Shipwreck museum has some new exhibits and programs
but completion is still way down the road
By CATHERINE KOZAK
years since its formal inception, the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum
will soon be the recipient of an actual shipwreck --- an impressively
The wreck discovered recently in Corolla, possibly as old as the 1607
Jamestown settlement, is expected to be trucked down Highway 12 to the
shipwreck museum in the wee hours one night this summer.
Once it arrives at the site at the end of Hatteras village, the
yet-to-be identified ship will be placed on a cement pad outside the
of the museum where eventually the public will be able to view it.
“This is wonderful, because that’s the northern-most limit of our
mission statement,” said Joseph Schwarzer, the museum’s executive
Schwarzer took a 4-foot section of the vessel to Greenville on May 25
to be examined by archaeological conservators, who determined that the
ship, originally about 70-feet long, was made of some kind of
oak. Between the use of trunnels --- wooden nails --- and a
number of mid-16th-century copper French coins, musket balls, and
birdshot found nearby, the vessel could date back to the early 17th
And he said the wreck is not the only exciting new
for the state attraction, which memorializes and interprets the
400-year maritime history of the North Carolina coast from the Virginia
border to Cape Lookout. Schwarzer said that the facility also
recently acquired more materials from German submarines, including the
main hatch from the U-85 sunk off Nags Head.
Still, it will be years before most of the artifacts in
temperature-controlled storage at the museum will be seen. Translation:
the museum is years away from finally being completed.
“I hope that the permanent exhibits will be designed, fabricated and
installed within the next three to four years --- that’s depending on
funding,” Schwarzer said.
The design, which has been funded, is expected to start in a few weeks.
From the time Hatteras residents first proposed a shipwreck museum in
1986, not long after the Civil War ironclad Monitor was discovered 16
miles off Hatteras, funding has mostly trickled in, with an occasional
cloudburst of donations or appropriations. Originally
for opening in 1998, funding goals skyrocketed in 1996 when the project
was doubled in size –to nearly 19,000 square feet --and cost: $4.5
Back in 1997, a $3 million fund-raising campaign was launched for the
Four years later
Schwarzer said that the museum needed to raise “another $3
The state agreed
to take over the museum three years ago and join it with the two
existing maritime museums in Beaufort and Southport, respectively. At
that time, Schwarzer estimated that another $2.7 million was needed to
complete the project.
This week, Schwarzer
said that the Graveyard museum is still in about as much need. Now it
has to raise $2.5 million required for exhibits.
When completed, Schwarzer said, the museum will be a $10-$12
Schwarzer, who is paid an annual salary of about $72,000, credits the
museum board’s Friends group with keeping the project moving forward
during the recent economic stress. In the past year, he said,
group has contributed a total of about $35,000, including
for the concrete pad, $4,000 for the security system, and $3,000 for
cleaning and construction.
“They’ve just been wonderful,” he said.
For the first time this summer, the museum will be conducting a full
schedule of programming, much of it staffed by one of the 26 or so
volunteers. Recently, the maritime museums have been sharing and
rotating staff, Schwarzer said, which has helped prevent layoffs.
Hatteras has three permanent staff, including the director, and one
temporary staff member.
While the museum works on getting the exhibits ready, it has plans for
numerous temporary exhibits in the recently-completed gallery,
including one this summer about pirates that features life-size models
of real buccaneers, pirate flags, and pirate galleons.
“It will be popular kitsch meets the real thing,” Schwarzer said.
“It’ll be fun.”
Other temporary exhibit themes will be the Scenic Byways and the
Monitor. Next year, the theme will be on the 150th anniversary of the
But for now, Schwarzer said he has been applying for permits to move
the shipwreck from Corolla to the safety of the museum, hopefully by
late July. Plans are also being made to have the 40-foot by 30-foot
concrete pad in place and cured long before then.
It has not yet been decided how the 400-year old wreck, the first to be
exhibited at the shipwreck museum, will be preserved, Schwarzer said.
Little is known about its origins, despite some wishful speculation he
has heard that it could be a pirate ship.
“It’s not,” Schwarzer said. “It’s a merchant ship.”
Kozak, a former reporter for The Virginian-Pilot in the Nags Head
office, is now a freelance writer for The Island Free Press and other
The Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum is located in Hatteras village
near the Hatteras Inlet Ferry Docks. The museum is not yet
completed but there are exhibits for visitors to see on the shipwrecks
and maritime heritage of the Outer Banks.
The museum is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.
Admission is free, but donations are appreciated.
The Web site is http://www.graveyardoftheatlantic.com.
This summer there is a complete schedule of events on most days at the
museum. Click here for the July
and the August monthly schedule.