Museum of Science and Industry

Veterans Day (Day 24) was spent learning about submarines. I started the day with an in-depth tour of the U-505 exhibit. If you're not familiar with the U-505, it's the only German submarine in the United States and now a memorial to the American sailors who gave their lives on the high seas in WWII. MSI has had the sub since 1954 but for the first fifty years, the setting was less than ideal: it sat outside enduring the harsh Chicago weather and it was difficult for visitors to get a good vantage point of the boat's exterior. But in 1997 the folks at MSI started the process to have the sub restored and moved to a climate-controlled underground gallery. They broke ground in February 2003 and the exhibit opened in June 2005. The U-boat itself is amazing to see but the exhibit hall is impressive in its own right when you consider the engineering and logistics it took to build the space. Just think: they dug a giant hole a few blocks from the waters of Lake Michigan and then had to gently place a nearly 700 ton historic artifact in that hole. Just crazy. Here's a video showing the sub moving into its new home.

While the exhibit does a great job of bringing the story of the U-505 to life, my experience was even more complete through my conversations with former and current submariners. I was honored to have lunch with several U-505 exhibit volunteers who served on U.S. submarines (the men pictured in the first photo of this post). Later in the day, I had a chance to Skype with two of the USS Chicago Master Chiefs, John Butcher and Jeff Muniz, currently stationed in Pearl  Harbor. It was interesting to compare and contrast the experiences of a few submariners from WWII through the present. While technology has advanced (the USS Chicago, for example, can make its own fresh water and oxygen using reverse osmosis and electrolysis, respectively, while the U-505 only had what it could carry), the stories shared had some obvious similarities. Even today, submariners must be aware of the noise they make while aboard since sound travels so efficiently in water that even a dropped toilet lid could reveal their location. Also, the mental wear of being in tight quarters, without sunlight, for months at a time must be extremely challenging regardless of improvements in creature comforts.

While I learned a lot about subs today, the more significant impact was that I walked away with a slightly better understanding of what servicemen and women sacrifice during their military service to our country. And my feelings of appreciation, especially through celebrating Veterans Day, have grown as well. In the past, I've never built a day around Veterans Day. I would thank the veterans I knew but never devoted the time to really learn more about their experiences. It was a special day and I thank those veterans who helped to make it possible (both directly and indirectly). It's with reverence that I say happy Veterans Day.


The speaking tubes helped the crew communicate throughout the sub

Some bunks in the rear of the sub

 Ed McDonald oversaw the U-505 move and construction of the new exhibit space

The crew would have to operate these controls even in total darkness. The handles are shaped with slight variations to help distinguish one from another.

My daily schedule posted on the cube wall


  • Readers' Comments (1)
November 13, 2011

This is amazing. I remember when I visited the museum and met one of the gentlemen you are standing next to in the top picture. He had an amazing recipe (as he was a chef during the war) and was very helpful in answering questions about his years. I'm really glad they chose you for this round of Month at the Museum. You're a really good blogger and it helps to read about the museum from another person's point of view. Hopefully the museum will do this again. I would love to be in your shoes for a month at the museum. :)

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kevin byrne

A digital marketing analyst from Chicago, Kevin is living inside the largest science museum in the Western Hemisphere for 30 days.

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