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U.S.S. Constitution has colorful history

U.S.S. Constitution is moored at the foot of Commercial Avenue in Ana Cortez, Wash., in July 1933. (Submitted by Leona Pike Hammond).
U.S.S. Constitution is moored at the foot of Commercial Avenue in Ana Cortez, Wash., in July 1933. (Submitted by Leona Pike Hammond).

Crescent City has had a spectacular Fourth of July fireworks celebration and beachfront activities, which get better each year and always draw a crowd.

Across the country, a similar celebration takes place at night in Boston Harbor. But a daytime event there also draws spectators on that date. It is the ‘turn-around' time for the U.S.S. Constitution. Each July Fourth the historic frigate moves in the harbor and is turned around to weather evenly.

The last time she was rigged for sale was May 1997, the 200th anniversary of her launch. On that date, the vessel was sailed out of the harbor for one hour, then returned to its mooring at Pier One in the Boston Naval Shipyard, where it remains open to visitors.

There have been several misconceptions about Old Ironsides, which defeated the British warship H.M.S. Guerriere in the War of 1812. In anticipation of the 1997 harbor sailing, a statement in the national press said that the ship had never visited the West Coast. The statement was never retracted, but later news articles did confirm that it had.

Recently, reporter Cornelia de Bruin, assisted by research done by Brian O'Callaghan, Del Norte Historical Society manager, wrote an interesting article for The Daily Triplicate regarding Old Ironsides after the visit here of the tall ships. Sandra Nuss added further details.

In their research, they ran across the statement that U.S.S. Constitution had saluted Crescent City's school children and residents by standing off the harbor for one hour on May 4 en route to Vancouver, Wash., its farthest north port. It did not try to enter smaller harbors, only larger ports.

But the ship, being towed by a U.S. Navy destroyer, had traveled farther north. Come along for the trip. Leaving the Columbia River, it proceeded up the Washington coast, rounded Cape Flattery, thence up the Straits of Juan de Fuca and the Guemes Channel to Anacortes.

Preliminary to its anticipated visit, school children had to learn and recite the poem "Old Ironsides" by Oliver Wendell Holmes, a physician and poet who was the father of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr, the noted chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

His poem, decrying the government's plan to condemn the warship, inspired a Boston schoolteacher, Elizabeth Frye Leach, to organize school children to save pennies to help restore the U.S.S. Constitution.

Her appeal is credited with starting a nationwide youngsters' campaign. Other private donations were added and the government also contributed $300,000 toward the restoration fund, enabling the 204-foot frigate to make its 1933 tour of the nation's ports.

The writer of this article visited, with her two sisters, all grade school students, on Skagit County day. Her mother, Irene Pike, took the accompanying picture of Old Ironsides at dockside at the end of Commercial Avenue, the main downtown thoroughfare in Anacortes.

Several days of celebration were held, with special programs including a day devoted to disabled children, and one day each for each of the neighboring counties in the upper Pugent Sound region.

The visit was made between July 20-26, 1933. The Constitution was also seen off Crescent City on its return trip in September 1933, according to Cornelia de Bruin's article in the history column, "150 Years Ago," marking this city's 150th anniversary this year.

Submitted by Leona Pike Hammond

 


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