During my short trip to Baltimore I had the chance to visit a really neat museum in the Inner Harbor—and I mean literally in the Inner Harbor.
Historic Ships in Baltimore is a collection of four vessels and one lighthouse. You just pick a ticket option depending on how many of the ships you want to see and then tour them in whatever order you please and at your own pace. The star attraction is this lovely lady, the USS Constellation.
Specifically, she’s the second Constellation. The first was one of the six frigates approved for construction in the 1790s, and saw service in the Quasi-War, the War of 1812, and against the Barbary pirates. She circumnavigated the globe in the 1840s, but that was her last hurrah. The next decade saw her torn apart for scrap just as construction began on the second Constellation, the one currently on display in Baltimore.
At some point in the twentieth century there was a lot of confusion surrounding the relationship between the two vessels, with a lot of folks thinking they were actually the same ship, the second one having supposedly been fashioned out of the original in the 1850s. (For a thorough analysis of the brouhaha, check out this report.) As of now the debate has been pretty conclusively resolved, and the ship sitting in the Inner Harbor is interpreted as a Civil War-era vessel, allowing visitors to get a firsthand look at the twilight of the Age of Sail.
The second Constellation started her career in the Mediterranean, and then patrolled the coast of West Africa in search of slave ships, the trade in human cargo having been outlawed. This is an aspect of U.S. naval history I hadn’t heard much about, but it’s one of the topics explored in the small museum alongside the vessel. The exhibit also includes quite a few original artifacts from Constellation‘s very long career. She returned to the Mediterranean during the Civil War to search for Confederate prey, and was still in service during WWI as a sort of floating classroom for naval recruits.
The view from the helm:
In addition to the standard exhibit signage, visitors get a handheld audio device to take with them. When you enter the number of each tour stop into the keypad, you hear a little recorded dialogue between a kid and a Civil War-era sailor who explains how the different ship components worked and what life on board was like.
I’m not a tall guy, but I had to stoop a little to move around belowdecks. I can’t even begin to imagine how chaotic it would’ve been in this confined space when the guns went into action:
The captain’s cabin, ready to entertain fellow officers or a group of dignitaries from shore:
Dining arrangements for the average seaman weren’t quite as genteel.
One of the added bonuses of taking the Water Taxi is getting a close-up look at Constellation‘s starboard side.
The second-coolest vessel in the Historic Ships collection is the WWII submarine USS Torsk, moored alongside the National Aquarium.
A section of the controls. I’d add more info here, but I have no idea what any of these buttons and levers are for. I can’t even drive a manual transmission.
On August 14, 1945 two Japanese frigates found themselves at the business end of these torpedo tubes and became the last enemy vessels sunk by the U.S. in WWII.
There’s a lot for history buffs to do in Baltimore, but I’d rate Historic Ships as a must-see if you’re planning a trip to the city.
Within spitting distance of the ships is another treat for Civil War aficionados. Just across the water from the Constellation is Federal Hill. In 1789 Baltimoreans gathered here to ring in the Constitution.
By 1861 the city’s attitude toward the national government had soured just a wee bit, so Union troops fortified Federal Hill to keep things in line.