Independence Seaport Museum celebrates significant anniversary

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What is the story for you?

It’s an interesting question and one that sets the stage for an assortment of answers, but what is undeniable is that history is undoubtedly important in understanding how we got to our present.

At the Independence Seaport Museum, history is filled with aquatic and maritime influences that stretch back many, many years. But on Monday, there is a significant ceremony dating back to 1921 that will kick off with new features at the museum to follow suit.

On October 25 starting at 2 p.m., ISM and national partner organizations will honor the centenary of the unknown soldier aboard the cruiser Olympia. with a special ceremony on the bridge of this National Historic Landmark. After World War I, the US Navy chose Olympia bring the remains of an Unknown Soldier from Le Havre, France, to the Washington Navy Yards, where they would be interred in the New Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery.

The importance of Olympia didn’t just start and end with this specific trip either, and it even toured the city longer than the museum itself.

“If you think of today’s favorite athlete, musician, whoever he is… that ship was that one,” says Mike Flynn, ISM COO. In addition to having the honor of firing the first shot in the Spanish-American War, the cruiser Olympia and her captain George Dewey were practically rockstars at a time when the United States was changing from an autonomous entity to a global force. of international politics. the acquisition of areas such as Guam and Puerto Rico. So when it came time to do a huge task like a trip with leftovers, there really was no better choice.

“With World War I in particular, there were so many lives lost, so many more than any other war at that time. They wanted to give someone who has lost a loved one who has never returned a chance to mourn. The stranger in DC represents anyone who has lost someone – it could be your uncle, your boredom, your friend, whoever it is. It is intentionally unidentified. Olympia’s connection is incredibly strong. It is the only ship that remains to be transported with a stranger, ”explains Flynn.

Courtesy of the J. Welles Henderson Research Center

“We will probably never have another unknown soldier with modern forensic technology. It was important to a family who, so many years ago, sent their loved ones to such a different place and then did no closure when informed of its disappearance [to grieve]Adds Peter Seibert, President and CEO of the Independence Seaport Museum. “With COVID today, some of these families cannot be with their family members when they passed away and they were not able to have a funeral as they expected – that was the same set of circumstances for families in WWI and WWII when their family members were simply lost. So the unknown became a symbol for a nation to watch when you couldn’t go to the grave and didn’t know what had happened. You had no details. This feeling of isolation is quite important.

This trip that happened was not easy. As visitors will see in the museum’s exhibit, “Difficult Journey Home,” the men who made this journey to bring back the remains passed through huge obstacles, including a hurricane or tropical storm somewhere in the middle. Atlantic so large that the Marines on board (who served as bodyguards) attached themselves to the ship and the remains to keep them intact. The 11-panel installation examines the entire 16-day trip and highlights the extreme weather conditions the Cruiser endured. The ISM also unveiled a permanent bronze historical marker on Olympia where the coffin was placed during its transport in 1921 on the last Memorial Day, and which will be on display indefinitely.

The Monday ceremony is meant to signify the significance of this trip and the significance of what these remains meant in the past and what this symbolism means to our present.

“Planning for the ceremony has been underway for a few years. We are partners of the Society of the Honor Guard, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and they were very helpful in setting the stage for a ceremony, ”said Alexis Furlong, ISM Director of Marketing and Communications. “It’s a three-tiered approach for those present and watching online to understand the meaning of the unknown soldier. The symbolism has been lost over the years, we truly hope to inspire an entire generation again for those who serve, families and the city to see the significance of what happened on board so many years ago. .

Courtesy of the J. Welles Henderson Research Center

With the help of the Honor Guards for the Unknown Soldier and other military facets, the ISM Monday ceremony will feature a Navy marching band, an armed forces color guard and a squad platoon. silent drill of the Marines. There will also be someone from the French Embassy and the Marine Corps to speak, as well as Mayor Jim Kenney. Although this is the only ceremony honoring this event in the United States, one will also be held at the same time in Le Havre, France simultaneously.

The ceremony is very personal to some, including Carol Elliott whose grandfather Paul Hutchins was a US Navy World War I veteran and served on board. Olympia during this treacherous journey.

“After learning more about my grandfather and his naval service on Cruiser from Olympia historic mission, the celebration is a very special time for all of us. Her story had been “lost” in our family. After reading a newspaper article several years ago in the Washington Post about the upcoming centenary of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, my mother (Jane Hutchins Ewing) mentioned that her father had served on the ship that brought the remains of the unknown house in 1921. ”says Elliott. “I wasn’t aware of this connection and realized that I didn’t know much about my grandfather. I started my own journey. After personally researching the Captain’s Journal and the original Calling Roll at the Washington DC National Archives, I confirmed my grandfather’s naval service aboard the Cruiser. Olympia. What a pleasure it was to find his name typed in both books. ”

Paul HutchinsCourtesy of Carol Elliot

Elliott also requested his grandfather’s personal records from the military and reconstructed his trip from rural North Georgia, where he came from. From these recordings, she learned exactly what he had been able to go through: seeing the exchange of gun salutes, brushing the shoulders of government and military dignitaries, seeing the solemn procession in France as the remains were brought aboard the ship and hearing the group perform in honor of the Unknown Soldier. Especially when Olympia Docked in Washington DC to unload the coffin, her grandfather stood at attention on the Olympia rail to pay homage to the Unknown Soldier as the coffin was removed from the ship.

“I’ve seen photos of the occasion, and it’s humbling to know that my grandfather is one of the sailors in the photo watching the others receive the coffin,” Elliott continues. “All these years later, it was a joy to discover this piece of our family history and to get to know my grandfather during this period of his life. A highlight was taking my mom and dad, my husband and our kids on tour Olympia. Being on the ship knowing that my grandfather walked the same decks, slept in the hammocks, and experienced this trip was extremely surreal for all of us, and especially for my mom. The ceremony in Philadelphia in honor of Olympia leaving for her trip 100 years ago on October 25 will be special. There is also a plaque-laying ceremony and gun salute on November 9 in Washington DC, where Olympia docked to deliver the remains. I hope that many will visit the Olympia and consider supporting it financially to ensure that its history and stories are preserved for generations to come.

In addition to the ceremony, Philadelphians can learn more about the Cruiser Olympia through guided motor tours that take place every weekend (for around $ 10) where greater historical significance is brought to the present through advancements in technology. . This Engine Room is a roadmap for advancing the math and science of war and understanding life, as COO Mike Flynn puts it.

Carol Elliott (second from right) is pictured with her mother, Jane and her family.Courtesy of Carol Elliott

So what is the story for those who keep telling it?

“History for me is about identity, it’s about who we are,” Seibert concludes. “We are all products of our parents and grandparents. Somewhere in our past our ancestors survived epidemics, wars and this is how we are here, biologically but also historically. So for me it’s very personal. My grandparents met during the first world war, and for the people who come I am sure it is personal as they were directly or indirectly affected by this story. That’s why this one is so important.

To learn more about the Independence Seaport Museum, the October 25 Ceremony, and the Cruiser Olympia, visit

About Carlos V. Mitchell

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