It’s time to double back a bit in the photographic saga of my most recent trip to Boston. I say “most recent” because it was a city I visited often when I was in high school, given that I could get there easily from Southern Vermont. It’s also a favorite city so I plan on going back every chance I get.
For this trip I was the “Trophy Husband” the Long-Suffering Wife on one of her business trips. (She calls me that, but someone has pointed out that she never said it was a first-place trophy. It could have been for “best effort,” “most enthusiastic participation,” or “best cookbook collection.”) We were in a hotel downtown, she was in meetings all day, so I walked The Freedom Trail, starting at Boston Common, up Fremont Street to the Old State House and Faneuil Hall, into the North End to Paul Revere’s house and the Old North Church, then finally across the Charles River and into the Charlestown Navy Yard.
Last time I showed pictures of the USS Cassin Young and mentioned that she was the second-most famous attraction in the Charlestown Navy Yard. That is, of course, because she sits across the pier from the USS Constitution, otherwise known as “Old Ironsides.”
The USS Constitution is the oldest commissioned vessel in the world, launched in 1797.
She is not just a museum piece, but a seaworthy, commissioned US Navy vessel. When you go onboard you’ll have to go through a brief security check (about like going to a ballgame) because technically you are entering onto US military property. Tours are free. (But check if you’re going in the next year or two, she may be in dry dock and unavailable for tours from time to time.)
She earned the nickname “Old Ironsides” in the War of 1812. Taking on and defeating four British frigates, it seemed that the British cannonballs were simply bouncing off of her sides.
She was a primary ship in the 1804-1805 engagements between the young United States fleet and pirate ships operating out of Tripoli. You know, “From the Halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli…”
She made a round-the-world excursion in May 1844 through October 1846, briefly participating in the Mexican-American War while enroute.
Today her uses are ceremonial (I don’t see her taking on any Russian subs or Chinese aircraft carriers any time soon) as one of the finest tall ships from the United States. She sailed during the “tall ship” celebration of the US Bicentennial in 1976, after previously occasionally undertaking several multi-year US coastal tours. For example, in 1930-1934 she toured from Maine to the Caribbean, through the Panama Canal, and up the West Coast to Washington, and back to Boston. The controversy on that trip was that she was towed by a mine sweeper instead of travelling under sail, because the Secretary of the Navy at the time didn’t believe that a crew could be trained to properly handle her in actual sea conditions..
In 1997 she sailed under her own power in celebration of the 200th anniversary of her launch. In 2012 she sailed again for the 200th anniversary of her victories in the War of 1812. In 2014 she sailed around Boston Harbor five times in anticipation of a return to dry dock for maintenance in 2015. She’s expected to sail again in 2018.
The Constitution is crewed by sixty regular members of the US Navy. It is obviously a great privilege to serve an assignment as part of her crew. The care that the crew takes with every line, every beam, and every bolt onboard is quite apparent. This is a vessel which is honored, revered, and respected.
In a round of restorations and upgrades from 1930-1934, modern amenities were installed belowdecks, including modern toilets, water piping, and electrical lighting. In recent maintenance and upgrade cycles the entire ship has been gone over inch by inch, with modern techniques such as radiographic scans used to check for damage and rot hidden inside timbers.
The original bell for the Constitution weighed 242 pounds and was cast by Paul Revere in 1798. That bell was lost during the 1812 battle with the HMS Guerriere, and the Constitution took the Guerriere‘s bell as a replacement. The Guerriere‘s bell is now in the on-site USS Constitution Museum.
The current bell shown above is inscribed, “U.S. frigate Constitution – bell presented by descendants of officers and men who served on Old Ironsides – 1926.” (The closed circuit security cameras and flood lights on the mast above the bell are, presumably, not original equipment from 1797.)
If you get a chance to walk the Freedom Trail (and I really hope you do, it’s a great way to spend a day), a visit to the Constitution is a great way to relax and rest for a bit before pushing on to the final end of the trail. She’s a great old ship and it’s a joy to see her riding at anchor.
Next time, we press on toward the end of the Freedom Trail, and that slightly mis-named monument in honor of the battle fought in 1775 on Breed’s Hill.