The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

November 23, 2012

Auction offers macabre USS Monitor opportunity


Associated Press

— RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The Virginia museum that is home to the USS Monitor's turret is offering a macabre invitation: the opportunity to be inside the revolving gun housing of the Civil War ironclad on the anniversary of the final hour before it sank 150 years ago.

The Mariner's Museum in Newport News and the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary launched an online auction Friday for up to six people to hunker down in history on Dec. 30 and 31. The eBay auction will remain open until 6 p.m. on Dec. 2.

The bidding opens at $1,000 with an undisclosed reserve price. Proceeds from the auction will support the conservation of Monitor artifacts. The turret's conservation alone costs $2,000 a day.

The Monitor sank between midnight Dec. 30 and 1 a.m. Dec. 31 in 1862 in rough seas southeast of Cape Hatteras. Sixteen of the Monitor's 52 crew members died. When the turret was raised from the ocean bottom, two skeletons were discovered in its rusted hulk.

"This is the ultimate opportunity to travel back in time and immerse yourself in the final moments of the USS Monitor," said Dave Krop, director of the USS Monitor Center.

So who would want to spend New Year's Eve in a 120-ton gun turret?

"We think it's probably the Civil War fan that has everything," said Anna Holloway, vice president of museum collections and programs at The Mariner's Museum. "They don't want any more books, they don't want any more DVDs. They just want to experience this."

Holloway and Krop said the museum and the sanctuary are mindful of the deaths that occurred when the Monitor sank and the stay for the six will include the remembrance for the crew who went down with the ship. The night of the stay will include the sounding of the original engine room gong to honor the men who died in the sinking.

"We're very sensitive to that," Holloway said. "But what we do know is so many people who are interested in this history of this vessel take great stock in being at certain places at certain times."

Krop said the visitors will see remnants of the Monitor's battles, including a fist-like impression a cannonball made in the turret. The Dahlgren guns that were in the turret have been removed.

"We're treating this with a great sense of reverence, understanding that all of the men who left the ship that night went out through the gun turret," he said.

The successful bidders of the turret stay will also receiving lodging near the museum and food and entertainment at the museum, which is marking the day with special events.

The museum is limiting the winning bidder to five guests because that is deemed to be a comfortable number for the turret, which is 20 feet in diameter, said John Warren, a spokesman for the museum.

The Brooklyn-made Monitor made nautical history, fighting in the first battle between two ironclads in the Battle of Hampton Roads on March 9, 1862. The Monitor's confrontation with the CSS Virginia ended in a draw. The Virginia, built on the carcass of the U.S. Navy frigate USS Merrimack, was the Confederate answer to the Union's ironclad ships.

The Monitor sank about nine months later in rough seas southeast of Cape Hatteras while it was under tow by the USS Rhode Island. Dubbed a "cheese box on a raft," the Monitor was not designed for sailing on rough water. The crew of the Rhode Island was able to rescue about 50 survivors.

The wreck was discovered in 1973 and designated the first national marine sanctuary in 1975. An expedition about a decade ago retrieved the revolving turret.

Of the Union sailors aboard the Monitor, some fell into the sea and died and some remain within the crumbling hull still on the ocean floor. The remains found in the turret probably reflect the desperate attempts of two crewmembers to abandon the ship before it sank.