Rare inside look at USS Monitor turret conservation

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NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) – Back in 1978 we got our first view of the USS Monitor since it sank off the coast of Noth Carolina on December 31, 1862. The Monitor was the famous ironclad ship of the Union, that took part in the iconic stalemate with the CSS Virginia, or Merrimac, off Hampton Roads.

“They call the Monitor the little ship that saved the nation. This crew included African Americans; it included immigrants, people of different socio-economic status,” said Howard Hoege, President and CEO of the Mariner’s Museum and Park.

In 2002, after decades of preparation, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Navy expedition battled rough currents off the coast of Cape Hatteras to recover the turret from its watery grave 240 feet below the surface.  Chopper 10 was there.

But this was only the beginning.

The massive artifact found a home at the Mariners’ Museum and Park in Newport News, where it has undergone restoration efforts ever since.

“At this point we’ve removed about 10 tons of marine growth off it,” William Hoffman, Director of Conservation or the Mariners’ Museum and Park.

Along with the turret, thousands of parts, water pumps, gaskets, and cannons were recovered and are being processed right now under Hoffman’s direction. “We have the first most complete and early steam engine in the world.”

10 On Your Side was just given a rare insider tour of the iconic gun turret and the work being done to restore it.

Howard Hoege said it was essentially an open house. “It’s something else to be in the tank, next to the turret, and feeling the gravity of the story. It’s something that helps bouy us over the course of a very very long project like this one is.” 

The conservation project is planned to take around 33 years from the recovery of the turret in 2002 to the public display date of 2035. 

Assistant Conservator Laurie King knows the ins and outs of the Monitor. “Before I went to graduate school I volunteered here because I was interested in archaelogical objects.”

Years later, King is back at it.

“The conservation of the monitor means a lot to me. It’s a process I saw started when I was in high school. As someone that’s passionate about cultural heritage, being able to work here and see it first hand and see the real progress that it’s making is amazing.”

Part of the process includes the turret getting a new support structure for the first time since it was recovered.

“The turret is currently sitting on the structure used to bring it up from the sea floor.  That structure that is currently being used to support it, is now in the way of us advancing the treatment of the artifact. In the next several weeks we’ll be working with Newport News Shipbuilding to basically remove the old structure and put the turret on new support stands freeing access to the roof,” explained Hoffman.

It’s a regional effort.

“The new stands were designed by Newport News Shipbuilding. They were fabricated by Colonna Shipyard apprentices, They were painted by Fairlead Boatworks, and the rubber pads you can see on the top of them were provided by Hampton rubber company,” said Hoffman.

With the roof more easily accessible, the team can advance the process of getting the artifact ready to be seen by the world.

“Our goal here, as we’ll see from both the Monitor and the museum is about telling the stories of people. The mission is to tell stories through objects,” said Hoffman.

“You can do some of it through history storytelling, but a lot of it’s done through: ‘here’s the object here’s the thing you can touch,’ so our job is to make sure it can be done through generations.”

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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