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In an adjoining lab, hundreds of plastic containers hold other Monitor artifacts, ranging from a crewman’s hair contained in a vial to a wooden plug shaped like a mushroom cap. It was used to ram charges into the Dahlgren guns.

The conservators are mindful of the work their work on an American treasure.

“We’re entrusted with the history of America,” Hoffman said.

The conservation, in its 10th year, has now slowed to a holding pattern.

“It’s like a ghost town,” said David Krop, director of the USS Monitor Center. “It’s disheartening; it’s sad.”

If federal dollars hadn’t dipped, the work would be complete within 15 years.

“But right now, if nothing was to change, 50 to 60 years is not out of the question,” Krop said.

Krop said that while the artifacts will remain stable, their restoration will not progress.

NOAA contributed 10 percent of the $500,000 conservation costs last year, but none was received in 2012. In the past, NOAA’s share had risen to about $1 million.

Despite the funding disagreement, relations between NOAA and the museum remain cordial. “Outside of the funding, we see pretty much eye to eye,” Gruber said.

Meantime, he said, the two sides are continuing to talk.

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Steve Szkotak can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sszkotakap

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