 p.m. Friday. Reservations are required; call 202/433-4882.

• The Ghost Ship Barry, a Halloween treat hosted on the USS Barry for Little Skippers — children ages 5 to 12 — will be held from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Saturday. For safety reasons, costumes, strollers and baby carriers are not allowed.

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