An exhibit depicting the dramatic exploits of the USS Monitor at the NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island earned the Bronze Award in Media Production at the 2017 Southeastern Museums Conference Technology Competition.
The Turret Theater, which simulates the turret of the Civil War ironclad, immerses visitors with a multi-screen video display and surround sound experience depicting the 1862 Battle of Hampton Roads, and the sinking of the USS Monitor in a storm later that year. The cinematic experience blends archival images, paintings, dramatic reenactment and CGI, and was filmed inside and on the grounds of the Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, Va.
The NCARI Exhibits Department researched extensively the historic events and worked closely with digital firm Cortina Productions, the Mariners’ Museum, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on scripting and reviewing the production. Reenactors portrayed crewmen, supplying their own costumes and adding details of battle technique. Local actor and Lost Colony Associate Producer Lance Culpepper portrays narrator Paymaster William Keeler, whose letters and writings provide a rich retelling of the USS Monitor. Architectural firm Cambridge Seven Associates provided the design for the theater, drawing from the USS Monitor’s iconic turret, and the theater was introduced to the public as part of a major aquarium renovation in 2016.
“The USS Monitor’s history is closely tied to this area, and we wanted to make sure we were telling the story accurately and in a way that engrosses the viewer,” said NCARI Director Maylon White. “Creating that connection to this region’s history is an important priority for us, and it’s great to see these efforts get recognition by an organization like the Southeastern Museums Conference.”
The USS Monitor sank in stormy seas off the coast of Cape Hatteras while under tow en route from Virginia to Beaufort, N.C. The shipwreck wasn’t discovered until 1973, one hundred eleven years after its sinking. In 1975, the USS Monitor was designated a National Marine Sanctuary.
The Turret theater is surrounded by interpretational panels describing the discovery of the wreck and displaying some of the actual artifacts found aboard. A viewing area offers a good look at the 1/3 scale replica of the USS Monitor resting at the bottom of the Graveyard of the Atlantic aquarium, surrounded by sand tiger sharks, sand bar sharks and dozens of species of fish.