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Home > Curator's Corner > July 2010 > Revealing Mess Deck Life
Revealing Mess Deck Life
Intrepid Teens Blog
Posted: 7/22/2010 2:13:15 PM

Restoring historic spaces aboard Intrepid is an enormous responsibility.  Our curatorial and exhibits team strives to accurately recreate Intrepid’s appearance during her Navy career.

This commitment to historical accuracy requires extensive research using a variety of sources.  Intrepid herself offers a wealth of information about her past.  Like archaeologists, we carefully peel back layers of Intrepid’s history as we uncover historic paint colors, former bulkhead locations, and other physical clues.  Photographs provide another type of visual evidence, revealing details about the equipment, signage, or personal items that would have occupied a space.  Last but certainly not least, conversations with former crew members help us bring compartments to life through personal stories and recollections.

Once we complete a restoration, visitors can enjoy the results of our efforts.  However, they don’t always get a chance to see the research that informed the final product.  Thanks to a grant from the New York State Council on the Arts, we recently unveiled a new interactive exhibit on the Mess Deck that offers a peek at the research materials that we use to tell Intrepid’s story.  Three touch screens present items from the archives of Robert M. Craig, the Food Service Officer who oversaw the renovation of the mess deck in 1969.  Photographs, menus, comment cards, memos and other items reveal what it was like to work and eat on the mess deck. 

The new exhibit illuminates a specific period in the life of Intrepid’s mess deck – the period that we’ve recreated in our exhibit spaces.  After completing her third tour of duty in Vietnam, Intrepid entered dry dock in 1969 for an overhaul that included a major renovation of the mess deck.  Money came from a Navy fund dedicated to improving shipboard living and leisure facilities.  As reenlistment rates plunged during Vietnam, the Navy funded projects like this to make Navy life seem less rigid and impersonal.

With custom paint colors and quirky decorations, the newly remodeled mess deck offered lively spaces for enlisted crew members to eat, relax and socialize.  Crew members appreciated the personal touch, and Navy officials were impressed as well.  The Intrepid took third prize overall in the Navy’s prestigious Capt. Edward F. Ney Award for outstanding food service.

Each of touch screens focuses on a particular theme –Training & Sanitation, Cooking & Eating, and Remodeling the Mess Deck – and showcases original documents and photographs.  Here are two of my favorites:

Welcome to Messcooking
The mess deck gave new sailors their first taste of shipboard work and discipline.  New, nonrated enlisted sailors often were assigned to work as “mess cooks” for three to five months after arriving aboard the ship.  Their tasks ranged from filling salt shakers to scrubbing passageways.  The booklet “Welcome to Messcooking” introduced sailors to their responsibilities as mess cooks and as Intrepid crewmembers. On the kiosk, flip through the booklet to learn how sailors were expected to make their bunks and label their lockers:

Click image to enlarge

Comment Cards
Intrepid’s Food Service team was committed to improving service.  Sailors could register their opinions by using the Food Service Suggestion Box.  Food Service staff implemented many of their fellow crew members’ suggestions and kept their fellow sailors informed of any improvements.  Posted responses to the comments explained how Food Service was addressing a given suggestion, or why a particular idea wasn’t possible.  Check out this reply to a complaint that the mess served too much roast beef:

Click image to enlarge

These are just two examples of the many intriguing items that you can discover in our new exhibit.  Ever wonder what was on the menu in the mess?  Or what the mess deck looked like before and after the renovation?  Want to see the results of a mess deck sanitation inspection?  Visit Intrepid’s mess deck and see for yourself!

Jessica Williams
Curator of History

The mess deck interactive exhibit is made possible with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, a state agency.