Wednesday, February 26, 2020

USS Monitor Center cleans the inside of one of two Dahlgren guns undergoing conservation; no cat remains found so far

Erik Farrell uses special drill on bore (Brock Switzer/The Mariners' Museum and Park)
USS Monitor conservators on Tuesday used a custom-built boring machine to remove encrusted marine line and sediment from inside the barrel of an XI-inch Dahlgren gun.

The Mariners’ Museum and Park in Newport News, Va., provided social media updates about what has been found in all the gunk: “So far, lots of coal, some pieces of crab and some seashells.”

But, the museum hastened, no remains of Lt. Whiskers, a black cat said to be a mascot on the innovative Union ironclad.

Francis B. Butts, a Monitor sailor who survived its sinking during a storm on Dec. 31, 1862, gave this account: “A black cat was sitting on the breech of one of the guns, howling one of those hoarse and solemn tunes which no one can appreciate who is not filled with the superstitions which I had been taught by the sailors, who are always afraid to kill a cat. I would almost as soon have touched a ghost, but I caught her, and placing her in another gun, replaced the wad and tampion; but I could still hear that distressing yowl.”

Conservators are drilling the ironclad’s two Dahlgren guns, which were housed in the turret and made famous in the USS Monitor's clash with the CSS Virginia.

“We accomplished our goals for yesterday, it went very well and are now busy with preparations for the next one," Tina Gutshall, conservation administrator for USS Monitor, told the Picket in an email Wednesday.

The gun is lowered before drilling (Brock Switzer/The Mariners' Museum and Park)
The cleaning of the second gun is tentatively scheduled for March 3.

“Once the guns are bored, the next step is going to determine now that we've exposed that area, how much the marine salts are going to come out," Will Hoffman, the museum’s director of conservation, told TV station WVEC:  “So once we go put it back in the solution, we'll let the chemistry treat it."

The museum wants the artillery pieces eventually to go on display with thousands of other artifacts.

The Monitor’s turret was raised off Cape Hatteras, N.C., in 2002. Numerous artifacts have been found in the years since as it, too, is being stripped of harmful concretion with electrochemical treatments and hand-held tools.

This project is focusing on getting rid of concretion inside the Dahlgrens.

(Brock Switzer/The Mariners' Museum and Park)
“Originally, that hollow cavity was filled with loose sand, sediment, coal and other debris from the sea floor,” conservator Erik Farrell told the Picket. Most of that was previously removed.

The barrels have had between 1" and 3" thickness of concretion covering them all the way down the bore and forward to the muzzle -- hence the need to clean the inside of the 11-foot-long guns.
(Brock Switzer/The Mariners' Museum and Park)

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