Issue: November 2004
Her Age Becomes Her

Baltimore’s Constellation turns 150.


     For a ship to survive 150 years is no small feat-heck, some trees don’t make it that long, let alone a wooden warship that endured war service, naval training and fighting the slave trade. So this past year, the U.S.S. Constellation’s 150th, has really brought an occasion to celebrate.

     The official birthday bash took place during the last weekend of August-flags waved high over the crowded Inner Harbor, cannons were fired, songs were sung and, despite the tremendous heat and humidity, a good time was had by all. Visitors participated in gun drills and “powder monkey tours,” given by the ship’s crew and the Ship’s Company re-enactment group, who were on hand to help guide guests and teach them about the ship. “When [Ship’s Company] are onboard, it’s really a treat,” said Chris Rowsom, executive director of the U.S.S. Constellation Museum, of the onboard activities. “They bring the ship alive.”

     On land, children built their own tall ships and competed to keep them afloat. And while the bands and choral groups filled the air with maritime tunes, the adults got to try their hands at knot-tying activities and chat with Constellation historians. “I’ve been having a great time today,” Jennifer Merke of Ellicott City, Md., said while working hard at learning a rolling hitch knot. “But I can’t figure out this knot for the life of me.”

     Along with the birthday party guests, Rowsom was expecting quite a few Constellation “family” members to attend Saturday evening’s reception. “About fifty descendants [of crewmembers] are here. . . . It will be really neat to get them onboard the ship to share their history,” Rowsom said.

     The birthday bash wasn’t the only Constellation celebration this year. Along with the Maryland Historical Society, the museum hosted a monthly speaker series featuring naval historians, authors and Civil War experts on a wide variety of topics, from the slave trade to Civil War medicine. And the year-long anniversary celebration was set to continue with its biggest event, the annual turnaround. Every year the Constellation is turned around in its slip to help it weather the sunlight evenly. This year’s plans included towing the ship to the Naval Academy in Annapolis-where it served as a naval training vessel from 1871 to 1893-for a special homecoming. “It’s a very neat thing for us to do on the ship’s one hundred fiftieth anniversary,” Rowsom said. Even though it’s not an official training ship [anymore], it’s still an educator. It’s educating people about their nation’s past.”