Where can you see a spur that fell from John Wilkes Booth’s boot that fateful night at Ford’s Theater, sand from the Island of Iwo Jima, and a moon rock all in one place? Not the Smithsonian, or even anywhere in Washington D.C. You can find these historic treasures – and many more – in Annapolis at the United States Naval Academy Museum!
One might not think of a visit to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis when they think about a family outing, but the storied and picturesque campus is the perfect destination for a fun and educational day out with the kids. I feel rather remiss in not having figured this out sooner, being a former Navy girl myself.
Located in Preble Hall on the hallowed grounds of the U.S. Naval Academy, the museum has two floors of exhibits detailing the history, traditions, and role of our Navy in shaping this country, from sea to shining sea, to the moon and back. Check-in at the guard station, and a friendly service member will point you in the right direction.
Pose for a great photo op with a cannon or giant anchor before you pass through the doors and stop at the Visitor’s Desk. Here you’ll find knowledgeable, helpful and friendly docents who are all to happy to give you a map and an overview of what you can see and do on all three “Decks” of the museum. If you’d like a more involved experience, you can reserve a guided walking tour of the entire campus in advance for a fee.
Here you’ll “time travel” through history. Your starting off point, the founding of our Navy. In this section the kids can actually touch a piece of the USS Monitor (as in The Battle of the Monitor and Merrimack.) You’ll also see the famed, “Don’t Give Up the Ship” flag raised by Oliver Hazard Perry in the Battle of Lake Erie. Stop and watch light display that chronicles the raid on Pearl Harbor.
I asked my kids to pick their favorite exhibits from this “Deck” and it was a three-way tie between the NASA artifacts donated by academy graduate and Astronaut James “Jim” Lovell, the interactive battle maps found throughout, and the moon rock.
Housed on this deck is the Rogers Ship Model Collection. Not only will kids be impressed by what looks like hundreds of “toy” ships, they’ll enjoy the movie, a twelve minute introduction to the museum. This collection of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century ship models is also the largest public display in North America. Also on display here is a collection of prints illustrating 500 years of naval scenes as well as an impressive collection of coins.
The favorites on this deck were the 96-gun ship-of-the-line St. George was launched in 1701 – the model built around 1702, and the dioramas that depict live below decks.
We deemed this this level, “Below Decks.” The kids really got into the whole Naval jargon thing. Here the kids can watch actual, expert model-builders at work. These artisans restore old models, build new ones, and are thrilled to talk to your kids about what they do. There is also a great store here. Much better to buy your Navy souvenirs here rather than in some of the higher priced shops around town.
Once you leave the museum, take a stroll around the campus. The stunning chapel houses the crypt of John Paul Jones, a stunning example of marble work.
Stop by the gazebo for another photo op and then stroll down to the water. Note that there are several areas closed off to civilians – clearly marked – and picnicking is not allowed.
The best part? Admission the the campus, and the museum are free. There is also a limited amount of parking along the gates of the grounds that is also free. Can’t say you’ll find that anywhere in D.C.
(cool) edventure: U.S. Naval Academy Museum
118 Maryland Avenue
Annapolis, MD 21402-1321
Phone: (410) 293-2108
Hours: Monday – Saturday 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., Sunday – 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Guided Walking Tours: Tours depart from the Armel-Leftwich Visitor Center. Costs: $10 – Adults, $9 – Seniors (62+) $8 Children (1st – 12th grades) Children in kindergarten and under are free.
Parking: If you’re lucky you’ll snag one of the free spots near the entrance. Beware though, these are limited time spots and some are permit only. The closest public parking garage is Hillman Parking Garage, 150 Gorman Street, located just off of Main Street. Cost is $2 per hour, or $16 a day. The museum is actually within walking distance of Annapolis City Dock – lots of shopping and eats down there – where there is also metered parking.
Photo: Crypt of John Paul Jones, courtesy of USNA.edu