of the exhibit design for the seemingly always almost-finished
Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum is continuing to be pushed back, with
a final plan likely another year out.
“We have revamped the
plan to reflect a more engaging content,” said Joseph Schwarzer, the
museum’s executive director. “I think we’ve identified the broad
At a meeting with the public in May 2013, the
design team with Richmond-based Riggs Ward said it was expected the
design package for the Hatteras museum would be ready by the end of
Although the earlier estimate was unrealistically
optimistic, Schwarzer said, the design work is progressing well, and
still incorporates innovative approaches. Input from the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the state Department of
Cultural Resources, and the public has also been considered in the
When a comprehensive plan with illustrations
and costs can be handed to would-be donors, Schwarzer said, then
fundraising for the $2.4 million needed for fabrication and
installation of the exhibits will begin. Once the money is nailed down,
it would take about another two years or so to complete the exhibit
Mark Cooney, director of the capital
projects unit for the state Department of Cultural Resources, said that
no funds have been provided in any state budget for the exhibit
fabrication, which is considered a capital improvement. But Cultural
Resources has listed the project as its second priority, behind
restoration of the USS North Carolina, in its 2011-2017 capital
improvement wish list.
Cooney said the state is requesting
$3.2 million for the museum exhibit work, but even in the best-case
scenario, the earliest it would be budgeted would be in 2015-2016.
“I think what we’re really going to have to do is tap into the private funding mechanism,” he said.
Alberg, the superintendent of NOAA’s Monitor Marine Sanctuary, had told
the Dare County Board of Commissioners at its Aug. 4 meeting that the
funds for the museum exhibit would be provided in 2017, and that the
hope was to have the permanent exhibits installed around that
But he conceded in a later telephone interview that budgets are mutable things.
no state or federal government can guarantee (future budgets),” he
said. “The point is, they slated a request for the 2017 budget. But
anything can happen between now and 2017.”
Alberg said that
NOAA has already given the museum about $2 million toward construction
of the building and another $620,000 for the exhibit design.
“We wanted to help the state as much as we could,” he said. “But we don’t have the $3 million to build the exhibits.”
Meanwhile, a concept for the way the exhibits will look is coming together.
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Fresnel lens exhibit in the lobby will be
moved to the main gallery, opening up the museum’s entry, Schwarzer
said. But the lens exhibit will be still visible as visitors enter, he
said, allowing them “to be able to take it all in.”
than having displays arranged in traditional sequential or timeline
order, Schwarzer said the gallery space will be kept visually expansive
and exhibits will be displayed in a “free-flowing” pattern.
design, he said, will be a “bubble plan” that divides gallery space
into areas with intersecting themes and topics. For instance, one area
may be devoted to storms and include displays on aids to navigation and
lighthouses and lifesaving stations; another could be devoted to
conflicts, and show artifacts from wars and piracy; other areas could
interpret the local culture, early history and maritime commerce.
Emphasis will be on the human story behind the exhibits, the tales of
heroism, ingenuity, sacrifice, resilience, loss and survival.
goal, Schwarzer said, is to give the visiting public a comprehensive
view of the rich heritage and cultural history of maritime life on the
coast. Changing and interactive digital screen monitors will explain
the displays, allowing for exhibits to be readily updated or rotated.
And NOAA will assist with various kiosks, for instance, on wave action,
wind and geological stages of the barrier islands.
“It will be compact and rather intense as far as its informational content,” Schwarzer said.
shipwreck -- described as perhaps the oldest ever found in North
Carolina -- that was transported in 2010 to the museum from the site
where it was discovered in Corolla will also be incorporated in the
exhibit, Schwarzer said. The shipwreck, which he said had dried out
when it was removed from the sand, is currently sitting on a slab on
the side of the museum, he said.
The vessel is sheltered, he
said, but it is deteriorating because its timbers cannot be rehydrated.
A more protective shelter would cost $120,000, he said, which is not
“We’re trying,” Schwarzer said. “All you can do is elevate it and keep it as dry as possible.”
will be a significant exhibit interpreting the Battle of the Atlantic,
the bloody U-boat campaign in 1942 in which numerous vessels were sunk
off the Outer Banks. There were also several German submarines sunk by
U.S. airstrikes and Navy vessels off North Carolina.
said that NOAA and the museum are working with area divers to find a
respectful way to allow artifacts divers had salvaged years ago from
U-boats to be displayed.
“NOAA, the State of North Carolina
and the German government acknowledge that the German U-boats are
considered war graves and agree that in-situ preservation is the
preferred policy, however artifacts that were removed from the German
U-boats in the past should nonetheless be preserved and displayed in a
public museum,” Alberg said in an e-mail. "Toward that end, NOAA
is consulting with Germany and the State of N.C. in regard to the
conservation and curation of previously recovered artifacts with
the goal of displaying these artifacts within the State’s maritime
“NOAA and the state,” he added, “are working
closely together to educate the public about the laws that protect many
of the shipwrecks off coastal North Carolina.”
There is also a
separate effort to find funds to create a small traveling exhibit that
recognizes and documents key figures in the recreational wreck diving
community in North Carolina, Alberg said.
German government had earlier agreed to allow the Enigma decoding
machine salvaged from the U-85 off Nags Head to be displayed at the
museum. Schwarzer said the museum recently received “an absolutely
fantastic” donation of a U-boat handbook depicting the coasts of Norway
Digitalization of the museum’s collection is
underway, he said. Ideally, the public will be able to access that
information both at the museum and online.
With about 2,0000
shipwrecks believed to be located in waters off the Outer Banks –
likely the highest concentration in the world -- the 20,000 square-foot
facility was built to interpret the dramatic 400 year maritime history
of the Outer Banks. Many of the wrecks were caused by treacherous
Diamond Shoals off Hatteras, leading to the infamous nickname of
Graveyard of the Atlantic.
From the time the museum was first
talked about in 1986, when the remains of the famed Civil War ironclad
Monitor were found off Hatteras, it’s been rough-going, even
occasionally coming close to sinking.
It wasn’t until 1999
that ground was finally broken on a 7-acre site owned by the National
Park Service, and – with the interior just partially-completed -- the
$7 million museum opened to the public in 2003 with scaled-down
Still the facility located across from the Hatteras
ferry docks has proved to be a popular attraction, with about 80,000
visitors a year. Visitation this year is trending to equal or exceed
In 2007, the museum was transferred to state
ownership and joined two other North Carolina Maritime Museums on the
coast, which Schwarzer also directs.
Since the museum is not
finished, no entrance fee is charged, but donations have been about
$30,000 a year, said Melanie Schwarzer, with the Friends of the
Graveyard of the Atlantic. The museum also garners about $35,000
annually in special license plate sales, she said.
said that the museum recently added a new exhibit on the ensign flag of
the vessel Monticello, and the Civil War exhibit will be updated one
more time. Updates are also planned for the recreational and commercial
fishing exhibit and are being considered in the diving exhibit.
Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum is located near the ferry docks in
Hatteras village. It is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m.
There is no admission fee but donations are accepted. For more information, go
to the website,