Tuesday, January 20, 2015
News---Union Navy Coat Found In Underwater Debris Of USS Monitor Is Nearly Restored
More than 150 years after it sank off Cape Hatteras inside the warship Monitor, a woolen coat discarded by a Union sailor trying to escape the doomed Civil War ironclad is approaching another milestone.
Found inside the gun turret, which was recovered from the Atlantic in 2002, the rumpled expanse of Navy blue cloth had to be chiseled and coaxed from the grasp of the thick marine concretion that trapped it — a painstaking process that took archaeologists and conservators from the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary and Mariners' Museum several days.
But that was only the start of a decade-long treatment program that included hundreds of hours of tedious yet precise manual labor as conservators used ultrasonic dental scalers to break down the concretions embedded between the fragile fibers.
Now the museum is engaged in the final steps of a $20,000 effort to reassemble some 180 pieces of fabric onto custom-made archival mounts, then put the conserved coat on display inside its USS Monitor Center here in southeast Virginia. And with weeks to go before humidity indicators determine the optimum place for the artifact, the leaders of the effort to bring it back to life say that all the time, money and attention has been more than worth it.
"We've found all kinds of buttons inside the turret — some made of wood, some of glass, some of bone, some of rubber, some even mother-of-pearl. Clearly the sailors were just tearing their clothes off before jumping into the water — and doing it so fiercely that their buttons were popping off," Monitor Center director David Krop said.
"This coat was left behind by one of those sailors — and it gives you a very real, very personal connection to the story of those men and this ship during its chaotic end."
Recognized around the world after its clash with the Confederate ironclad warship Virginia — also known as the Merrimack — in the March 9, 1861, Battle of Hampton Roads, the pioneering Monitor sank less than 10 months later off Cape Hatteras.
Not until 1973 was the wreck found in 220 feet of water — and 25 years passed before Navy divers working with archaeologists from the Newport News-based sanctuary launched the first in a series of summer expeditions that led to the 2002 recovery of the turret.
That's when conservators and archaeologists began the task of excavating and preserving the contents of the revolutionary gun platform, which had flipped upside down as it sank, jumbling its two giant guns and gun carriages, two ill-fated sailors and the rest of its contents together. Among the most poignant objects discovered as they sifted through the tons of sediment and concretion that had accumulated over 141 years was the coat, which wrapped around several of the Monitor's gun tools — including a rammer and worm — as the sinking vessel descended.
Puzzling that mass apart from the surrounding concretion with small hand and pneumatic chisels was delicate and tedious work. "It was heavily concreted in a lot of places — and the concretion had grown into the woven fiber structure," senior conservator Will Hoffman said. From the turret, the mass went immediately into a tub of water — the first of countless baths it would undergo over more than 10 years in an effort to remove the destabilizing chemicals absorbed from the sea.
But long before the conservators freeze-dried the cloth to remove the last traces of its final water bath, the disintegration of the original cotton thread had combined with its long exposure to the sea to pull the garment apart into about 180 pieces. "It looks like it's in great shape," Hoffman said, "but it's actually pretty degraded."
Full Text is Continued at Los Angeles Times.com
Images are from Los Angles Times.com