Planning a trip to a historic warship soon? You might want to hurry, because many of these floating museums are danger of being lost to us forever.
With the recent news of the historic USS The Sullivans taking on water in Buffalo, New York, concern is growing for the nation’s maritime museums. According to the National Park Service, there are currently 164 vessels designated as national historic landmarks in the United States — all designed to keep history afloat.
Ranging from aircraft carriers to WWII battleships, to small patrol boats and experimental submarines, one thing remains universally true: “Their need to exist in the naturally hostile environment that water presents to wood and metal makes preservation a constant (and expensive) challenge,” (Ret.) Lieutenant Commander Thomas J. Cutler wrote on the U.S. Naval Institute website in 2011.
Yet the alternative — sinking them or selling them for scrap — is equally, if not more costly — for example sinking the World War II-era aircraft USS Yorktown, in South Carolina, would cost about $60 million.
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Here are five endangered floating museums in the continental U.S.:
Named after Rear Admiral Isaac Campbell Kidd, Sr. who was killed aboard his flagship, USS Arizona (BB-39) during the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Fletcher-class destroyer, the sister ship of the USS The Sullivans, was launched on Feb. 28, 1943, and saw action at Bougainville, Tarawa, Leyte Gulf, Guam and Okinawa, among other places.
Docked in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the USS Kidd was supposed to be dry-docked, but that fell through because of COVID-19, which made It harder to fund-raise for necessary repairs.
“With below-average business, the ship’s staff was able to do some work on board, like painting and deck work,” reported last year. “Progress was also made on the effort to prepare the nearly 80-year-old ship to be drydocked in the future for much-needed repairs.”
“We have been able to almost complete a hull survey, which is necessary for us to determine exactly what kind of work we need to do once we go to drydock,” executive director, Rosehn Gipe told the local television station.
Until it is out of the water, however, the ship can’t be fully examined for damage. The slow sink of the USS The Sullivans has only increased the urgency for the necessary the repairs.
“You may fire when you are ready, Gridley,” came Commodore George Dewey’s famed declaration while he stood aboard his flagship, USS Olympia. The red and white, 344-foot vessel participated in Dewey’s 1898 route of the Spanish at the Battle of Manila Bay during the Spanish-American War and brought home World War I’s Unknown Soldier.
Docked on the Delaware River as part of Philadelphia’s Independence Seaport Museum in 1958, the rusting of Olympia’s hull reached critical levels by mid-2012. Options included having it sunk at its moorings, selling it for scrap or scuttling it for an artificial reef.
Today, while the museum has managed to stave off complete disrepair, the world’s oldest floating steel warship needs upwards of a staggering $20 million in repairs, with the yearly cost alone to keep her floating in excess of $120,000.
“She stands in both those worlds, and she stands alone,” Peter Seibert, chief executive officer of the Independence Seaport Museum, told the American Legion in 2021. “There just isn’t another one like her. I know that sounds like museum hyperbole, but it’s really true.
“Like an old house where you have to do the foundation and the roof, we’ve got to do the deck and the hull to keep her going, so she’s around for another 100 years and another 100 years beyond that.”
Launched on Feb. 16, 1942, and commissioned just six months later, the South Dakota class of fast battleships saw action in the Gilbert and Marshall Islands campaign, Leyte Gulf and Okinawa.
The USS Alabama, now a beloved and recognized piece of Alabama history, is moored in Mobile, and after 82 years is finally getting a much-needed fix after facing the usual dangerous culprits — salt and water.
Daily wear and tear from visitors and workers have only added to the ship’s disrepair, according to the 18-member commission that has been trying to get the teak deck replaced for decades. The project, estimated to cost $8.5 million, will take roughly three years to complete.
The ship will stay open during construction.
One of 24 Essex-class aircraft carriers built during World War II, the carrier USS Yorktown (CV-10) — named after the USS Yorktown that was sunk at Midway — was commissioned a year after its namesake went down and saw action in Saipan, Guam and Okinawa, among numerous other campaigns in the Pacific.
Today, moored in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, the ship is facing over $40.5 million in repairs to save its decaying steel hull. The salt water of Charleston Harbor, not to mention yearly tropical storms and hurricanes, have caused rust and flooding in parts of the lower deck.
In 2015, according to Collins Engineers Inc, the Charleston-based engineering company tasked with analyzing the interior and exterior structure of the warship, the hull’s average loss of thickness is about 3.7 percent.
Despite this, and the price tag that accompanies it, there is currently “no risk to the public for being onboard,” Jonathan Sigman, a senior project manager with Collins Engineers Inc, told SC Biz news in 2015. “There are issues that need to be repaired, but the bulk of the ship [i]s in very good or serviceable condition.”
The famed Iowa-class battleship the “Mighty Mo” — the site of the unconditional Japanese surrender on Sept. 2, 1945 — is now undergoing its seventh year in dry dock. Originally moored at the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, the repair and preservation of the superstructure is underway and being paid for entirely by The Association, a nonprofit corporation, to the tune of $3 million.
Scheduled for completion this November following 32 weeks of repair, the work has involved “the sandblasting of nearly 27,000 square feet of steel surface of the superstructure to remove areas that are rusting or have become corroded due to exposure from the salty air and sun,” while an “estimated 17,000 pounds of steel is being replaced,” according to a recent USS Missouri press release.
The Mighty Mo will, thankfully, live to fight another day.