For the past few months, I have researched all the artifacts featured in the Top 10 Endangered Artifacts Program. I have read nomination forms, books, and internet search results to prepare for phone interviews and e-mails with past participants of the program. In 2011, the USS Monitor’s revolving gun turret was chosen as a Top 10 Endangered Artifact. I recently talked to David Krop, director of the USS Monitor at the Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, VA. He shared with me updates on the Monitor and its revolving gun turret.
The USS Monitor was the first ironclad steamship commissioned into the United States Navy. The Monitor played an essential role in the Battle of Hampton Roads during the American Civil War. On March 9, 1862, the Monitor fought the Confederate ironclad CSS Virginia. This battle ended in a draw, “Though indecisive, the battle marked the change from wood and sail to iron and steam.” The Monitor would later sink during a storm off the Cape Hatteras Coast in North Carolina.
The Monitor wreck site was discovered in the Outer Banks in 1973. In 1987, the Mariners’ Museum was designated as the official repository for the Monitor artifacts. The Monitor’s revolving gun turret weighs 120-tons. It currently sits in a 90,000 gallon treatment tank that promotes electrolysis and desalination.
Since being featured in the Top 10 Program, the condition of the turret has improved. Krop explained its progress, “The turret is doing very well in conservation, but we estimate another 18 years of remaining treatment. The electrochemical process to remove salt is going well and this will make the Monitor more stable. We will also have to remove part of the turret roof during treatment. Fundraising to support conservation and exhibition is one of our major goals. The artifacts convey unique stories and raise awareness of the importance of USS Monitor to our nation’s history.”
When the Monitor sank on December 31, 1862, four officers and twelve crewmen lost their lives. Archaeologists and conservators have discovered within the turret artifacts that belonged to these men. Krop mentioned, “The turret is a single artifact…but we recovered over 500 additional artifacts inside of the turret. For a gun turret that is big and complex, it was filled with personal artifacts. It contained hundreds of items such as clothing, buttons, and pencils.”
The Top 10 Program is a great tool to help re-introduce history and conservation efforts to the general public. Krop shared, “…the Top 10 Program was an eye-opener for people that did not know about the Monitor. It was a great way to teach them about the turret and its artifacts. The Top 10 Program helped The Mariners’ Museum promote the Monitor and her stories to a wider audience.”
Thank you to David Krop for updating VAM on the USS Monitor and its revolving gun turret. For more information on the USS Monitor’s conservation, visit the Monitor Center’s blog at http://www.marinersmuseum.org/blogs/ussmonitorcenter/. For Twitter updates, visit @USSMonitorLab.
The Monitor on the James River, July 1862. Photo courtesy of Historic Naval Ships Association.
The Monitor’s Wet Lab with the rim of Monitor's armored gun turret just visible above the edge of the tank. Photo courtesy of the Mariners’ Museum.
An overhead picture of Monitor's gun turret prior to removal of the guns and carriages. The turret has an inside diameter of 20-feet. Photo courtesy of the Mariners’ Museum.
Historic Naval Ships Association. "USS Monitor." http://www.hnsa.org/ships/monitor.htm (accessed July 20, 2014).
Krop, David. Phone Interview with Rebecca Guest. Personal interview. Richmond, July 3, 2014.
The Mariners' Museum. "Conservation of USS Monitor's Revolving Gun Turret Webcam." http://www.marinersmuseum.org/uss-monitor-center/conservation-uss-monitors-revolving-gun-turret-webcam (accessed July 20, 2014).
The Mariners' Museum. "The Monitor Center History." http://www.marinersmuseum.org/uss-monitor-center/history (accessed July 20, 2014).