Certain exhibit concepts or stories that are important to the museum may be difficult for visitors to grasp. We might have few if any artifacts or images to support these concepts. If we do have a great artifact our visitors may find it difficult to appreciate. These concepts many be perfect candidates for interactives. In visitor tracking studies at the USS Constitution Museum (and beyond) families stop at interactives more than any other kind of exhibit.
“The most disagreeable duty in the ship was that of holy-stoning the decks on cold, frost mornings.”
—Samuel Leech, 1810
A key exhibit theme is understanding that sailors performed a large amount of uncomfortable physical labor to operate USS Constitution. Leech’s quote does an excellent job of communicating the drudgery of constantly scrubbing the ship’s deck. Unfortunately, few visitors will read the quote and very few will understand its implications.
There are no photographs or artifacts connected to holystoning and our audience does not have a frame of reference. Our solution was to create an interactive.
Many families spent only a minute or two at the interactive, yet 20% of families interviewed at the end of the exhibition could name the holystoning activity. The holystoning interactive did not need to be complex nor long in order to be effective.
This simple activity seems to reach family visitors on a visceral level. They gain an understanding of the nature of hard, tedious work sailors performed aboard USS Constitution. It’s difficult to imagine any amount of text conveying the same understanding. The holystoning activity and other interactives may be more successful because the activity matches the learning goal. It requires visitors to get down and scrub.