Visiting the U.S.S. Edson on the Saginaw River

Name several of Bay City, Michigan's attractions on the Saginaw River. The fireworks, the River Roar, and the Tall Ships are all hallmarks of the town but the U.S.S. Edson at the Saginaw Valley Naval Ship Museum has the makings of being another excellent tourist destination.

In the last several years, the destroyer was acquired and has been undergoing a large amount of TLC. I visited on a Wednesday morning and had the entire ship to myself. About 80-90% of the ship is accessible for personal tours but it is not handicap accessible and there are many stairs between decks. Attend on an off-day when there are virtually no crowds and take 1.5 to 2 hours to walk through the ship.

Stepping into the ship, it is best to work from the bottom up. The bottom contains the engines, some sleeping areas, and small maintenance shops. You will go back up the stairs to where you started and work from the back to the front. From the front, climb several decks to the bridge, exit onto the deck, and explore the exterior towards the rear exit.

The ship was operated by over 200 men but it feels like the ship would have sufficed with just 50. The cozy medical room seems ill-equipped to handle multiple casualties, the barbershop and mess hall must have had a busy stream of business, and I am still trying to figure out where they all slept. Don't expect a polished environment like some naval museums. The ship still has raw character that tells a story. The walls with peeling, stained, or missing wallpaper would probably have great stories of a by-gone day. Embrace the smells like the musty and oily smells of the halls or the sweaty/old-McDonald's-Happy-Meal aromas in the cabins.

Upon entering the officer's mess hall/conference room, one of the most beautiful, interesting pieces of history caught my attention. At the end of the room, above the sofa, is a tattered, ragged, old flag. The description next to it reads: “This flag was flown on the U.S. naval destroyer U.S.S. Selfridge DD-357 on December 7, 1941 during the attack on Pearl Harbor.” It is amazing how one symbol carried the legacy and remembrance of that tragic day in history. 

On the bridge, there are several interesting rooms. Besides getting a good photo-op with the ship's wheel, there is also a map room just behind. No Google maps here. The CIC (Combat Information Center) has a “Hunt for Red October” feel with the green and blue lighting. The museum likes to pipe in old radio chatter into sonar rooms and into the CIC. You can hear fighter pilots exclaiming “I have a missile lock!” and another responding with “Shoot him! Shoot him! Good hit!” I stood there for 10 minutes envisioning myself 60 years in the past listening to the sound of combat.

I happened to visit just before their Haunted Halloween Tour. I am sure the evening tour would have been a festive time. Supposedly, there are ghost hunting tours as well. While the ship was in storage in New York, a caretaker had a heart attack and died. I probably looked like I saw a ghost when a volunteer guide surprised me below decks when I was not expecting him to be down there.

Nevertheless, this is a great family outing or field trip. Kids will have plenty of nooks and crannies to explore. Watch your cameras and phones as the “railings” are mainly steel cables. The ship is completely stable but a kid with your camera could send it down to Davy Jone's Locker pretty fast.

When visiting the Saginaw Valley, make a visit and see a great piece of history. They are closed for several months during the winter but are usually open 7 days a week the rest of the year. Verify with their website here. You may also see the slogan on the ship, “Three guns; no waiting.” It gained this motto because of the 3 five-inch guns. During the Vietnam war, the ship fired their five-inch guns more than any other ship in the war. Unlike the game, Hasbro can't even compare with this version of “Battleship.”