“I’ve been coming here since I was nine,” says Rogers Park mom Diane Galleher, referring to the Museum of Science and Industry. A Peoria native who grew up partly in Joliet, she especially loved visiting the U-505, a captured German sub, as a kid. “It was my favorite exhibit—that and the embryos,” she says.
Wondering how it would hold up for her—and even more, what her three kids would think—TOC Kids invited the entire Galleher family (Diane plus husband Ian, son Declan, 14, and daughters Gwendolyn, 9, and Vivian, 6) to tour the WWII trophy with us. It had been years since Diane had seen it—well before an ambitious 2004 total overhaul. Today the vessel lives in the museum basement, not outside (where it spent most of its six decades here), anchoring an entire exhibit of supplementary interactive components, not to mention the revamped insider tour. This approach makes new fans of everyone, from first-timers like Declan to curious dads like Ian (and even semi-jaded journalists, ahem).
The walk down to the vessel is a key part of the improved fun. Suddenly, as we turn through a winding corridor: WOW. There we stand on a balcony overlooking the 252-foot-long U-505, which fills a cavernous room below. “The thing’s ginormous!” an impressed Declan says.
Before long, we line up for the interior tour (which requires an additional $8 ticket for adults, $6 for kids). Ours is led by Ansel Burch, as smart and enthusiastic a guide as you could wish for, with a touch of Wonka-esque sass.
Once we step inside the metal monstrosity—built in Hamburg, Germany, 71 years ago—we soon realize how cramped it is. The ship contained 59 Kriegsmariners (Nazi Navy men) when the U.S. Navy captured it, but only 35 beds. Sailors had to sleep in shifts—some of them on bunks right next to an enormous torpedo.
As we walk the narrow passageway, Burch first explains the men’s day-to-day existence. Then, he narrates a dramatic rendition of how the sub stalked its prey on the Atlantic until Americans halted its hunting days, with sound effects for punctuation: German dialogue, sonar beeps, diesel-engine noises.
Standing outside the sub after the tour’s conclusion, Gwen’s mind is blown by what she’s just seen and heard: “They lined up! The men, to sleep, with the torpedo there,” she says. “Doesn’t make any sense!”
The sub is “really cool,” Declan declares. “It’s amazing that it was used in WWII and it’s still around.” The wartime posters nearby “are pretty funny,” he adds, and “Ansel is pretty entertaining.” (Our guide’s various passions—Burch is a maritime history buff who studied English and theater in college—make him the perfect host.)
Diane and Ian agree, and Diane says the tour far outshines the one she loved as a kid. The only member of the family unconvinced is six-year-old Vivian, who shares just three words: “I was scared.” (The especially dramatic “shock wave” sequence could startle anybody.) Well, four out of five Gallehers ain’t bad—and soon enough, Viv will be peering through a periscope with her older brother and sister.
The final word? “I would totally come again,” Declan says.
Go below with the U-505 Submarine, on permanent display at the Museum of Science and Industry (5700 S Lake Shore Dr, 773-684-1414).