Sunday, September 10, 2017

USS Monitor conservation: 'Hiding' knife found embedded in famed ironclad's turret

(Courtesy of Mariners' Museum and Park, Newport News, Va.)

The Civil War ironclad USS Monitor continues to serve up pieces of crew cutlery as conservators chip away at sediment inside the giant turret.

A team at the USS Monitor Center at Mariners’ Museum and Park in Newport News, Va., late last month found a small knife wedged in one of the rails that form the turret’s ceiling.

“We have a collection of over 20 pieces of silverware, from various locations in the turret, that have been excavated since 2002,” conservation administrator Tina Gutshall told the Picket.

Conservators this summer worked inside the turret, which is upside down and sits on its roof. Part of their work included cleaning the electrolytic reduction system, which is aimed at removing damaging ocean salts from the iron.

“We have been steadily cleaning out the rails for years now, and small finds are always a possibility as we clear away mud and concretion,” said Gutshall. “We also have a fork that is actually trapped in a space that is not retrievable yet, because we will have to dismantle some of the roof structure to free it.”

 (Photos courtesy of Mariners' Museum and Park)
Red arrow shows knife, which lays flat in middle of photo above

In a museum blog post, assistant conservator Laurie King described the find.

The ceiling was constructed out of railroad tracks, which means there’s plenty of nooks and crevasses for concretion (marine growth) and corrosion to build up. And there’s plenty of places for objects to hide.”

Hundreds of items spilled into the inverted turret as the Federal ironclad sank off Cape Hatteras, N.C., in December 1862. The remains of two sailors who were among 16 to die in the sinking were found in the revolving gun turret.

The USS Monitor fought the Confederacy’s Virginia (Merrimack) several months before, at the Battle of Hampton Roads.

Knife found in rails at bottom of photo (Mariners' Museum and Park)

Will Hoffman, chief conservator at the USS Monitor Center, told the Daily Press newspaper there has always been a question about why so many eating utensils, including some made of sterling silver, have been found in the turret said it was raised from the Atlantic Ocean in 2002.

“We don’t know if it was some of the sailors trying to take advantage of the confusion and pocket them as they left the ship or if all these objects simply tumbled out of a drawer and into the turret when the ship was sinking,” Hoffman told the Daily Press this week.

The knife was excavated with small hand tools. Most of the blade and all of the wooden handle survive. The utensil will be treated and make a “fantastic addition” to the vessel’s collection, King wrote.

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