The Wisconsin Maritime Museum in Manitowoc Wisconsin is a much cooler travel destination than the name suggests. If you’re into history, especially World War II history, you are going to love this place. And if you have kids, they are going to love the museum, too.
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We first visited when our son was about 10 years old and the museum itself was quite limited. But we went for the U.S.S. Cobia, a World War II submarine that was built here, sank 13 Japanese destroyers in the South Pacific, and returned to its home on the western shore of Lake Michigan.
Our son loved it. He shimmied down the narrow stairway like a seasoned sailor and swung through doorways like a monkey. His parents moved a little slower, stepping gingerly here and there while watching our heads.
Sleep on a Submarine in Wisconsin
When it was built, the Cobia was home to 80 sailors working 12 hour shifts in 100-degree heat for up to 60 days at a time before they would surface. No fresh air, no sunshine, no showers in all of that time. They slept on bunks swinging from a chain, four on top of each other just about two feet apart, some right on top of torpedoes.
Chalk up another one for the greatest generation.
But give it a try yourself. Many nights, Scout troops or school and church groups take over the Cobia, but a couple of nights a month, families without any connection to such groups may choose their bunks and sleep with the fishes.
Fortunately, the Cobia is now air-conditioned and heated, but the toilets do not work. So for your middle of the night business, you’ll have to climb out of the hatch and up the hill to the museum’s fully functioning restrooms.
The Wisconsin Maritime Museum
My husband and I returned to Manitowoc several years later after the Wisconsin Maritime Museum had expanded. We spent several hours but still it wasn’t enough time to see it all.
It addition to the remarkable story of how this inconspicuous little town in the middle of the Midwest kept the U.S. Navy supplied with submarines during World War II, the museum also showcases the boat building industry in Manitowoc.
Other exhibits allow kids to play with boats in various pools of water designed to replicate conditions at sea. Kids may also build their own model boats as a souvenir.
Our son’s favorite souvenir, however, was a six pack of Torpedo Juice. Back in the day, during those endless days and nights hidden away in the ocean, sailors would mix pineapple juice with some homemade grain alcohol for a nasty mixture that would only taste good if you were stuck in a submarine with a bunch of smelly guys in the middle of the South Pacific for months on end.
Today, Torpedo Juice is a root beer flavored drink, but a fun souvenir bottle with a serious kick of history attached. And, at least in our home, it is a souvenir of one of our fun family vacations together in Wisconsin.