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Officials hope to restart public tours of submarine

Thursday, April 19, 2001

Of The Post and Courier staff


     Before long, you could be peering inside the Hunley, staring at the bench the doomed crew sat on, the crank they furiously turned to power the submarine's propeller and the controls that helped it glide beneath the waves.
     As the excavation of the Confederate submarine nears its final month, that chilling view is just over the horizon. Officials connected with the process say they are beginning to study ways to let the public have a look back in time.
     Sen. Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston, chairman of the Hunley Commission, and Warren Lasch, chairman of Friends of the Hunley, say they are talking with engineers and architects about ways to work in public viewing of the submarine at the lab.
     Nothing is final yet, and there is no timetable for tours to resume, but they are working on it. The two men say there could be some new construction around the Warren Lasch Conservation Center, perhaps a room added to the side to allow the public to look in at the sub from a different angle.
     But that is just one option.
     "It could be that we build a glass mezzanine over the tank to let people look down into the Hunley," McConnell said.
     All of this, of course, depends on cost and how unobtrusive it would be to scientists, who will continue to study the submarine and its contents through the next year.
     "That's what it's about. We're looking to find a way to reopen to the public without getting in the way of scientists," McConnell said.
     The lab was previously opened from October through January, before archaeologists began sifting through the silt-filled interior of the submarine.
     During those tours, the mezzanine deck connected to the Hunley tank was opened for 40 people at a time. But that is where scientists are doing much of their work these days.
     The fall and winter tours allowed people a close-up look at the submarine's port flank, a broadside view that gave little hint to the sub's hydrodynamic construction.
     A view from the other side, as Hunley officials are considering, would allow visitors to look down on a knife-like bow, the top of the conning tower hatches and inside the submarine.
     From that angle, with three hull plates off the submarine, people could see the hand cranks for the propeller, the portside bench the crew sat on and some of the machinery used to work the Hunley's ballast tanks and dive planes.
     There is very little chance the tours could resume before late summer, as the excavation will likely continue through most of May. Any construction at the lab would have to wait until after archaeologists finish their initial work inside.


Used with permission of The Post and Courier and Charleston.Net



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