Even though I had been present at the raising of the Hunley and its placement in the Lasch Center, I was still anxious to see it even closer. Like millions of others I tried to get my tickets via the Internet web site. To get a ticket you had to specify a date and time desired. Each time I got the message that no tickets were available when I wanted them. After about a dozen tries I requested the last hour of the last day of the last weekend, 5:00 PM of November 12. Luck was with me and I was able to get eight tickets, the maximum allowed per person, for myself and seven family members.
We drove to the Warren Lasch Conservation Center where the sub is being preserved on the former Charleston Naval Shipyard. The Lasch Center, like many military buildings was designed with little concern for aesthetics or appearance. It is strictly functional and utilitarian. It is reminiscent of many of the buildings used by NASA as shown on TV news. (Click for picture of the Lasch Center.) It occurred to me that visiting the Hunley like this was almost like attending a visitation for a funeral but in an industrial setting.
One of the first things that struck me upon approaching the building was the number of policemen and security guards. They seemed to be a dozen or so. However, there were even more Hunley Volunteers wearing identifying Tee shirts. The Volunteers seemed involved in all aspects of the operation.
After passing through a room being used for machinery storage we entered the first large room being used for the Hunley effort. There is a big gift shop with many interesting items relating to the Hunley and the Confederacy in general. They have clothes, pictures, hats, cups, etc. The prices are reasonable there is a large selection to choose from. All proceeds from the gift shop go to support the Hunley raising and restoration efforts. (Many of the items in the gift shop can be ordered through the official web site at (http://www.hunley.org/ )
The large room also has at least two of the movie props that were used to make the melodramatic and "Hollywoodized" TNT movie on the Hunley. They were used to shoot some of the interior scenes of the crew operating the sub. Like all of the Hunley replicas, these props had more crew headroom than the actual sub has been found to have.
Our tour group guide, one of the Hunley volunteers, had been an extra in the TNT movie. Before climbing the stairs to be able to see the Hunley, our guide explained the rules for viewing the sub. After an explanation of the rules our group climbed the stairs to the viewing area. The submarine is in a large tank and is normally filled with chilled water to help the preservation effort. On the day we were there, the tank had been drained almost empty to allow the preservation technicians to inspect and work on the sub. This allowed us to have an unobstructed view of the boat.
On the viewing platform you are about 10 feet away from the boat. The sub rests at an angle, leaning away from the viewing platform. It is covered with a layer of marine accumulation, etc. that masks many of the details of the boat’s features. But the components are immediately recognizable - the access towers with their hatches; the diving planes; the air box that is missing its pipes; the propeller and the partially complete ring that enclosed it. And running almost full length down the side is the 12 inch wide piece of iron that joined the two halves of the locomotive boiler that the Hunley was made from. It was very much as described in the newspaper story told by W.A. Alexander a century ago. Mr. Alexander had been a member of the Hunley crew but had been reassigned shortly before the Hunley was lost.
Above all, during the viewing, was the idea that we were looking at the tomb of eight brave men. They had met a violent death and had spent 136 lonely years on the bottom of the ocean. Now, their remains were back. They were still entombed but they were among people who cared deeply about their sacrifice and death. It was obvious that the Hunley was not just a marine relic to the Hunley volunteers and to many of the visitors to the viewing. The memory of the Hunley and crew’s efforts and deaths were as fresh and catastrophic as if they had happened yesterday. Hanging in the background, but with no visible evidence, was the thought of the five Housatonic sailors that were killed by the Hunley’s night time attack on that long ago February night. Death had come to them suddenly from out of the darkness.
After about half an hour our tour was over. It ended with a look at the metal spar that had held the Hunley’s black powder torpedo. It is in a small tank by itself.
The Hunley Commission has plans to allow further visits as long as they do not interfere with the restoration effort. The chance to see the submarine up close was a once in a lifetime opportunity and, appropriately, our visit was on Veteran’s Day weekend. It was a fascinating but melancholy experience.
The effort to raise, restore and display the vessel will cost an estimated $20 million, according to officials.
Click on this for an eyewitness account and photos of the recovery.
Click for Description of Differences Between the Recovered Submarine and What Was Previously Thought.
Click on this link for more thoughts on the Hunley's homecoming.
You may be interested in helping the "The Friends of the Hunley" Foundation in its efforts to raise enough money to recover and preserve the submarine. You can send any contributions to:
Friends of the Hunley
Fund To Save The Hunley
P.O. Box 12444
To Books Available on the Hunley
Columbia, SC 29111.
Return to the home page of the Hunley .