Down under

mmet Sullivan

It’s not hard to discover the current main attraction of the Museum of Science and Industry. Banners for it fly within a block of the museum, and once you’re inside signs for the exhibit overwhelm the walls.

It’s the “U-505 Submarine,” a 35,000-square foot interactive exhibit open now at the Museum of Science and Industry, 57th Street and Lake Shore Dr.

Last June, the museum reopened its permanent exhibit of the restored U-505 to tell the story of the sub and commemorate the 55,000 American sailors who died in both World Wars.

“We are trying to tell the story of how it was captured and why it was considered important,” says curator Keith Gill.

The sub is really the climax in the exhibit. First, visitors see blown-up news articles about World War II and the devastation it caused. Next, they pass through a model of F-21, a secret Navy submarine tracking room. A video plays of several officers and Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, or WAVES, tracking a German submarine off the coast of Africa.

“It’s a technical type of exhibit,” Gill says. “It shows the types of things we learned. There’s multimedia, 200 artifacts – some never before seen – and about a half-dozen interactive oral histories.”

The path finally opens into a room containing the 252-foot submarine. The exhibit includes videos, pictures, a look at artifacts found onboard and interactive displays. Visitors can control a mock periscope, test drive a submarine and try to crack Enigma messages, the secret code system Germans used during the war.

The exhibit also includes an on-board tour of the U-505. The tour, which lasts for 15 minutes, takes visitors through the cramped passageways of the sub. Although it’s well-lit, the tour shows off the blue back-up lights used in emergencies. The crew quarters were placed wherever there was free space – including beside the torpedoes. Clanking sounds from the engine room play throughout the tour.

“It was amazing,” Paul Grogan of Madison says. “It kind of gave you a better feel for what it was like to be on one.”

The onboard tour showed visitors places ranging from the torpedo room to the galley on the ship.

“It was excellent,” Eugene Shackleford of Chicago says. He brought his two children to the exhibit. “I would like to see mirrors on (the ceiling) to see what’s going on up there, though.”

There’s still plenty to see after the tour of the sub ends. Videos play of first-hand accounts from the members of the boarding party and veterans of the war. Torpedoes are on display next to all the artifacts the museum found on board. Finally, the tour ends with a look at how the sub made it to the museum.

“There is also a video from 1964 of a reunion at the sub of the American and German captains,” Gill says. “The underlying story is the heroism of the people involved in the capture.”

The U-505 is the only German sub in the United States and the world’s only remaining Type IX-C submarine, as well as a National Historic Landmark. The U-505 was captured on June 4, 1944, two days before D-Day. After attacking the sub with three American ships, Lt. Albert David led a nine-man boarding party to capture the U-505.

David found the ship deserted of its 54-man crew, so Capt. Daniel Gallery, commander of the U.S.S. Guadalcanal, ordered the sub to be towed 2,500 nautical miles to Bermuda so the Navy could study its secrets.

The submarine suffered a lot of damage under the attack and was in danger of sinking throughout the ride home, but ultimately the U-boat made it back to America. After the war, the U-505 toured the East Coast, until Captain Gallery suggested the Navy donate the ship to the museum in 1954.

“It’s much improved over the last one,” says Grogan, who first visited the U-505 exhibit a few years ago at the museum before it was restored.

Previously, the sub was on display outside the museum’s Henry Crown Space Center, but it had to be moved indoors because of Chicago’s weather. In 1997, the museum launched an operation to restore the sub and move it to a climate-controlled room inside.

The restoration was a challenge for the museum. Restoration workers had to find the sub’s exact paint color from old photos, and it took five months to clean and repair the hull of the ship. Workers also had to copy and recreate brackets from old drawings of the sub. The main problem was moving the ship, which weighs about three times as much as the Statue of Liberty.

“We had to understand how to best move it,” Gill says. First, though, the boat needed to be repaired.

“It was a very large effort to make sure we kept the originality of the boat,” Gill says.

The interior was restored, too, with new authentic lighting and added sound effects. The museum also reproduced and replaced worn down countertops and aluminum floor plates.

“We can show off more of the complexity of the inside of the boat,” Gill said. “It’s a greatly improved exhibit.”

The museum tried to make the sub as accurate as possible to recapture the feeling of discovering the submarine during World War II.

One of the biggest threats to Allied forces during World War II was the German Unterseeboat, or U-boat. U-boats sunk 1,150 Allied ships in 1942 alone. Only one has ever been captured: the U-505.

“It’s an amazing story and a great lesson in history,” Gill says. “Chicago always has world-class attractions, and this is certainly a world-class exhibit.”

Medill sophomore Emmet Sullivan is a PLAY writer. He can be reached at [email protected]