The famed Civil War-era ironclad, the USS Monitor, is back in rough waters after seeing significant dips in funding for its restoration. When the wreck was pulled from North Carolina coast in 2002, it was thought that restoration might take a total of 15 years to complete.
"But right now, if nothing was to change, 50 to 60 years is not out of the question," David Krop, director of the USS Monitor Center, said.
That’s because funds have simply dried up.
The decline in funding comes largely from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which was tasked with overseeing federal involvement with the project after Congress designated The Mariner’s Museum in Newport News, Va., the official conservator of the wreck.
James Delgado, director of NOAA's Maritime Heritage Program, said the agency will support the museum's work with the funds they have available: "We have been partners with the museum since 1987 when at their request they asked for the artifacts to be entrusted to them for conservation. That partnership continues, and the artifacts are not at risk.”
The Monitor, an innovative battleship with iron-plated hulls is best known for its battle with the CSS Virginia (nee USS Merrimack), another ironclad. Their confrontation at the battle of Hampton Roads in 1862 ended in a draw. The Monitor sank in bad weather later that year, killing 16 of the ship’s 62 crewmembers.
The remains of the Monitor, including its 120-ton turret, were hauled up in 2002. The bodies of two sailors were found in the turret and were buried in 2013 at Arlington National Cemetery.
The turret, its two 13-foot-long Dahlgren guns (each weighing 8 tons), and the steam engine that powered the vessel are now stored in massive tanks that contain treated water and chemicals intended to draw out the saltwater. Visitors to the museum previously could look down through windows into the museum’s so-called “Wet Lab,” which once boasted five full-time conservators. Now, with funding cut, they’re down to one remaining employee, and the tanks are covered with tarps. Tours of the lab have been suspended.
The Mariner's Museum has initiated a push to reclaim funding, including a Change.org petition, and a link through their website where supporters can send NOAA an email to urge funding for the project.
Image via Wikimedia Commons