Constellation's secure future Living Classrooms: Education group's takeover of restored Inner Harbor museum ship is a good fit.

September 23, 1998

THE Constellation Foundation has made a prudent decision: Once restoration of its namesake is completed, the 1854 warship will be handed over to Living Classrooms Foundation.

This is a good fit. In addition to ambitious education programs, non-profit Living Classrooms already operates the Baltimore Maritime Museum, whose exhibits range from skipjacks to a World War II submarine. The Constellation, when it returns to its Inner Harbor pier next summer, will be the crown jewel in that tiara.

It will simplify marketing and fundraising to have most of the city's maritime treasures under the umbrella of Living Classrooms. The main exceptions will be a steam tugboat that belongs to the Baltimore Museum of Industry and the John W. Brown, a World War II Liberty ship.

The Constellation Foundation faced formidable odds two years ago when it started the restoration effort at a projected cost of $9 million. The vessel, the last all-sail warship built by the U.S. Navy, was badly rotted. Initial estimates of repairs seemed prohibitively expensive until the Navy agreed to the use of glued wooden laminates in the rebuilt hull.

This modern method does not alter the appearance of the ship. Yet the Constellation will emerge from the shipyard looking quite different. It no longer pretends to be a 1797 frigate, which it was made to resemble in misguided earlier restorations. Instead, it looks more like the 1854 sloop it is.

Meanwhile, new research has uncovered previously unknown (or forgotten) facets of its history -- how it fought slavery, patrolled for Confederate raiders and carried famine relief to Ireland.

Members of the Constellation Foundation deserve the community's gratitude for saving this historic ship. It will now be up to Living Classrooms to make the ship succeed as a museum. And that organization is promising to do so with a bang: At certain times every day, the cannon of the Constellation will be fired to draw tourists' attention.

Pub Date: 9/23/98

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