Out of Philadelphia comes a news story so bass-ackwards that it belongs in The Onion. Dimitri Rotov has the details over at Civil War Memory.
The Olympia, veteran vessel of the Spanish-American and First World Wars and the oldest steel warship still sitting on top of the water anywhere in the world, is at the Independence Seaport Museum. The Olympia was Dewey’s flagship at Manila Bay; he was standing on her decks when he gave the order, “You may fire when ready, Gridley.” She also happens to be the ship that brought home the remains of America’s WWI unknown soldier.
Now, the ideal culmination of any effort to locate and preserve some historic vessel is to raise the wreck, conserve it in a lab, and then put in on display where you can interpret it for the public. Olympia never went to the bottom of the ocean. She sailed home to acclaim and ended up as a museum. No sinking, no salvage. So far so good.
The problem is that the Independence Seaport Museum can’t afford the upkeep anymore, so they’re looking to dispose of her. Here’s the money quote: “‘Another option would be scrapping Olympia,’ said James McLane, interim president of the museum, which owns the ship and is adjacent to it at Penn’s Landing. ‘But the Navy has told us that ‘reefing’ is better because it would allow divers to go down on it and would preserve Olympia.’”
“Reefing” basically means towing it out to sea and then sending it down to Davy Jones’s locker, where it would be inaccessible to everybody except for scuba divers and fish, subject to the very same kind of deterioration that’s causing the Monitor and the Titanic to crumble to pieces.
I’m not trying to criticize the museum. Lots of museums are in a bind. If they don’t have the funds, then they don’t have the funds, and scrapping the ship wouldn’t do anybody any more benefit than reefing it. But the irony here is just absolutely sickening. We spend millions of dollars and thousands of hours trying to raise historic ships from the bottom of the sea, get them afloat, and turn them into exhibits, and now here we have a historic ship that’s already afloat and on exhibit, and it might end up at the bottom of the sea. Unbelievable.
There is, fortunately, a group of people dedicated to keeping Olympia afloat, and I urge you to visit their website. Please consider a donation to this organization, or at least sign their online petition.