Originally posted on Jan 30, 2010
Ever wonder what goes into building a museum exhibit, or writing a book? Here’s your chance to find out, and all at mach 9!
The USS Flier was a United States Submarine that struck a mine and sank in thirty seconds in 1944. Fifteen of her crew who had been on deck or just one deck down managed to survive, and started swimming for land. By morning, only eight were left. They had to forage for food, build rafts to explore other islands, were taken by guerillas and smuggled to American spy bases deep in Japanese-held territory.
They drank arsenic-laced water, traveled in boats laden with newlyweds and all their worldly goods, (including baskets of live chickens and bags of rice), hunted wild boars in the rain forest, found survivors of the Battles of Bataan and Corrigedor, and became the only submariners during WWII to escape their sinking sub, elude capture, and make it back home. The people they met and systems that helped them get out of danger were so top-secret that they were sworn to secrecy for decades.
Alvin E. Jacobson was 22, a member of the ROTC and left behind his education at University of Michigan to fight for his country. By August 14, 1944, he was the youngest of the officers to survive. By 2005, he was the last surviving member of the Flier’s crew, the only one who remembered the long-classified story.
He served his country during WWII, and after, operating a business that employed many, sitting on boards of museums and hospitals, and trying to make his community a better place. One of those museums was the Great Lakes Memorial and Museum (GLNMM), where I work. We take care of Flier’s sister, USS Silversides, the most successful surviving submarine of WWII.
This year, we are opening a new exhibit about the USS Flier, her lost crew, and the eight survivors. Though Al passed away in 2008, he sat down with me on video and audio tapes for many interviews for over two years, recalling this story. I and many at the museum miss him greatly, but are looking forward to building this exhibit, which was his greatest dream: to tell the story of the Flier so his lost crewmates would be remembered.
So how does one fill nearly 3,000 square feet of space with an exhibit that is (hopefully) interesting and interactive while being accurate? How does one publish a novel based on his tale at the same time? Come with me and we’ll find out. I have published only very small pieces before and I designed the Main Exhibit Hall in the same museum, so I’m not a complete novice….
But if this goes the way the last one did, it’s going to be one wild, amazing ride.