Did you know that during the 1940s, the Delaware River was so polluted, no organisms that relied on oxygen to survive could live in it? Or that Frederick Douglas escaped slavery by posing as a sailor? This was one of many surprising facts the students in the Karabots Junior Fellows Program learned during a recent visit to the Independence Seaport Museum.
Founded in 1960 as the Philadelphia Maritime Museum, the Independence Seaport Museum seeks “to deepen the understanding, appreciation, and experience of the Philadelphia region’s waterways.” It carries out its mission through exhibits, interactive activities, and historic artifacts. Among the items in their diverse collection are tools, paper records, model ships, and two historic maritime vessels: the Cruiser Olympia and the submarine USS Becuna. Recently, the Karabots Junior Fellows visited the Seaport Museum to learn more about maritime history, ecology, and the unique impact Philadelphia’s waterways have influenced local, national, and international history.
Upon their arrival, the students broke into small groups and took part in a photo scavenger hunt designed to immerse them in the exhibits, activities, and artifacts the Seaport Museum has to offer. Among the museum’s offerings are Tides of Freedom: African Presence on the Delaware River, a frank depiction of the African American experience in Philadelphia relative to shipping, sea travel, and manufacturing; a recreation of the bridge of a US Navy destroyer, numerous model ships (some of which were built by inmates at Eastern State Penitentiary), and a traditional boat shop where volunteers still practice boat building.
After exploring the site on their own, the students took part in Ecology of the Delaware, a hands-on lesson aimed at teaching environmental history and the important role the Delaware River plays in the daily lives of people living in the Delaware Valley. During the lesson, they conducted various tests on Delaware River water, including measuring depth, temperature, PH levels, and phosphate content.
After our activities concluded, several opted to stay and explore the Cruiser Olympia and the submarine USS Becuna. Overall the experience gave our students a greater appreciation of the impact of Philadelphia’s waterways.