Wednesday, February 23, 2005
It was found in pieces on the ocean floor. But 145 years to the day of its most famous battle, a full-scale replica of the ironclad USS Monitor should stand in front of the Newport News museum bearing its name. When the USS Monitor Center opens two years from now, the 170-foot-long, 41.6-foot-wide and 14-foot-high replica should easily be seen from Warwick Avenue. And while there will be a few technical differences between the new ship and the old – the plates are steel, not wrought iron, and they’re welded rather than riveted – onlookers will get a sense of time and place. “When it’s together and painted, it will only take a little imagination to put yourself on the original ship,” said Tom Clark, director of production engineering at Northrop Grumman Newport News. The replica will cost the museum nothing. The ship is being built by workers from the Newport News shipyard. Materials were donated by the Navy. Officials estimate it would have cost them more than $1 million if they were to commission it. When it’s finished, visitors will be able to climb gangplanks from the museum to the deck of the ship. The museum is slated to open March 9, 2007 – the 145th anniversary of the clash between the Monitor and the CSS Virginia. Known as the Battle of Hampton Roads, it marked a turning point in naval warfare when two ironclads faced off. It ended in a draw. The Monitor sank later that year on Dec. 31, 1862, during a storm off the North Carolina coast near Cape Hatteras. About 100 workers, including some trainees, from the Newport News shipyard have spent the better of the year planning and designing the ship. On March 6, officials from Northrop Grumman and the museum will hold an official keel-laying ceremony for the replica. The laying of the keel traditionally marks the first milestone in a ship’s construction. Historically, ships were made of wood and the keel was the spine of the ship. For this ceremony, workers will celebrate construction of the first of the 22 steel sections of the ship. Weighing 18 tons and running about the size of a rail car, the section will be delivered on the back of a Lowboy trailer this weekend in time for the ceremony. Workers will build the remaining sections in the yard, and then those will also be trucked over to the museum site where they will be assembled. The replica should be completed by the end of this year, Clark said. The Mariners’ Museum won the contract from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 1987 to house the 1,200 artifacts that have been excavated so far from the wreck site. The finds range from a button off one of the sailor’s uniforms to boots, silverware, lanterns and the gun turret with the cannon inside. They will all be on display inside the $30 million, 63,500-square-foot center. “The Monitor is the ancestor of every ship in today’s Navy,” said Mariners’ Museum spokesman Justin Lyons. Workers from Northrop Grumman’s apprentice school built the conservation tanks that will treat and preserve relics from the Monitor, such as the gun turret and steam engine. The engine, which is 15 feet tall and 15 feet wide, will probably need to soak for at least 10 years to leach more than a century’s worth of salt and rust from it, Lyons said.
Northrop Grumman Newport News workers will build the USS Monitor replica in 22 steel sections inside the shipyard’s steel production facility. Pictured is the first section, called the keel unit, which weighs approximately 18 tons and is about the size of a rail car. A full-scale replica of the ironclad USS Monitor will stand in front of the USS Monitor Center, slated to open on March 9, 2007, in Newport News.