Graveyard museum starts over
with new exhibit designer
By CATHERINE KOZAK
Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum, located near the ferry docks in
Hatteras village, is back on board with an exhibit designer, after the
previous firm bailed shortly into the project.
But it’s a minor detour off course in the museum’s troubled 27-year
a frustration,” said executive director Joseph Schwarzer. “It
a delay. It wasn’t really a setback. As it turns out, I think the
design firm we have now will be even better.”
Riggs Ward, selected in early December, is expected to start working on
the exhibit and program plan in mid-February. Schwarzer said that the
design work should be completed in six to 12 months.
former contractor, Boston-based Christopher Chadborne &
-- which had started work about 1 ½ years earlier -- informed the
museum months ago that it was no longer interested in doing business.
“They dissolved it,” the director said about the company. “They simply
ceased to exist.”
One of the last jobs Chadborne completed was at Fort Raleigh National
who is also director of the North Carolina Maritime Museums, said that
the firm was paid about $6,000 for initial work, but otherwise the
museum’s biggest loss was time.
When the exhibit design is
finished, the museum will need about $2.3 million for exhibit
fabrication and installation, a separate contract that will take an
additional 12 to 18 months to complete. Funds are currently being
sought from public and private sources, Schwarzer said.
projects that Riggs Ward has designed include the 6,000-square-foot
exhibit “Life by Water’s Rhythms” and an interactive exhibit on sport
fishing at the Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education in Corolla.
The firm also collaborated in design of 1,500 square feet of exhibits
at Merchants Millpond State Park and will be designing exhibit
improvements at Roanoke Island Festival Park.
Brent Ward, a
principal in the firm, said that he and his partner, Bob Riggs, are
looking forward to working on the Graveyard museum project.
think it’s an exceptional story and it’s an exceptional location,” he
said in a telephone interview. “I think we’ll have an amazing number of
stories to tell.”
The genesis of the museum goes back to 1986,
shortly after the Monitor wreck was discovered off Cape Hatteras. The
famous Civil War ironclad had sunk in 1862 during a New Year’s Eve
storm. Village residents suggested that a shipwreck museum
be built in Hatteras to house the Monitor artifacts. Over time, the
museum concept expanded to memorialize and interpret the 400-year
maritime history of the Outer Banks, where thousands of ships were
victims of pirates, storms, and wars.
But it wasn’t until
1999, after painfully slow fundraising and drastic expansion of the
plans, that ground was broken for the museum ---- nearly two years
after the originally targeted opening date. Back then, the
project was estimated at $4.5 million. Today, the building
alone total about $7 million and funds to install the exhibits are
By 2003, the exterior was done, and the partially completed interior
opened for visitors.
The museum quickly became a hit, despite the sparsity of permanent
“We have a very high visitation,” Schwarzer said. “It’s been
absolutely outstanding. We go up every year.”
2011, he said, about 72,000 people visited; in 2012, there were about
80,000 visitors. Since the museum is not complete, there is
admittance fee, but a jar is located at the entrance for donations.
transferred to the state in 2007, the museum is now joined with the two
other maritime museums on the coast, but maintains its original
partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
and the National Park Service.
NOAA has provided about
$600,000 for the exhibit design work. The design fee is expected to be
about $568,000, said Mark Cooney, director of capital projects for the
state Department of Cultural Resources.
“We currently do not have any funding to build the exhibits,” Cooney
of artifacts are stored in the museum’s climate-controlled storage,
including numerous items on loan from the National Park Service, the
owner of the seven-acre site the museum sits on at the end of Hatteras
Doug Stover, the park’s Outer Banks Group historian,
said that most of the artifacts had been gathered from local residents
in the 1950s and were stored at the NPS archaeological facility in
Florida. All of the items relate to the U.S. Life-Saving
storms, shipwreck salvage or other pertinent themes the museum will be
Stover said that since the NPS has a partnership
with the museum, the loan will be for 10 years and will likely be
“We have some neat stuff that we’ll put on display,” he said, including
a number of centuries-old Spanish coins and olive jars.
particularly interesting find Stover and a colleague came upon on
Ocracoke Island after Hurricane Isabel in 2003 is a small piece of wood
from a shipwreck that had what was determined later to be an
bottle jammed in it.
The bottle’s cork was gone,
and it was filled with sand. As the bottle was turned over to dump out
the sand, Stover said, dozens of raw uncut South African diamonds
tumbled onto the beach.
“The ship probably sank,” Stover said. “We never determined what that
museum is open to the public from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Monday through
Saturday. For more information on the museum, visiting, and Hatteras
maritime history, go to http://www.graveyardoftheatlantic.com/.