I may be jumping on the “Save the Olympia” bandwagon a bit late, but here’s one more voice raised in the ship’s defense.
The Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia is the current home of the cruiser Olympia, Admiral Dewey’s flagship during the Battle of Manila Bay, May 1, 1898. She is the oldest steel warship still afloat and the last surviving naval vessel from the Spanish-American War.
The Olympia is a National Historic Landmark and a National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark. And she is also in need of major repairs and restoration. Current estimates are that without these repairs Olympia could sink at her dock within three years. The Friends of the Cruiser Olympia website has a plan to save the ship, and information about the Independence Seaport Museum’s past, present, and future restoration efforts is here. The museum was going to close the Olympia to the public as of November 22, but on November 18 they announced that the ship will stay open on a reduced schedule.
A few weeks ago Karen, the kids, and I went down to Philly to see the Olympia before she was closed. My former college roommate Jesse Lebovics is the museum’s historic ships manager, and he gave us an amazing behind-the-scenes tour of the Olympia. My son and I took nearly 300 pictures, desperately trying to document every inch of the boat. Here is a small sample that shows what we stand to lose if the ship is scrapped or sunk as an artificial reef (two possible outcomes if restoration is not completed).
The public part of the ship is well marked. Follow the arrows and you won’t get lost:
The Olympia was built by the Union Iron Works in San Francisco:
This is where the officers ate:
The crew ate and slept here:
Meals were prepared in the galley:
The Olympia is so big it’s hard to take in all at once. It’s easier to focus on details, like this remote control for a valve to flood the magazines:
Or this engine to hoist buckets full of ash from the lower decks:
But even some of the details are pretty big, like these pistons:
The coal ovens for the boilers:
And the main engine:
This is where Admiral Dewey hung out when not telling Gridley to fire when ready:
Like any good boat, Olympia was designed with redundant systems. (If the engines were out of service, she had sails for backup.) There are three different places where the ship could be steered. Here’s the forward wheelhouse:
One level below is an armored conning tower with another helm, and aft there is an auxiliary helm:
Engine commands were sent from the wheelhouse to the engine room on this telegraph:
This indicator showed the helmsman the rudder position:
A view along the deck:
And the ship’s bell:
After our tour of the ship we headed to the City Tavern (established 1773). Here you can get beers brewed using the recipes of (left to right) George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Alexander Hamilton:
All photos by Brian, except where noted.