Constellation visitors doubt oldest-warship debunking Most tourists dismiss Navy claim that vessel is a replica.

September 17, 1991|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Evening Sun Staff

As the USF Constellation bobbed quietly in its mooring in front of Harborplace, most of the tourists who came to see it did not seem not too excited over the recent commotion surrounding the ship.

Amid some mixed reaction, many were skeptical of the skeptics who now say the nation's reputed oldest Navy warship is not as claimed.

City visitor Arlo Slemmer, 60, of Pennsylvania, said, "I have no reason to believe why it wouldn't be the real one."

The debate over the ship's authenticity resurfaced last week in Annapolis, where a study by Navy researchers concluded the ship really isn't the oldest warship.

The study said the ship is a replica of the original 1797 Constellation that was discarded by the Navy in the 1850s.

"I don't get the point of it after all this time," said Leland Sdrassner 55, of Brooklyn, as he sat on a bench in the muggy and dead air. "It's out of nowhere."

Sdrassner likened the Constellation report to stories on the June excavation of former President Zachary Taylor's remains to prove if author Clara Rising's theory about the president being poisoned was true. A medical examiner concluded he died of natural causes.

"You can't even die in peace anymore," Sdrassner said.

Looking at the ship, Sheila Richards, 49, said, "I often thought about that myself. I don't think something like that could stay afloat that long."

The original ship was launched in 1797 from Fells Point, and once served as a flagship of the U.S. Navy's anti-slavery fleet. The ship arrived in Baltimore in 1955.

Since the 1940s, rumors have persisted about its authenticity.

Because of the historical repercussions, Richards said, "I guess I'd be disappointed if I found out it was not the real one."

The findings didn't surprise Dereck Gardner, 28.

Having toured the ship in the past, Gardner said, he believes the USF Constellation isn't real and he can tell from its interior.

"It's not what you'd call an antique ship," Gardner said as he walked around the Inner Harbor.

But to Michael Hawkins, 27, the ship looks old as if it "has been through a couple of storms." He said the ship is "beautiful" and is a piece of history.

History also was the crux of the matter for a woman, who gave her name only as Gwen and who was in town for the day.

"I think it's less important whether it was an original but what it represents to young people and visitors to our country," she said. "It has historical value and represents the early years of our American history."

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