Saving the USS Olympia

About the ship:

About her current situation:

I’m sending similar letters to the President, Secretary of Defense, Secretary of the Navy, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Chief of Naval Operations, my two U.S. Senators and my Congresswoman:

Dear [name]:

An important and irreplaceable part of America’s nautical heritage is in danger of being lost, but the U.S. Government can save it for just $20 million.

The USS Olympia is the oldest steel warship now afloat. She served as then-Commodore George Dewey’s flagship at the 1898 Battle of Manila Bay during the Spanish-American War, which marked the United States’s emergence as a world naval power.

The cruiser is now moored in Philadelphia as part of the Independence Seaport Museum (ISM), but will probably rust away or sink unless immediate action is taken to save her. ISM has already spent more than $5 milllion on upkeep and repairs, but another estimated $10 million is required to restore the hull and deck, to dredge at Penn’s Landing Marina, and to provide a safe tow to drydock. An additional $10 million is required for an endowment to fund a permanent berth in a cofferdam, with some endowment for future repairs or maintenance. ISM conducted a feasibility study which determined that it would be unable to raise the funds needed for Olympia’s preservation.

The historic warship’s last official naval mission was to carry the body of the Unknown Soldier from France to the United States in 1921. In addition to being a National Historic Landmark, the Olympia is also a National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark, on the National Register of Historic Places, and part of the Save America’s Treasures program.

Of course, $20 million is a lot of money, but not much at all compared to the entire Federal budget. I hope you will agree that it would be worth spending this relatively small amount to save such a vital part of our country’s great naval history. Please do all you can to make it happen. I look forward to hearing from you.

Very best wishes to you and your family for a happy, safe and prosperous New Year.

They spend $20M in the time it took you to compose the OP. So I say: save the Olympia!

The USS Olympia is well worth saving. I’ve only seen her from across the Delaware and never up close. I should plan to visit her this spring.

Things got very desperate for the Constitution at one point, so I think there is hope for the Olympia.

The Russians and the Japanese aren’t exactly flush with cash, either, but they’ve taken care of the Aurora and Mikasa from the same era.

Hell, yeah. $20m is a rounding error for the Department of Defense.

No dog in this fight, but do we really need to save all this junk? It is just an old Navy ship. Why can’t they just take the interesting stuff (captain’s cabin, engine room, etc.) and put it in a museum on shore?
Where I live, we all kinds of old houses that date from the Colonial period-many of them in disrepair… and every local historical society is clamoring for money to fix them-so what? How about spending the money on something that WE CAN USE?
WE have too much of the past cluttering up the scene-let’s get rid of some of it.

Well, The Olympia is the last 19th Century steel warship left in the U.S. That plus all the history makes it worth keeping.

It’s unique, unlike “all kinds of old houses that date from the Colonial period.” When it’s gone, it’s gone forever.

It seems like the US keeps very little of our history and grandeur. We blew up much of it until the 1960s. We nearly lost the USS Constitution at one point. Is that just another old Navy ship? We let the USS Enterprise (CV-6) be scrapped, the ship that may have done more to win WWII than any other. Our most decorated ship at very least. To me that was criminal. At least we still have the Battleship New Jersey. The Olympia was probably the ship that could be most credited with announcing to the world we were a world power. It is currently the oldest floating steal warship in the world. I think this is enough reason to preserve a bit of history.

Maybe Philly is not the best caretaker for this piece of history; maybe she should be fixed and towed over to the New Jersey on the other side of the Delaware. Maybe Philly could do more to build up its waterfront like Baltimore has done so well. I’m not sure, but the Olympia is a pretty important historical artifact at this point and a great teaching tool for kids and adults. A museum about the Olympia is far from going onboard the grand old flagship. I know this from ships like Ole’ Ironsides, The Constellation, The New Jersey and even the Intrepid.

I guess if you were British or Scottish you would want to clear out all those old castles and ruins cluttering up valuable land.

If yo’ve no dog in the fight, you might want to investigate the dogs that are in the fight:

  1. She’s a warship. You can’t easily just lop off bits and pieces and plop 'em down some place.
  2. Even if you could lop off bits and pieces with ease, you immediately lose the context of those parts you’ve removed.
  3. She’s a warship - An integrated whole. When you try to remove bits, you lose the gestalt.
  4. There are no bits of her that are not unique historic markers, from her hull design to her boilers to the bridge, there is nothing like her anywhere else in the US.
  5. She’s not just an old warship - there are plenty of those that go to the breakers every day. She’s an icon of a major and pivotal era in US history and foreign policy. The after-affects of the events in which she was participant continue to affect our foriegn policy to this very day. Would you turf ud the Washingtom Monument as a usless heap of decaying masonry? Allow the faces to fall off Mt. Rushmore…? the Olympia is every bit as historically important as those others.

If you were talking about the very last house of its type in the entire country, you’d have an accurate parallel, but you’re not, and don’t.

We do use it. The USS Olympia is heavily toured by school groups and tourists - by her very presence, she teaches us our history.

Eh…? Have you not heard that those whom don’t learn history, are doomed to repeat it? Think back to what the USS Olympia represents, and what lessons are to be learned from her times - Things that are still continuing forward to this very day. This is not clutter - this is schooling.

