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Visitors find that taste of history is shipshape


Kathy Sullivan wouldn’t have gone to the presentation on the USS Constitution if her husband hadn’t pushed her.

“I didn’t care before I came here,” Sullivan said. “But now I think it’s fabulous.”

She was surprised that tears came to her eyes during the talk on Thursday evening about the famous ship. To see a part of American history was compelling, Sullivan said. So on Saturday, she brought her 5-year-old grandson, Turner Sullivan, to the ship’s exhibition on display at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture.

Hundreds of people came out to see a touring replica of the ship’s gun deck, which will remain on display through today. A U.S. Navy crew – dressed in 1813-style uniforms – narrated the ship’s history and demonstrated how to load a cannon. When the captain shouted, “Stand by,” signaling the impending blast – limited to a sound effect for the demonstration – his crew members covered their ears, and some crouched, earning laughs from the audience.

Commonly known as “Old Ironsides,” the 207-year-old USS Constitution is the oldest commissioned warship in the world that is still afloat. Its victories against Britain’s Royal Navy during the War of 1812 let other nations know that the United States was building a navy and prospering as a country, said Billy Crandell, one of the tour guides and a Navy fireman.

Now, the U.S. Navy is the strongest in the world. “It started because of this ship,” Crandell said. “When they (people) hear that, they realize what the ship really means and why it’s still here,” Crandell added.

The ship’s impenetrable walls – composed of a layer of live oak sandwiched between two layers of white oak – are the reason behind its moniker and fame.

The Pacific Northwest is the fifth stop on a six-year educational and outreach program about Old Ironsides, whose port is Massachusetts Bay. Last week, staff of the nonprofit USS Constitution Museum, and the Navy crew visited more than 20 local schools to talk about the ship and its significance.

Jennifer Akins’ sons were intrigued by the school presentation “and they wanted to see more,” Akins said, so she brought them to the museum. “My kids are super interested in history,” Akins added, noting that 7-year-old Ewan found it unfair that his school wasn’t audience to the presentations. Dutifully, his mother took him to his older brother’s school, Libby Center, to watch the assembly.

A table next to the exhibition allows visitors to etch their names onto sheets of copper that will cover the ship’s hull when it’s revamped in 2012.

After Patty DuPriee left her mark, she reminisced to the person manning the table about seeing the ship in Olympia when she was a young girl. The USS Constitution toured the United States in the early 1930s to celebrate its preservation. Although the ship was due to be broken up, the public rallied against the plan and a Harvard student even wrote a poem called “Old Ironsides.”

“I just always remember being aboard the ship,” DuPriee said, although she can’t recall how old she was. Old Ironsides looked much smaller when DuPriee visited it in Boston a few years ago. “It’s a beautiful ship.”

Michael Hurley wanted his 10-year-old, Christian, to have a similar lasting impression of the national icon. Hurley snapped a picture of his son, standing next to the ship’s captain.

“It’s important to me that my kids are raised with a value of what this country stands for,” Hurley said, “and the honor of what these men – and the men they represent – did for freedom.”


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