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23 Battleship North Carolina CURATOR OF COLLECTIONS Mary Ames Booker has a simple benchmark for success at the Battleship North Carolina: “Heart and history.” Her goal, she says, is for history to connect with the emotions of those visiting the vessel. The artifact and archival collection at the 728-foot museum and memorial berthed across the Cape Fear River from downtown Wilmington tells the story of the famous World War II-era battleship, as well as the history of all the vessels that have borne the name of the state, begin-ning with the first USS North Carolina, a 74-gun ship of the line launched in Philadelphia on September 1820, and continuing through the attack subma-rine North Carolina that was commissioned in Wilmington on May 3, 2008. Artifacts not on display in the exhibit hall or in display cases aboard the ship reside in a workroom below decks. There are rows of boxes on innumer-able shelves, containing letters, papers, photos, uniforms. The aged artifacts require protection from the elements. The room is cli-mate controlled with no bright light. “We preserve and share,” Booker says. Sharing became easier in 2013 when the battleship launched a digital archive. More than 26,000 records are available online. Booker sees her work as a way to teach history outside a classroom. She was drawn to museums after working as a college intern at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. “I just loved the way that they would bring history to life,” she says. Her volunteer work involved Revolutionary War history. “I would stand there with my Brown Bess rifle,” she says, raising her arms in the air with a smile, continuing as she takes aim, “and we had it rigged, so you could shoot if off — kushooo! — and people loved that! They all flock over and talk to you. So that’s a little bit of living history.” Curating at the Battleship involves a different kind of living history. The ship was commissioned in 1941. Some of men who served aboard her still come to annual crew reunions. “World War II was not so long ago,” she says. “I know it has been 70 years, but it is still within a generation of understanding.” Her father, born in 1917, was a WWII soldier in the U.S. Army Air Corps who served as a young officer in the European theater. “He loved history. I don’t know what he would think of this today,” she muses, looking around at her work. He taught her to love history too. Although he never talked about his time in the war, her work aboard a WWII battleship cements the bond between father and daughter. “It was a connection I had with him,” she says. The Battleship North Carolina is the perfect place to reach the next genera-tion with her passion for the millions of stories, from sea rescue missions, to battles in different theatres of war, to burials at sea. “Everything is chosen for a reason, so in a lot of ways, there are subtle messages involved, or you are making a big message, but you really want to get that symbol across,” she says. “I’m not a scientist, so I really do try to make a heart-connection.” As curator of collections, Mary Ames Booker helps tell the story of the Battleship North Carolina. www.wrightsvillebeachmagazine.com WBM


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