Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Frigate USS Constitution "Old Ironsides"

Sketch, U S Constitution "Old Ironsides" Vallejo CA, 1933 by E A Burbank
From the Collection of the USS Constitution Museum, Boston, with permission

I suppose that my fascination with Tall Ships began when we had the opportunity to see OP SAIL '76 in New York Harbor on July 4, 1976 on the Bicentennial of our nation's birth.  We had an impressive view of the Hudson River high atop a 30 story building above the Palisades on the New Jersey side of the river about a mile below the George Washington Bridge.  Given this blog's home page banner image of the Tall Ships that I took just off the coast of Tofino B.C. , Canada, I couldn't resist posting an entry on the USS Constitution, the grandmother of all the Tall Ships. 

She is the oldest commissioned military vessel in the world still floating. She was built in 1797 in Boston and is now permanently located in Boston Harbor and is used primarily as part of the USS Constitution Museum.  She has had a long and glorious history which I am sure you can read all about on many sites on the Internet.

My fascination with her started when I had the opportunity to purchase a fully rigged model. I couldn't get over how detailed the rigging was and how many thousands of hours it took someone to build it. I constructed a beautiful display case of mahogany and glass worthy enough to display her. She is 38" long from stem to stern and 27" high.

Then, by some luck I stumbled onto a genuine US Constitution relic that was made from the timbers and metal removed from the ship during its reconstruction during the 1920s. On the box lid there is a large bronze medal showing the US Constitution under sail with the inscription "OLD IRONSIDES Launched 1797 1804 Tripoli 1812 Guerriere Java 1815 Cyane Levant U.S. Frigate Constitution". 

Relic wood box 7.25" x 4" x 2.5" , from my personal collection. 
Attached to front of box is bronze plaque with the inscription "This Material Was Taken From The Original Hull Of The U.S. Frigate Constitution Keel Laid 1794 Rebuilding 1927".

Subsequently, I found a lithograph of the ship at the Naval Shipyard, Mare Island, Vallejo, CA dated 1855. Unfortunately, it was not of Old Ironsides, but rather of the frigate Independence which was built a few years after Constitution.

As best as I can tell, Constitution never made it to San Francisco Bay during her active career.  She did, however, visit the Bay during her so-called “National Cruise,” or "Three Coast Tour" in the 1930s.  She was there 24 March to 12 April 1933 and again from  31 August to 15 September 1933.  Thousands of visitors walked her deck during that period.  The USS Constitution Museum recently acquired a pencil drawing of the ship by E.A. Burbank showing her alongside the pier at Vallejo, CA in April 1933 (see the image at the top) it gives you a good idea of what the ship looked like when she was there. 

I found an interesting CDV of the USS Constitution from 1861 while she was located in Newport, RI.  It appears that the rigging has changed considerably. 
USS Constitution anchored off Goat Island, Newport, RI, c. 1861

This is one of the earliest known photographs of her that exists. Here is another one:

Old Ironsides, Philadelphia, PA, 1876

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