The USS Monitor Center Blog

12 Years Ago Today

​On August 5, 2002, experts from NOAA, the United States Navy, and The Mariners’ Museum achieved something many people thought was impossible — the recovery of USS Monitor‘s 120-ton revolving gun turret from the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary.

Image Courtesy of U.S. Navy.

Image Courtesy of U.S. Navy.

Although 12 years isn’t a milestone anniversary, the recovery is still an epic achievement that should be noted and celebrated. Even the History Channel joined us today in recognizing this major feat of underwater archaeology:
Here are a few additional images of this wrought iron beauty:
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Image Courtesy of Epic Scan.

Image Courtesy of Epic Scan.

Happy Turret 12th to The Mariners’ Museum, NOAA, U.S. Navy, and everybody involved with the recovery!

Summer in the tank farm

It is difficult to believe that it is already August. The summer is just flying by. Most days we are out in the Tank farm and the work is going well. We finished two tanks in July. Tanks 2 and 5 have new anodes, new racks and are filled with new solutions, and that leaves us just one more to go. We’re hoping to finish all work out in the tank farm by the end of August at the latest. Then it will be on to the skeg. As for what exactly a skeg is, if you check back to the blog soon you will find out.

Lowering a new rack for cast iron pieces into place

Lowering a new rack for cast iron pieces into place

 

Cast iron objects placed on their new rack.

Cast iron objects placed on their new rack.

 

Rearrangement inside Tank 2 almost complete. The hanging orange cylinders are reference electrodes.

Rearrangement inside Tank 2 almost complete. The hanging orange cylinders are reference electrodes.

 

Organization of Tank 2 complete and beginning to fill with new chemical solution.

Organization of Tank 2 complete and beginning to fill with water.

 

Tank 5 complete. The white powder on the edge of some of the objects is sodium hydroxide that has not completely dissolved yet.

Tank 5 complete and ready to be filled with water. The white powder on the edge of some of the objects is sodium hydroxide that has not completely dissolved yet.

 

A Quest for Identity

The Mariners’ Museum and NOAA have a strong, ongoing desire to positively identify two sets of human remains recovered from Monitor‘s gun turret in 2002. Experts have documented and studied the remains, extracted viable DNA for comparison with modern samples, and attempted to verify the sailors’ identities. Unfortunately no matches have been found to date. With all information gathered and stored for future use, the remains were buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery on March 8, 2013.

Lack of positive identification hasn’t stopped Mariners’ and NOAA staff and the general public from trying to learn more about Monitor‘s sailors. Prior to burial of the remains, experts at LSU’s FACES Lab reconstructed both sailors’ faces using scientific and artistic methods. LSU staff believe their reconstructions have a strong resemblance to the original sailors, and they have had an over 90% success rate in identifying modern remains based upon their facial reconstructions. So we can state with some confidence that LSU’s facial reconstructions of USS Monitor sailors have a likeness to the original men who gave their lives on December 31, 1862.

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Facial reconstructions generated by LSU’s FACES Lab from the remains of two sailors recovered from USS Monitor’s gun turret.

Although we do not have pictures of every sailor that served aboard USS Monitor, we are fortunate to have a few images that were produced aboard the ironclad on July 9, 1862 by a photographer named Gibson. One of the images depicts officers sitting casually but proudly in front of the revolving gun turret.

officersondeckweb

Now I want you to do something a bit strange. Please ignore the men sitting in front of the turret. Yes, ignore them. Focus your attention on the top-right portion of the image. Note the man sitting atop the turret smoking a pipe, third from the right. You can only see his head, neck, and left shoulder. I know this is a bit of a stretch, but I believe he resembles the younger of the two sailors whose remains were discovered aboard USS Monitor. Maybe not a perfect match, but somewhat similar in appearance. Here is a closer look at that sailor with the facial reconstruction included for a side-by-side comparison:

Maybe

What do you think? Is this a possible match? Are you a descendant of a Monitor sailor? Your comments and opinions are important. Please get in touch and let us know what you think.

 

 

 

Best Jigsaw Puzzle Ever

Summer work out in the tank farm continues. Last week we drained and began reorganizing Tank 2. The first objects we focused on were pieces of diamond plate cast iron flooring, which we believe came from the engine room. We spent part of an afternoon seeing how many of these pieces would have originally fit together. If we could determine this now, reassembly once conservation is complete will be much easier. We discovered we have nearly three full sections of diamond plate flooring that we will be able to reassemble.

Here you can see the pieces from three sections of diamond plate laid out in their original orientation.

Here you can see the pieces from three sections of diamond plate laid out in their original orientation.

Check back to the blog soon as we will have more updates as the summer progresses. Happy Independence Day!

Wooden Gun Carriage Sides

Some of you may remember that in the fall we spent some time doing maintenance on the wooden gun carriage sides from the disassembled gun carriage. Last week while Will was away at the annual AIC conference, Mike and I changed the solutions in these tanks, installed an anode and wired the carriage sides so that the iron bolts still inside the wood would be protected by impressed current. This is the same method being used to protect the metal components on the still assembled gun carriage, which can be viewed via the wet lab web cam here.

Newly constructed stainless steel mesh anode waiting to be installed.

Newly constructed stainless steel mesh anode waiting to be installed.

