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In her youth she was beautiful. Her fine lines and graceful sheer, her lightly upturned head, the classic quarter galleries and restrained carvings gracing her 18th-century transom stern--all flowed together flawlessly in this magnificent creature of the sea. Her loft rig spread more sail than any European frigate. In fact, she and her two sisterships were larger in every way than their contemporaries. She is the USS Constitution--the oldest warship afloat anywhere in the world. This proud old warrior has seen--and participated in--virtually all our nation's history. She fought in four wars; circled the world as a symbol of American power; was commanded by the superstars of American naval history: Preble, Decatur, Bainbridge, Rodgers, Hull, Stewart, MacDonough. Constitution is the definitive American icon--older than the Washington Monument, Mount Rushmore, the White House.
But her age has been one of her greatest enemies, second only to bureaucratic indifference. The ship that rallied American in the second war of independence later found herself reduced to a floating classroom at Annapolis, and still later became a barracks for transient seamen. Theodore Roosevelt's Secretary of the Navy even recommended that she be towed to sea for gunnery practice. In 1830, rumors that she was to be scrapped prompted Oliver Wendell Holmes to write his epic poem, "Old Ironsides." The ensuing public clamor brought Constitution a complete overhaul. She was rescued by the public again in 1876 for the American Centennial, and given a cosmetic makeover in 1907. In 1927, she received an extensive restoration, funded in part by collections from school children.
Now, 200 years after her launching, this living link with our nation's beginnings is again preparing to sail.
Table of contents
AcknowledgmentsPreface1 The First U.S. Naval Establishment2 Constitution's Early Career3 Peace, Cruises, Idleness, and Neglect4 The State of the Surviving Frigate5 The Restoration QuestionEpilogue, 1997AppendicesI. Continuity of Aging: The Difference Between Restoration and DevelopmentII. Building Constitution: Materials and FacilitiesIII. Berth Deck--The Living QuartersIV. Wood for Ship's StructuresV. Constitution's Contemporary and Companion VesselsEndnotesSources and ReferencesIllustration CreditsIndex
Thomas C. Gillmer is uniquely qualified to write this book. He is the designer of the replica ships Pride of Baltimore, Pride of Baltimore II, Lady Maryland, Peggy Stewart, a Norse expeditionary ship circa 1000 AD. Former professor of naval architecture and chairman of naval engineering at the U.S. Naval Academy, and author of Naval Academy textbooks on naval architecture and ship design, Professor Gillmer was chosen by the Navy to conduct a structural study of Constitution, and to plan how she might be restored to her former glory. He is also one of the premier yacht designers of the age, and hundreds of his beautiful designs sail the world, including the Allied Seawing ketch. He lives on Spa Creek in Annapolis, Maryland.