Three suitors compete to take the sub home
BY BRIAN HICKS
Of The Post and Courier Staff
The last time this many people were
chasing after the Hunley, there were Union ships bombarding the
On Friday, officials from Charleston,
North Charleston and Mount Pleasant scrambled to submit
proposals to build a new maritime museum for the Confederate
submarine H.L. Hunley. As the 3 p.m. deadline grew closer, North
Charleston officials were anxious at the airport, Mount Pleasant
was hosting re-enactors in the rain, and Charleston was racing
And from there, it turned into a mad
dash to deliver three top-_secret proposals to the Warren Lasch
Conservation Center on the old Navy base.
Although none of the cities would
reveal their elaborate plans for the Hunley, all three mayors
claimed historical high ground, and all thought they offered the
best for the fish-boat's future.
North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey
said his city was the historical anchor of maritime history in
the region. The Hunley is a _natural fit for the area, he
"The folks that were on the Hunley
were a spectrum of the working class of Americans that put their
life on the line for their belief in their country," Summey
said. "That's what North Charleston is made up of."
Mount Pleasant Mayor Harry Hallman said
his town is where the submarine was refitted and docked before
it sank the Housatonic and that the sub's crew spent its final
night in the old village. Besides, he said, Patriot's Point is
already South Carolina's premiere maritime military museum. The
sub is a perfect fit.
"For the sake of the Hunley and
the visitors who will come to see it, I hope our chances are
extremely good," Hallman said.
Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr.
said that a location along the waterfront near the South
Carolina Aquarium lends itself best to presenting the Hunley
story. It is near that spot where the submarine arrived by rail
from Mobile, Ala., in 1863, and it is there the Hunley was
brought after it sank for the second time.
Also, you could see the Hunley
Housatonic battlefield from the site where Charleston wants to
build its museum.
"It has amazingly significant
historical relevance," Riley said.
The three cities had several criteria
to meet in their proposals before they would be considered: They
had to offer a museum of at least 40,000 square feet, have a
waterfront location and a plan for keeping the Hunley a
high-profile tourism draw. The Hunley Commission, the state
agency set up to manage the submarine, will evaluate the
proposals by committee beginning next week. The whole process,
which will include oral presentations open to the public, could
take a couple of months or more.
The proposals arrived in varying states
of pomp and circumstance Friday.
In Mount Pleasant, a group of
Confederate Infantry re-enactors stood quietly at attention as
dignitaries nailed the lid on a heavy wooden provisions crate
with the legend "H.L. Hunley, Completing the Journey,
Patriots Point, Mt. Pleasant" fired on it. Inside, beneath
a parchment reproduction of Harper's Weekly, were eight
Confederate rucksacks - one for each member of the Hunley
Commission. Each rucksack held a copy of Mount Pleasant's
proposal and various odds and ends that might be found in a
Rebel soldier's pack - a comb, a toothbrush.
After team members shut the box, the
re-enactors carried it by its rope handles down Ferry Street,
recreating the final walk of Lt. George E. Dixon and the third
crew of the Hunley. Local legend says the crew stayed at a house
on Ferry Street the night before the Hunley sank the Housatonic
on Feb. 17, 1864.
"We feel like it's significant for
us to bring the proposal here to send it off symbolically,"
Mount Pleasant wants to build a new
building on existing land at Patriot's Point - on the water and
along a new boulevard that will be completed long before the
museum would open seven or eight years from now.
Hallman said Mount Pleasant's proposal
also included funding for the work being done on the sub while
it is in its Navy base lab.
Friday morning, North Charleston's
proposal was still in Charlotte, having missed a Federal Express
deadline. So Summey hung out at the airport, waiting for his
city's plans to arrive on a commercial jet. When they arrived,
he rushed back to City Hall, put a new cover sheet on the
proposal and took it - with a police escort - to the lab. He
would take no chances with traffic.
Summey arrived with a cardboard box
filled with copies of the North Charleston proposal while the
Mount Pleasant contingent was dropping off its crate. Summey was
confident his city's plan was the best.
"This is a personal thing to me
and for our community," he said. "Quite honestly, I
think we have put together a proposal that is going to make some
North Charleston wants to make the
Hunley museum a centerpiece of the waterfront park it is
developing as part of the 3,000-acre Noisette project on the
city's south side. Summey said the proposal was developed using
the expertise of the Noisette Co. and some of the nation's
premiere museum designers and planners.
Unlike the other two cities,
Charleston's proposal was delivered understated in a manila
folder 10 minutes before the deadline. Riley said the city did
not want to make a big media splash surrounding its proposal;
that he didn't want to treat the sub as a prize to be won. It
is, he said, about "what is the best-quality location for
this museum to be successful."
Charleston is proposing to build a
Hunley museum on Charleston Harbor next to the National Park
Service's Fort Sumter Tour Boat facility off Liberty Square.
The site is currently owned_by the
Campsen family, but_is being acquired by the Park_Service.
Riley said building next to the Fort
Sumter tour boat facility would link Charleston's two major
Civil War experiences and offer a view of the waters where the
Hunley sailed in 1863 and 1864.
"You can look out from Charleston
to the ocean and to where the Housatonic was sunk, and to where
the Hunley was brought back from," he said.
Riley also thinks the Hunley and the
other waterfront attractions, such as the aquarium and IMAX
theater, would complement each other and benefit from each
The Hunley Museum, wherever it goes,
might not open before the end of the decade. Scientists are
working to restore the submarine, recovered from the Atlantic in
August 2000, and say it could take another five to seven years
to refurbish it and stabilize the hull enough for it to go on
Still, the decision on where to build
will be made much sooner. The Hunley Commission will make each
of the cities' proposals public sometime next week, and the
hearings - along with the lobbying and the sniping - will begin
Hunley Commission Chairman Sen. Glenn
McConnell has said the commission will weigh every aspect of
every plan based on a single, overriding criteria: what is best
for the Hunley.
The only certainty for now is that two
of these cities will have hurt feelings.
Schuyler Kropf and James Scott of
The Post and Courier staff contributed to this report.
Used with permission of The Post and
Courier and Charleston.Net