A Military Legend
Although Norfolk has strong ties to the water and has a major naval presence, it also has connections to one of America’s most famous Army generals. Gen. Douglas MacArthur and his wife, Jean, a native of Norfolk, are buried in the MacArthur Memorial in the former city hall downtown.
The MacArthurs’ tombs are in the rotunda of the 19th-century building, which contains two floors of exhibits and artifacts related to MacArthur’s long career. One of the more interesting features is the section of deck from the USS Missouri on which Japanese officials stood with MacArthur when they signed documents of surrender to end World War II.
A new $6 million visitors center that opened in October across a courtyard from the memorial includes MacArthur’s 1950 Chrysler limousine in its glass atrium and a new theater with a 20-minute film about MacArthur.
The memorial is across the street from MacArthur Center, a large urban mall anchored by a Nordstrom.
Exploring Hampton Roads
Norfolk makes a great hub for exploring the entire Hampton Roads area, which includes the towns of Virginia Beach, Hampton, Portsmouth and Newport News.
A 28-foot-wide concrete boardwalk that extends for three miles past landscaped parks, three performance venues, two museums and several hotels is a central feature of Virginia Be ach. A 400-foot-wide beach extends from the boardwalk’s sculpted-stone retaining wall to the Atlantic Ocean.
Virginia Beach’s most visited attraction, the Virginia Marine Science Museum, focuses on Virginia’s marine environment.
“The whole theme of the museum is Virginia’s journey of water,” said Joan Barns, public relations coordinator for the museum.
The museum, which includes a total of 800,000 gallons of aquariums, takes you through four different Virginia habitats: the coastal river, the Chesapeake Bay, the Atlantic Ocean and the Owls Creek Salt Marsh, the last salt marsh in Virginia with direct access to the ocean.
A fascinating piece of Hampton Roads naval history is on display at the Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, which covers nearly 3,000 years of maritime history from the age of sail up to the present.
Located in a 550-acre park, the museum has nearly 32,000 items, among them figureheads, ship models, nautical paintings, maps and one of the most extensive collections of navigational instruments in the Western Hemisphere.
However, the jewel of the museum may be the more than 1,000 artifacts recovered from the USS Monitor, which sank in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, in 1862, just months after its historic battle with the Merrimack, the first such clash of ironclad warships.
The artifacts, which include the ship’s distinctive revolving gun turret, are in a special wing of the museum.
You can get a feel for Virginia’s natural habitat at the Virginia Living Museum in Newport News. The large state-of-the-art building has four exhibit galleries on two levels that cover all of Virginia’s geographic regions and re-creates two habitats: a cypress swamp and an Appalachian cove. Each gallery has hands-on discovery centers, where visitors can pick up natural specimens, and touch tanks, where they can touch salt-water animals.
The museum also includes a planetarium, an observatory, a “living green house” environmental educational center and native animals in outdoor exhibits.
While water is a focal point in Norfolk, Virginia Beach and Newport News, Hampton looks to the skies at the Virginia Air and Space Museum. Simulators give visitors a realistic sense of flying in a DC-9, going on a World War II bombing mission aboard a B24 Liberator, working as an air traffic controller and performing as a wing walker on a 1920s barnstorming biplane.
The exhibits range from an exact replica of the first Wright Flyer to the Apollo 12 command capsule and the Lunar Excursion Module that was used to simulate landings on the moon.