One of the wooden gun carriage sides before last week's maintenance.

One of the wooden gun carriage sides before last week’s maintenance.

Anode installed and everything wired in, just needs a new solution.

Anode installed and everything wired in, just needs a new solution.

Work completed on one gun carriage side.

Work completed on one gun carriage side.

Installation complete on both gun carriage sides.

Installation complete on both gun carriage sides.

Check back soon to see updates about ongoing work in the lab.

 

 

 

 

Great News!

We had some fabulous news here in the lab this week. Our former intern Jessica, who wrote the great post on archival box making, has just accepted a job as a museum technician at James Madison’s Montpelier. Congratulations Jessica. We are all so proud of you. Best of luck as you start this new adventure, you will be brilliant.

Copper, Corrosion, and Craftsmanship

These are some detailed photos of copper and copper alloy artifacts recovered from USS Monitor‘s engine room in 2001. We are currently mitigating the effects of corrosion. We continue to marvel at the amazing level of craftsmanship and detail that went into each object. These humble, industrial artifacts are works of art.

Rivets 2

Main Steam

Valve

Holes

Ragged

Rivets

Railing

Tweet Tweet!

In case you aren’t already aware, we have a Twitter handle @USSMonitorLab! Check us out. Why? Well, we are trying to share as much information as we can using a variety of formats.

 

Our newer Twitter handle (@USSMonitorLab) is the site for more frequent posts with quick snippets of news, pictures, and videos about our favorite Civil War ironclad as well as other tweets from the heritage preservation world.

 

The USS Monitor Center blog will continue to be a great source of detailed information about various artifacts, treatments, and fun projects happening inside the Batten Conservation Lab in the USS Monitor Center. But hit our Twitter account too!

2014 Civil War Lecture Series

If you happen to find yourself in Hampton Roads tomorrow (Saturday May 10), stop by The Mariners’ Museum for the May edition of the 2014 Civil War Lecture Series. Conservator Will Hoffman will be giving a presentation on a multi-year project to create a working replica of a bilge pumps from the USS Monitor. The presentation will take place in the newly renovated Explorers Theatre at 1 pm. The lecture is free with admission to the museum.

 

The partially completed Worthington pump replica.

The partially completed Worthington pump replica.

Archival Quality Box Making

From January to April 2014, during the temporary closure of our Wet Lab, we supported an intern in the Dry Lab at the Monitor Center from Christopher Newport University. Jessica was a great temporary addition to the team, full of enthusiasm for the history of USS Monitor and the artifacts we are conserving here. She wrote the following post about one of the primary activities she undertook during her internship.

Hello readers!  My name is Jessica and I’m an intern here in the USS Monitor Center.  I’m here this semester as part of one of my history classes at Christopher Newport University.  I help the conservators with a variety of tasks, but one of the most important things I do here is make archival-quality storage boxes.  Box making may sound easy, but I assure you, it is not.  Precision is key, as these boxes must securely hold and support a variety of artifacts.  Today, I will demonstrate the process with a box I made for a stanchion fragment which would have held up the canvas canopy atop the Monitor’s turret.

Stanchion piece awaiting rehousing.

Stanchion fragment awaiting rehousing.

Close up view of the stanchion fragment.

Close up view of the stanchion fragment.

To make a box, I first construct the bottom, or base of the box.  I use one rectangle sheet of cardboard and fold to create a box.  Even the glue used is archival quality, so that the artifacts will remain safely stored for years to come.  Once the bottom is dry, I make a lid for the box the same way so that it will fit snugly on the bottom.

IMG_0489

Shape of the base of the box drawn onto archival cardboard.

Folding the base of the box.

Folding the base of the box.

A snug fitting lid.

The lid is constructed the same way as the base.

A snug fitting lid.

A snug fitting lid.

After the box is complete, we use a foam material called closed-cell ethafoam to cradle whatever artifact is going inside, in this case, the stanchion fragment.  We cut the foam to fit inside the box, and then determine where to carve into the foam.  Most artifacts stored in these boxes are relatively sturdy, such as the stanchion fragment, but we want to give them as much support as possible as these boxes are long-term storage containers.  The artifacts need to sit in the foam, so that they are supported from beneath but also from the sides, and so that they do not move around inside the box.  Once the foam is carved to fit the object, we line it with a woven material called Tyvek.  This fabric lining not only creates a smooth surface for the artifact, but is also an inert material safe for close contact with the object.

Ethafoam with the artifact shape drawn on in preparation for carving.

Ethafoam with the artifact shape drawn on in preparation for carving.

Carved ethafoam.

Carved ethafoam.

 

Tyvek lining is visible between the ethafoam and the artifact.

Tyvek lining is visible between the ethafoam and the artifact.

 

Making these archival storage boxes may not seem like a very exciting task, but proper storage of artifacts keeps them safe and stable for years to come.  Many of these artifacts, such as this stanchion fragment, are not the best representations of their kind (there are other, more complete stanchions on display), so these fragments remain in storage, but it is important to keep them stored safely.  Each and every artifact from the Monitor is essential so that one day we may be able to see the entire picture of the ship as she was before she sank that fateful night in December 1862.

The stanchion fragment safe and sound in its new box.

The stanchion fragment safe and sound in its new box.