Sunday, April 5, 2009

Home, Sweet Frigate

(Should have been posted March 26, 2009)

Every week, our professor puts out a bunch of material from newspapers, magazines, journals, and historic sites/museums. She has a great British word for what to call all this "stuff"; I'll have to ask her next time we meet. As a class, we're then free to snag whatever strikes our fancy and use it as inspiration for our journal entries.

This week, I saw an old copy of the journal of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (now Historic New England). On the cover was a black and white reproduction of a painting in the museum's collection, a clipper ship in full sail. Unfortunately for a maritime history fan like me, there were no articles about said ship in that issue of the journal, just the image on the cover.

However, since I also work at USS Constitution Museum, it got me thinking about Old Ironsides as a place to live. Obviously, she was a ship built to be a naval vessel. Launched in 1797, she and five other frigates were intended to protect American shipping interests by providing defense from Barbary pirates. She also saw illustrious service in the War of 1812, capturing a number of British naval vessels, including the Java, Guerriere, Cyane and Levant.

However, in the long course of her life, she also served as floating home to hundreds of sailors and soldiers. The above photo, for example, is of one of the small spaces at the stern of the ship that were set aside for either the captain of Constitution or the admiral of the fleet. It's not a bad looking space; rather cozy, really. Certainly more private than the rows upon rows of sailors' hammocks hanging up in the large open areas of the berth deck.

As with all restorations, though, the work done on the Constitution over the last century or so has been guided by the principles of the time. For example, the room in between the captain's sleeping quarters and the rest of the berth deck (I forget what it's called) currently contains a sideboard and dresser in very Victorian style. These pieces of furniture were put into place during the 1920s restoration of the vessel and are obviously not accurate to 1812, which is the time period the present restoration is aiming at. However, there are solid people in charge of this restoration, so the final product will be an accurate representation of how Constitution looked in 1812, both as a fighting ship and as home to her loyal crew.

No comments: