Relics of the USS Arizona | Phoenix, Arizona - Atlas Obscura

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Relics of the USS Arizona

Arizona Capitol Museum

Artifacts from a battleship sunk at Pearl Harbor displayed in the Capitol building of its namesake.  


Launched in 1915, in honor of Arizona, which had attained statehood three years earlier, the USS Arizona was a battleship in the US Navy. Twenty-seven years later, the ship was sunk during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawai’i, during World War II. Despite its relatively short career, the Arizona was present for several notable events and today the battleship is memorialized within the Capitol building of its namesake.

The Arizona spent World War I mostly in the United States, primarily used in training missions and only sailing across the Atlantic Ocean after the armistice ending the war had been signed. The Arizona was part of the convoy escorting President Woodrow Wilson to Europe for the Paris Peace Conference and later part of the fleet that escorted him back to the United States. In 1919, tensions rose between the Greek, Italian, and Turkish governments over the partitioning of land after the war, and the Arizona was positioned between the unhappy parties to ensure the treaty was enforced.

Early in the 1920s, the Arizona was moved to San Pedro, California, which would be her home port for most of the next two decades. In 1924, the Arizona and her crew were part of a scandal in which a sex worker named Madeline Blair was smuggled aboard by sailors and plied her trade in exchange for secret passage from New York to California, where she hoped to become a movie star. Shortly after passing through the Panama Canal, Blair was discovered and sent back to New York by train. Every officer on the ship received a letter of reprimand and 23 sailors were court-martialed, with sentences of up to 10 years handed down.

Apart from training exercises, the Arizona was used as a floating embassy, hosting diplomats in foreign ports and in 1931 was even used by President Herbert Hoover during a vacation to the Caribbean. In 1934, the Arizona and her crew starred in the romantic comedy film Here Comes the Navy, which received an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. In 1940, as tensions between the United States and Japan rose, the Arizona was transferred to Hawai’i.

On December 7, 1941, the Navy base at Pearl Harbor was attacked by Japanese military aircraft. Shortly after the attack began, a bomb from a Japanese plane detonated one of the Arizona’s munition stores, resulting in a cataclysmic explosion. Nearly all of the sailors aboard died in the attack—1,177 of the ship’s crew of 1,512. Their deaths made up more than half of the total American casualties in the battle.

Most of the ship remains underwater where she was sunk and is managed by the National Park Service as Pearl Harbor National Memorial but several pieces have made it back to the state of her namesake. An anchor, mast, and one of the ship’s large guns are in a plaza in front of the Capitol building in downtown Phoenix. Additionally, part of the ship’s superstructure, the ship bugle, the flag the ship was flying as it sank, and its ceremonial silverware are displayed in the Arizona Capitol Museum.

Know Before You Go

The Arizona Capitol Museum is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free. 

The University of Arizona in Tucson has one of the largest collections of U.S.S. Arizona artifacts and was a major contributor/sponsor of the new Visitor Center at Pearl Harbor. There is a life-size/to-scale outline memorial of the battleship on the mall in front of Old Main. It's very well done with plaques of all the servicemen killed.

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