Below Deck

Clearly authenticity has not been sacrificed to the comfort and convenience of visitors, so this may not be the ideal tour for the old or the infirm. Steep staircases—ladders, really—take you between decks, and the floors are often something less than smooth and level. One option for the less than spry might be to wait it out in the snack bar or gift shop or a nearby picnic table, though it's going to be a bit of a wait. It takes a good two hours to have a quick look at everything there is to see and, for the enthusiast, more likely the better part of a day.

But what a taste you'll get of a floating city from yesteryear. Just like New York where she was built, it was the battleship that never slept. Metal bunk beds, four to six high, were used in shifts, with sailors rolling out of them at all hours of the night and day.

That is to say, deliberately rolling out of them. To keep from accidentally flying out of an upper bunk when the ship lurched, the sailors would tie ropes around their waists and hook themselves to the railing.

Privacy had to be an issue, because obviously there wasn't any. Locker space was miniscule and the personal quarters were all-around tight. African-Americans slept on a lower deck, were not allowed in certain areas and were generally assigned to the maintenance or cooking facilities.

Yellow arrows and big signs guide the way and explain a little about each area, and without them it would be tough to find your way through the labyrinth. At various stops along the way, be it the bake shop, the butcher shop, or the engine room, an explanation of purpose is many times accompanied by photos and reflections from original crew members.

At one point you'll find a reminiscence of what it was like living on a ship with 2,000 other men and, at another point, a black-and-white photo of a bunch of naked guys lined up to get a shower before an evening meal.

According to the film, "because of the immensity of the ship and the size of her crew, everything had to be done on a grand scale. The crew fed 2,000 men in just one hour. When pumpkin pie was on the menu, 100 pounds of sugar and 30 dozen eggs were required, not to mention the 100 crewmen needed to serve the meal and wash the mounds of dishes."

One can readily imagine the mess hall living up to its name and hear the clacking of those old black Underwood manual typewriters in the post office. Waves of steam heat must have poured out of that engine room, possibly creating the inspiration for that ice cream shop.

Work and play areas tended to run together in this confined space. The men performed damage control, directed aircraft in engagements with the enemy, and also worked in the infirmary, barber shop and laundry. Each gun required ten to twelve men to operate it, and countless other posts ranged from signal flags and machine shops to medical personnel and janitors.

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Terms: Battleship North Carolina: Below Deck

Battleship North Carolina: Below Deck

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