Lt. George Dixon and the eight men he led boarded an experimental vessel, the H.L. Hunley, at the Charleston Harbor in South Carolina on Feb. 17, 1864. That day would be remembered for the first successful use of a submarine in naval warfare. Their mission was to sink an enemy ship, the USS Housatonic, during the waning days of the Civil War.
The Hunley succeeded by ramming a torpedo into the hull of its Union opponent, but after the crew signaled comrades on shore of their success, the submarine and crew disappeared forever into the sea.
In 2000, a quest merging marine science, technology and archaeology came about to reveal finally the secrets of the sunken Hunley. An interactive companion Web site to this groundbreaking adventure chronicles the past and present to enlighten the curious about the legend of this submersible ship.
Friends of the Hunley
Site address: www.hunley.org
Creator: The nonprofit Friends of the Hunley, based in Charleston, S.C., maintains and updates the site.
Creator quotable: “The Hunley was a technological marvel for her time and represents a journey in technology that began in the 1860s and will be completed in the future,” says Warren Lasch, chairman of Friends of the Hunley.
“Friends of the Hunley developed the Web site so that we could have a central place for the public to learn about the many facets of the project, from the history and artifacts to the science of archaeology and conservation. Using the Web and the technology it offers as our medium to communicate with the public was more than just a practical decision; it was appropriate since technology is a dominant aspect of the Hunley project.”
Word from the Webwise: A fantastic expedition into time awaits visitors looking for lessons in history and marine archaeology. The site uses slick Web design techniques, combining images, text, simulations and illustrations to deconstruct the efforts to raise and analyze the Hunley.
Visitors can choose from handy drop-down menus opening under the primary sections Submarine, History, Recovery, Archaeology and Conservation on the opening page, which displays a large representation of how the sub might have looked in its prime.
With an overwhelming amount of detail found in 29 subtopics, the inside pages offer a mix of fascinating stories and sourced material, ranging from information on the man for whom the vessel was named, Horace Lawson Hunley, who perished inside his own creation during a routine diving exercise; to the story of P.T. Barnum offering $100,000 to the person who could locate the vessel; to an image-rich timeline of the excavation process; to a 360-degree Quicktime panorama of the Warren Lasch Conservation Lab, where the sub is housed.
I especially enjoyed the variety of information peppered throughout the site, including a description of how Clive Cussler used a magnetometer to locate the Hunley in 1995, facts about the chemical breakdown of the environment around the sub that needed to be studied carefully before the sub could be raised and a description of the retrieval of Dixon’s lucky gold coin which turned out to not be so lucky given to him by his true love, Queenie Bennett.
Ease of use: The site can be viewed on either Windows or Macintosh operating systems with later versions of browsers using the Quicktime and Flash plug-ins. Visitors with a speedier Internet connection will really enjoy the site, especially the reconstruction animation video, which is a whopping 12.5 megabyte download.
Don’t miss: Visitors can experience the cramped quarters of the Hunley through a slick, video-game-like challenge found under the Submarine section. As the captain positioned at the front of the sub, the player gets a first-person view of what must be done to seek and destroy the enemy. With tips from the first mate, the captain must twist wheels to maneuver, click speed indicators, watch air capacity (with the help of a lit candle), balance forward and aft ballast and try not to drown the crew in a fairly complex simulation.
Elements on the horizon: Mr. Lasch says the site’s content will be updated as developments and discoveries emerge. More detailed scientific information about the actual excavation and conservation research that has been and will be taking place is planned. Also slated for this year is the addition of an interactive education section with lesson plans targeted for intermediate, secondary and college-level students.
Comprehension level: Children in grades seven and higher should be able to comprehend the majority of the information presented.
Overall grade: A+
Remember: The information on the Internet is constantly changing. Please verify the advice on the sites before you act to be sure it’s accurate and updated. Health sites, for example, should be discussed with your own physician.
Have a cool site for the science or technology fan? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at Webwise, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message (email@example.com).