- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 4, 2000

She fought the slave trade off the coast of Africa. She fought the Confederates in the Mediterranean Sea and in the Gulf of Mexico. She delivered relief supplies to Ireland during the famine of 1880. She helped train and house thousands of sailors for decades.
Now the USS Constellation sits in Baltimore's Inner Harbor, undergoing a massive face lift and eager to tell all her sea stories to a new generation of Americans who hear the word "battleship" and think of old board games or the high-tech technologies of a Tom Clancy thriller.
But the USS Constellation, a National Historic Landmark, has more in common with Herman Melville than Mr. Clancy, and it takes its visitors back to the days when sea warfare was fought with massive cannons manned by scrambling 11-man crews, including teen-age "powder monkeys" trying to become sailors.
Last summer, the Constellation sailed back into the Inner Harbor after a 2*-year hiatus at nearby Fort McHenry for a $9 million restoration. The sloop of war had been an Inner Harbor tourist fixture since 1955, but it had deteriorated so much over the years that it was condemned by the Navy in 1994.
Even though the warship is open every day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., restoration is still going on. Visitors even can see the shipwrights at their craft painting, hammering and caulking while they stroll around the decks.
"We're learning more and more about the ship and the people who served on it all the time, and hopefully we'll continue to add artifacts and displays," says Constellation Museum Executive Director Chris Rowson. "It never ends. Just the other day, I heard from a Massachusetts woman whose grandfather was a sergeant of the Marines during the Civil War and served on the Constellation.
"It takes a long time to research the people and the history of this ship. We want to get it right, but we get contacts all the time from people who had relatives who worked on board."
Mr. Rowson is particularly eager to obtain diaries of former sailors on the Constellation because of the personal touches they add to the ship's history.
The Constellation was built in Norfolk in 1853 and was the last all-sail vessel built by the U.S. Navy before it switched to steam-powered ships. It was launched in 1854 and commissioned in 1855.
The Constellation served as flagship of the Navy's African Squadron, an anti-slavery patrol, for four years, capturing three slave ships. It served two main missions in the Civil War, protecting Union interests against Confederate raiders in the Mediterranean and then joining David Farragut's blockade in the Gulf of Mexico. The Constellation is the only Civil War-era ship still floating.
After the war, the Constellation went to Annapolis to be used as a practice ship for midshipmen at the Naval Academy and then to Newport, R.I., in 1894. It served as a relief flagship for the U.S. Atlantic Fleet during World War II, then went back into disuse at the Boston Navy Yard until it sailed to Baltimore in 1955.
Visitors can learn all about the ship with a self-guided audiotape tour. They can learn about the rigors of 19th-century sea life and sea warfare. Three of the ship's four decks are open, and shipwrights are working on the bottom deck, the storage deck, and hope to have it open within a year or so.
In the meantime, plenty of ongoing activities are planned over the next several months. The Ship's Company, a group of about 50 actors and musicians who specialize in naval history, will make several appearances on the Constellation in the spring and summer.
On April 8, the Ship's Company will focus on the Confederate navy, which many historians considerto be one of the most innovative in history.
"The Confederate navy was very innovative," says Holly Burnham, head of the Constellation Museum's programming department. "They had to get into shallower waters to protect their own ports, so they were very innovative with their weaponry and ships. [The Ship's Company] will be here showing torpedoes and ironclads and other Confederate navy history items. It should be a fun day."

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