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What to do with the USS Olympia?

Protected Cruiser Olympia (C-6), circa 1901

We have been following with interest the story about the USS Olympia (C6), the famed protected cruiser that served as Admiral Dewey’s flagship at Manila Bay during the Spanish-American War. The cruiser is the only survivor of that war, and the oldest American steel warship afloat. She fired the opening shot in the action that destroyed the Spanish fleet at Manila Bay, and she brought home the body of the Unknown Soldier from World War I in 1921.

USS Olympia has been a museum ship since 1957 at the Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia. The ship has not been drydocked in 45 years and corrosion at the waterline is severe. The Museum had announced that, because she could sink at her moorings, they were discontinuing tours beginning Nov. 22. Since then, the museum’s Board announced that they were putting that decision on hold, given the new availability of funds to make emergency repairs (Philadelphia Inquirer, Nov. 18, However, if significant funding isn’t found, to the tune of $19 million, for drydocking and restoration, the ship could still sink at her berth or could be disposed of through scrapping or sinking off Cape May as an artificial reef.

What should be done with Olympia? She is not the only museum ship in trouble, now or in the future. Every trip I take to Norfolk to see the magnificent battleship Wisconsin, I know that she could potentially face the same problems as a museum ship. Should there be a national approach to saving these fantastic vessels, regardless of who owns them?

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