- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 4, 2001

EDGEWATER, Md. (AP) Mark Ragan will never wash the stained, filthy blue jumpsuit he wore while excavating the innards of the H.L. Hunley.
Caked with mud, stained with sludge and even used to wipe clean the bones of the Confederate submariners entombed within the ship, the jumpsuit is Ragan's dearest souvenir, covered with history too precious to wash away.
"I have Hunley mud on my souvenir," Ragan said. "I'll never wear it again after the excavation."
Just over a year after Ragan watched the Hunley rise from the ocean after 136 years, the project's historian is working on another book about the Confederate war effort and regularly traveling to Charleston, S.C., to observe the excavation work on the vessel.
The Hunley the first sub to sink an enemy ship is being scoured for artifacts and will eventually be placed on display in Charleston. But researchers have already been surprised by the ship's eccentricities.
The hand-cranked submarine was 40 feet long, four feet wide and four feet high. It sank twice during training exercises in 1863, but was sent out on its first and only mission anyway.
Shortly after it destroyed the U.S.S. Housatonic, one of the Union ships blockading Charleston Harbor, on Feb. 17, 1864, the crew signaled shore.
Soon afterward, the 14-ton sub disappeared into a grave of mud and sediment. It remained undiscovered until 1995.
Though it's unbelievably cramped and fatally flawed, Ragan considers the Hunley groundbreaking in its design.
As he suspected, the entire crew probably nine people sat along the left side of the ship.
Iron ingots were laid on the floor, probably to aid the sub's descent. And it was outfitted with a large bellows system that pumped air through the vessel.
The system appears to have been designed to provide each crewman with an equal amount of air.
"Some people look at it as a death trap," Ragan said. "I see it as an extremely advanced design for its time."
Other items found in the sub include pocket knives, a bandanna, a signaling light, two hats, eight pairs of shoes some with leg bones still attached scraps of uniforms and even a pipe stuffed with tobacco.
Ragan, who keeps a small yellow sub parked in his driveway, has been a submarine enthusiast for years. After taking a submarining class off the coast of Maine in 1980, he set out to build his own miniature sub. Eventually, he and his wife, Beth Simmons, used the craft to take curious submariners on short trips through the bay.
His book, "The Hunley: Submarines, Sacrifice and Success in the Civil War," was made into a TV movie by TNT.
As project historian for the $17 million effort, Ragan has been responsible for researching and compiling all available information about the ship.
But he's been trying to spend as much time as he can in Charleston, sifting through the wreckage.
Ragan's enthusiasm paid off. He's one of only a few people who got to see the Hunley before it was cleared of debris, artifacts and the crewmen's remains.
He compared the Hunley's recovery to "finding the Wright brothers' plane in a sand dune, with them still in it," adding that visitors from around the world will learn from the display in Charleston.
"The end display is really going to be fantastic," he said.
Ragan is now spending up to five hours a day working on his new book, tentatively titled "The Singer Secret Service Corps." The book, which traces the history of the secretive organization that built the Hunley, should be about 300 pages.
Ragan is writing a page or two a day, a frenetic pace for him. While writing about the Hunley, he spent hours on a single paragraph.
"You only get one chance to say it," he said. "You've got to say it right."


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