When I served at the Navy Yard, I frequently sent transient sailors down down on detail to the USS Olympia to help maintain her. The closure of the Navy Yard has removed an important pool of skilled help in her upkeep. The volunteers on the USS Olympia are dedicated, but they need an arcane set of skills, not commonly found in your usual volunteer, and a lot of the folks helping her are aging rapidly

I think you are right-but personally, the Olympic marks the start of an era best forgotten-our dalliance with imperialism! Had we kept our nose out of Asia (and concentrated on building up the USA, we would have been far better off! Nope, we had a continent-sized country…full of riches and bursting with resources-instead we got involved in a war which took thousands of lives, and led (inevitably) to Vietnam-unquestionly the most pointless conflict ever fought.
Had Admiral Dewey turned away and sailed out of Manila bay (after defeating the Spanish Navy), we would have been far better off-Mark Twain was right!

If you want to pursue this line of thinking, pls. start a new thread, preferably in Great Debates. It’s off-topic in the current thread.


twickster, MPSIMS moderator

The Royal Navy put the equally aged cruiser HMS Caroline to work as a training ship for the Royal Navy Reserve in Belfast. Its fate (and eventual location) are being considered after a new training location was opened for Northern Ireland.

My daughter asked me if it was a pirate ship when we drove by a while back :slight_smile:

What I want, most, is to avoid the disaster that overtook Admiral Farragut’s flagship, USS Hartford. Saved from the wreckers after her post-Civil War career was over, she was just beginning to be considered for setting up as a museum ship, when she sank at mooring in 1956. In the end all that could be salvaged was saved, but with her sinking the last steam sloop in the world was gone.

One thing to consider, much of the work that will be done on the Olympia will be spent in what has been a traditionally stressed US industry for the past 20 years: shipyards. I can’t say where the work would be being done. But much of that money would be pumped back into the economy as works projects, which is far from the worst place money could be spent at this time.

Hi, twickster!

If you want to move the thread, move it, but this thread’s forum allows, and its OP demands, honest replies, – or it used to, anyhow. If I want to solicit donations for some purpose, say the preservation of the relics of some abhorrent cause or crusade, for the edification of my dwindling band of adherents, shall I do it here, so that the folks who wish to object will be banished to some other thread and any neutral, uninformed audience will listen only to me and those who agree with me, and any detractors will be stigmatized by your rebuke? Nifty, except I have no horrible agenda to fund here.

Meanwhile, if the wreck is important to naval history (the public, apparently, has spoken), let the Navy preserve it – there’s precious little the U.S. Navy has chosen to preserve, but this is a new opportunity. If the wreck is important only to the Norfolk iron works, let them submit a bid.

Consider the case of the USS Salem (last of the heavy cruisers). Built by the Quincy, MA Fore River Shipyard, this ship sits neglected at the old shipyard. It was decomissioned in 1959 (completed in 1945), and was obsolete the day it was launched. I suppose it has some historical interest, but I don’t see exactly why it needs to be “saved”-why not make a video of the ship, and send the hulk to the scrapyard? Blowing >1 million/year on this thing might be nice for the people who get the work, but seems like a waste to me.

The King of Soup, just what standard of purity would you accept for maintaining historical artifacts? Even things as normally benign as census records have been part of atrocities.

When you want to argue there’s insufficient interest to merit spending the money, now, to save the vessel, I can’t deny the legitimacy of the point, while I reserve the right to disagree about whether it clinches the issue. When you argue that something was part of something too terrible to preserve, however, I’m a lot less willing to listen. In part because I despise the idea of condoning the whitewashing of history to remove the ugly bits.

If something is a unique artifact from an abominable cause or battle, I believe that would be an argument in favor of preserving the artifact. Enola Gay is preserved by the Smithsonian in part because of the controversy surrounding the use of the atom bomb. Allowing the ironmongery associated with slavery to be recycled into less objectionable forms has helped feed what I see as historical denial among people who want to whitewash the Antebellum South.

By the standard you seem to be accepting with your post, shall we advocate the burial of Auschwitz? The Elmira POW camp is long gone, and forgotten by all but a minute fraction of the population. Shall we do the same for the Andersonville site? Arlington Cemetery began as one of the most phenomenal examples of spite I can think of in history. Why not clear the House and other formerly private buildings there as being too tainted by their links to slavery and rebellion?

It seemed to me that Ralph was talking not so much about the Olympia (which I have toured, BTW), as about American imperialism in general. I can see that your reading of the post is different from mine, and appreciate your making the point.

Let’s try to stay somewhat focused here – and if someone does want to debate the US’s role in Asia (or elsewhere in the globe) in general, move that particular discussion to GD.

But, yeah, the Olympia as a symbol of imperialism – you’re right, on topic, objection withdrawn.

twickster, MPSIMS moderator

I had the opportunity to visit the Olympia in July and found that a number of areas of the ship had already been removed from the tour route. I don’t know if that was a result of deterioration or ongoing work on the ship. Even so, I’m glad I had the opportunity to walk her decks (and get a souvenir mug!). I made the effort to visit because I had read that her days might be numbered. It’s hard to work up a perfect list of vessels that deserve preservation, but Olympia would be near the top of my own. The ship really is significantly different from any other preserved ship I’ve visited. I also admit I’m a fan of the buff and white paint.

  1. Preserving old ships and history is generally NOT the Navy’s job. The Nav likes to help, where it can, and there are a few items that are preserved, but by-an-large, there’s not a lot of budget for that.
  2. She’s not (yet) a wreck. Just in bad need of upkeep.

Apples and oranges. The Salem, whilst indeed a lovely ship ( used to walk past her mothballed hull daily) and a fine example of an all-gun heavy cruiser, never did anything to make her worthy of preservation.

The Olympia, though, made you think about her era and its implications - That’s a valuable service. And she does that many thousands of times a year for many thousands of people - not just those who cross her brow, but also those who walk, drive, or sail past her.