Saving the Monitor
A view of the forward side of the
Monitor's midship bulkhead.
by John Broadwater
I am frequently asked, "Why is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration (NOAA) and not the U.S. Navy responsible for the USS
Monitor?" Well, when the Monitor was discovered in 1973, lying 16
miles offshore, concerned groups learned that the Navy had officially abandoned
the Monitor in 1953, leaving her vulnerable to looting and salvage.
Since she sank outside U.S. territorial waters, she could only be protected by
a single American law: the Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act of
1972. This law empowered the Secretary of Commerce to designate special marine
areas as sanctuaries, to be protected and managed by NOAA for the benefit of
present and future generations. In 1975 the wreck of the Monitor became
America's first National Marine Sanctuary, under the management of NOAA's
National Marine Sanctuary Program.
I am also asked, "Why did you raise the Monitor's propeller?" (an event
chronicled in the NOVA program "Lincoln's Secret Weapon"). The answer is that
over the years we have conducted extensive research at the sanctuary, and in
the early 1990s we discovered that the Monitor's hull had begun to
deteriorate at an accelerated pace. All evidence suggested that collapse could
occur at any time, causing the loss of much of the ship's structure and many of
its historic contents. We could not let that happen.
signal lantern recovered from the wreck site in 1977.
In response to this crisis, we developed a long-range, comprehensive plan that
recommends stabilization of the Monitor's hull and the recovery of key
components of the wreck, including the propeller, engine, guns, and turret. The
1998 propeller recovery was the first phase of the recovery and preservation
plan. We hope to recover the Monitor's engine in 2001 and her guns and
turret the following year. Soon people won't need to dive to 234 feet to see
parts of the Monitor. They will be able to see them conserved and
displayed at The Mariners' Museum in Newport News, Virginia, near the scene of
the Monitor's famous battle.
John Broadwater is manager of the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary.
Photos: Monitor Collection, NOAA
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