Lifting, Rotating, and Rolling with Care

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Conservation staff use a 5-ton auxiliary hoist with lifting cables to move a 10-foot long section of wrought iron propeller shaft weighing 1,900 pounds.  The shaft's surface is protected from the steel lifting cables by rubber, foam, and canvas.
Conservation staff use a 5-ton auxiliary hoist with lifting cables to move a 10-foot long section of wrought iron propeller shaft weighing 1,900 pounds. The shaft’s surface is protected from the steel lifting cables by rubber, foam, and canvas.

The act of moving USS Monitor artifacts during conservation or onto exhibit at The Mariners’ Museum often isn’t very simple.  Factors like an artifact’s size, weight, fragility, and material composition must be considered before any move occurs in order to avoid damaging these precious artifacts. Minimizing movement during treatment and exhibition is critical to the overall health and long-term survivability of fragile artifacts. Often times the Monitor Conservation team spends days or even weeks planning and prepping for a move that may take no more than a few seconds or minutes.  Better safe than sorry! 

We use a variety of gear and equipment including overhead cranes, lifting straps and cables, shackles, chain hoists, lifting platforms, come-a-longs, pneumatic tires, dollies, forklifts, and good old-fashioned sweat and elbow grease.  But sometimes even the best equipment and planning is no match for 140-years of exposure to a corrosive ocean environment.  As a result, many of these treasured artifacts from USS Monitor are too unstable after deconcretion and conservation to move out of the exhibit.   Read more

USS Monitor Turret Mosaics in Civil War Times

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Our good friend Dr. Francis DuCoin has been busy!  Check out his new hi-def photo mosaics of the exterior and interior of USS Monitor‘s gun turret in the latest issue of Civil War Times. 

Additionally, he wrote a brief update on the slow but steady progress being made by conservators in the lab to stabilize the 120-ton wrought iron turret.    Read more

Save USS Monitor’s Revolving Gun Turret

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This is our 100th post, and it’s an important one!  The Virginia Collections Initiative in conjunction with the Virginia Association of Museums is once again generating its list of “Virginia’s Top Ten Endangered Artifacts”.   Read more

USS Monitor in the New York Times!

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The Mariners’ Museum and Monitor Conservation Project were fortunate to attract the attention of John Tierney and the New York Times.  John visited the museum on two recent occasions and published an article about the Monitor in the NY Times on August 8. 

The article coincides with the 150th anniversary of the publication (in the NY Times and other papers) of the Union Navy’s call for “Iron-Clad Steam Vessels” on August 9, 1861.  Check it out his great article here:   Read more

A Day in the Lab

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It was Friday afternoon and Conservator Elsa Sangouard did not say a word; she didn’t have to say anything.  Her smile told the whole story.  Elsa and Gary Paden, the Objects Handler for the USS Monitor Conservation Project, had just successfully removed a beautiful and shiny copper alloy tallow cup from Monitor’s 25-ton steam engine when I walked into the engine treatment tank.  They held the multi-component artifact with pride and examined it closely.  It had the appearance of something Dr. Seuss would have invented.  Two valve handles of different sizes extended from the smooth, round tallow reservoirs.  A smaller drain spigot with a stout nozzle extended from one of the reservoirs.  It looked ornate and stout, fantastical and practical.  Engineers heated tallow or pig fat in these devices.  The liquid fat would then drip into the steam engine’s valve chests, providing critical lubrication.  Surprisingly, Elsa was able to turn one of the valve handles as if it the object was new.  Smiles grew wider on their sweaty and sediment-covered faces.

            They passed the tallow cup to me and I placed it in a plastic container filled with deionized water for safe storage and desalination on a workbench outside of the engine treatment tank.  I labeled the container and lined it up with a dozen similar containers filled with other copper alloy engine components removed during the week.  Conservation Technician Mike Saul walked up to the table with a clipboard and began documenting the condition of each engine component for entry into the artifact database and individual artifact treatment files.  We stared at an amazing assortment of ten oil cups of various sizes removed from the engine’s rock shaft bearings and eccentric arms.  A small drop of oil bubbled to the surface of the water in one container.  “That’s original engine oil from the night the Monitor sank,” I said.  Mike hustled off to grab a glass sample vial so we could collect the oil for later analysis.   Read more