Friday, October 21, 2016

October 21: "Old Ironsides" Celebrates Another Birthday

On 21 October 1797, Boston witnessed the launching of the USS Constitution, which remains "the oldest commissioned warship in the world."

Here she is, depicted on the 150th anniversary commemorative stamp, which proved to be both very popular and unexpectedly controversial (naval aficionados did not think the depiction was sufficiently active and heroic).

As I noted in my recent post on the fiftieth anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act (October 1966-2016), it was an innovative decision on the part of the US Postal Service to depict historic resources other than buildings on the stamps issued for the fifth anniversary of the law: a San Francisco cable car, and the whaling ship Charles W. Morgan of Mystic Seaport.

The inclusion of ships raises intriguing question about, first, what should be preserved, and second, what "preservation" means in the case of resources such as ships, whose material is constantly being replaced. The "Constitution" has undergone a number of major restorations, but the latest (2007-10) was intended not only to preserve the ship, and also to bring it back to the state of 1812, when it achieved its greatest fame (context and overview; individual aspects of the project).

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from the vaults (2010): backgrounder and summary on the "Constitution" and challenges of maritime historic preservation:

21 October 1797: Launching of USS Constitution; the need for preservation and interpretation continues

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