Friday, June 15, 2001
BY BRIAN HICKS
Of The Post and Courier staff
Beginning Saturday, the public gets its first peek at the inner workings of the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley.
Tours of the Warren Lasch Conservation Center, complete with a trip to the rim of the tank that holds the Hunley, start this weekend and run through Labor Day. For $10, you can peer into the submarine and get a look at the handles the crew cranked to turn the submarine's propeller.
"I really hope everyone who is into the Hunley story takes this opportunity to come and look inside the Hunley," said Friends of the Hunley Chairman Warren Lasch. "We believe visitors will be able to really see what the crew experienced 137 years ago and better understand the technological advancement that the Hunley represents."
The Hunley lab was opened to visitors through much of last fall, but those 20-minute tours offered only a glimpse of the submarine's exterior - it had not been opened yet.
Now, the Hunley rests in a tank of clear water with four plates off its hull. Most of the interior mud has been removed, revealing a cramped 42-inch-wide crew compartment. Scientists have lit the tank to make for a better look.
At various points from the tank's mezzanine, you can spy a couple of the hand cranks and even the handle for the forward ballast tank pump. At the left end of the platform, near the stern, you can see the removed hull plates in a separate tank. At an angle closer to the sub's stern, you can look forward to see the axle connecting the dive planes.
But you probably won't see the bench the crew sat on - it was mounted on the port side of the sub's interior wall, and the sub lists to starboard in its 55-foot-long tank.
The Friends of the Hunley have added several other features to their tours, which will run on Saturday and Sunday through the first weekend in September (July 5 and 6 have been set as weekday tour dates). They will display X-rays of several artifacts, including the lantern that historians believe sent the Hunley's mission-accomplished signal, and photographs of sub commander Lt. George E. Dixon's fabled gold coin good luck piece.
The sub's iron spar will be on display at the lab in a see-through case, giving visitors a look at a piece of the submarine scientists did not expect to find.
When the tours end in September, scientists expect to begin the second phase of the excavation - around the bulkheads and under the crew's bench.
"Seeing the actual Hunley before the final phases of excavation begin in the fall is the last chance to see the sub with some of its contents on board. You will be Hunleytized," Sen. Glenn McConnell, Hunley Commission chairman, said.
Tickets for the tour are available through ETIX. Call ETIX toll free at 866-866-9938 or online at www.etix.com.