USS Constellation

Saxon Blue's Blog
Harvey Jones and Andrea Stokes
Thu 18 Nov 2010 01:52
Wednesday night

We decided to stay another day in Baltimore as we still had things to see. As it turned out, the predicted 20 knot winds were well over 30 knots so it was a good decision for that reason as well. Saxon Blue was getting rocked around in the night although it didn't keep us awake and it's all good conditioning for the ocean passages to come.

Andrea and I set off after breakfast to visit the USS Constellation, a square-rigged Sloop of War built in 1854. She had the same name as an earlier ship and it seems that, when she was first brought back to Baltimore, everyone including the Navy thought she was the older vessel. Anyway, she's the last remaining ship that fought in the Civil War so she's old enough. The restoration is superb and she puts the other preserved ships we've seen to shame. Her spar deck is one long sweep of parallel lines of caulking, like a smaller version of HMS Warrior. A knowledgeable young chap fired one of her cannons for us and told us about how she had the first rifled naval guns.

We were left to explore the whole ship, right down to the bilges with their iron ingots for ballast. The guns, hammocks, officers' cabins and even the surgeon's tools were all there with interpretation boards. Her construction was interesting as she had a lot of knees supporting the decks fitted at 45 degrees as well as the vertical ones. She has only one gun deck, apparently because the guns were so destructive by this time that three decks of them was overkill. Her hull is nowhere near as thick as that of HMS Victory so I suppose she was intended for speed and the ability to go on a long voyage unsupported rather than just slugging it out with another Ship of the Line. Altogether, she's a fine vessel and looks very seaworthy - not atall the top-heavy tub that I was expecting.

After that, we visited a Second World War submarine which fought in the Pacific. It was Andrea's first time on a sub and she was amazed at how the people just had to fit in around the technology. Everywhere there are switches, dials and cables. The bunks fit in where they can and it's hard to imagine a more dehumanised home. Leaving there, we met up with Kali and all went to see a Nineteenth Century Screw-Pile lighthouse which once guided ships into Baltimore harbour from the Chesapeake. It's a disk rather than the usual tower, made of steel and it stood on a series of piles which were screwed into the soft sand of the shoal it guarded.

Andrea still wanted to see the Contemporary Art Gallery so we headed Downtown on the free shuttle bus which was pretty intimidating - give me a storm at sea anytime. The show in the gallery was good but small so we decided to walk back to the docks before it got dark. We went up to the Washington memorial and then past some University buildings which mentioned a Mr Peabody who had endowed it in the Nineteenth Century with a famous library. We went inside to see that and it was astounding. Five floors of books surround a central atrium with a vaulted glass ceiling. Around the galleries are ornate wrought iron railings between gold encrusted pillars. The place has been called the "Cathedral of Books" and that's pretty well exactly what it was (and was intended to be, I think). Peabody was the original philanthropist and wanted to leave Baltimore with a library, music college, university and gallery to allow the people to better themselves. He also founded a housing charity in London which provides homes to this day - some of Andrea's friends live in Peabody flats now.

As we carried on back towards the docks, we passed the most impressive sky-scraper in Baltimore. It has a golden pagoda-style roof over a series of pinnacles and gargoyles. At ground level, the entrances are carved and look like gothic cathedrals. We realised that it was built as the Bank of America and was still functioning as such so we went inside. The banking hall is spectacular. Every state flag flies from the gallery above wrought iron balustrades. The floor is multi-coloured marble with mosaics set in. One of them showed Mercury but holding railroad tracks in his hands - an industrial god of communication. The marble pillars supported a vaulted roof, below which were a series of massive murals of the founding of Maryland. It was another cathedral, but this time to money.

After that excess of tourism, it was back to Saxon Blue for a home-cooked and healthy meal of vegetables, tofu and brown rice and we're about to watch some more Battlestar Galactica to calm us down. I'm amazed that Andrea managed to get through today. She normally hates history things but it was all so interesting that she couldn't help but get swept along and she didn't have to read too many signs.

The history here is so complex. During the Civil War, there was a riot when local Confederate sympathisers attacked a bunch on Union soldiers marching from one rail station to the other. In the ensuing melee, there were several deaths on both sides. Somebody wrote a song about it from the Confederate point of view and that was adopted as the Maryland State Anthem in 1939. Amazing. Their State song commemorates a bunch of rioters who supported slavery. Then you have all the stuff with the British, both during the Revolutionary War and the war of 1812 soon afterwards. The first seems to me more like a Civil War as both sides were really British aristocrats arguing over who had the right to levy and pay taxes and the second doesn't seem to have had any point atall other than the new USA trying to capture a bit of Canada while the Brits were busy defeating Napoleon.

Still, there's nothing like a good war to get the wheels of industry turning and the flow of cash going from poor to rich. And boy, did the cash flow around here. I don't think it's a a coincidence that all the cops, security guards, waitresses, bus drivers, protesting workers and beggars are black. I don't think there are too many black boat owners in our marina, though. It's still a very segregated place and pretty edgy as a result. I'm still amazed that such a segregated, divided country can be the only World Superpower.


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