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Lincoln's Secret Weapon

Midships bulkhead
A view of the forward side of the Monitor's midship bulkhead.
Saving the Monitor
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.

Lantern A signal lantern recovered from the wreck site in 1977.

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.

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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