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Historic warship Olympia may be scrapped, sunk
The News Tribune (Tacoma WA) ^ | 5/27/10

Posted on 05/27/2010 1:34:22 PM PDT by llevrok

Warship: Veteran of 2 wars rusts away

PHILADELPHIA - The old warship has been part of Philadelphia's waterfront for 50 years and left lasting impressions on thousands of visitors who heard gripping stories of its role in the Spanish-American War.

Now the Olympia – named for Washington state’s capital and the last surviving vessel from that 1898 conflict – could face an ignoble end as an artificial reef off Cape May, N.J., if a new benefactor cannot be found.

The Independence Seaport Museum and the Navy have already checked with officials of New Jersey’s Artificial Reef Program on the possibility of sinking the ship, once a source of national pride.

“Another option would be scrapping Olympia,” said James McLean, interim president of the museum, which owns the ship and is adjacent to it at Penn’s Landing. “But the Navy has told us that ‘reefing’ is better because it would allow divers to go down on it and would preserve Olympia.”

The museum can no longer afford the ship’s upkeep, McLean said. At least $20 million is needed to tow, restore, interpret and endow the deteriorating vessel.

“We have a couple people we’re talking to who might take the ship,” McLean said, “but these things don’t move with great speed.”

The ship will be open until the end of September, then closed while its future is determined, McLean said.

“This may be the last summer for people to visit,” he said. “They should come to see it while they can.”

Another former Navy warship, the Arthur W. Radford, a 563-foot-long Spruance class destroyer, will be sunk by the fall to create a reef about 30 miles southeast of Cape May.

As for the Olympia, “we recognize the historic significance of the ship,” said Larry Hajna, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection. “It’s not our call. It was an inquiry. The DEP is not endorsing this.”

Countless tons of vessels, military tanks, railroad cars and other materials have been reefed since the state’s Bureau of Marine Fisheries began the program in 1984. The purpose is to provide a habitat for marine life, fishing grounds, and points of interest for scuba divers.

Talk of making the Olympia part of New Jersey’s reef network disappoints ship supporters such as Harry Burkhardt, a merchant marine captain and steam-engine expert who is a volunteer on the vessel.

Burkhardt is president of Friends of the Cruiser Olympia (, which is trying to raise money for preservation of the ship. The group got its nonprofit status this month and has begun receiving pledges and interest from individuals and corporations, Burkhardt said.

“We want to take over its ownership and operation,” he said. “We have a long list of ideas, but we have to save the ship to implement them.”

Burkhardt, 53, of South Philadelphia, said he would turn the Olympia into a self-sustaining museum with a living-history crew and education programs for inner-city children.

“I think what’s happening is a total disgrace,” he said. “The Liberty Bell has a crack in it, but we don’t melt it down. The Statue of Liberty turned green with corrosion, but we don’t throw it away.”

The Olympia “was a symbol of America’s might and freedom,” Burkhardt said. “Now she’s a symbol of negligence.”

Concerned about the condition of the Olympia, the Navy sent a letter to the museum last May asking about plans to dry-dock the vessel for the necessary maintenance.

On the water line, small portions of the Olympia’s half-inch steel hull have corroded to an eighth of an inch and must be monitored continually. Water leaks through the deck into the interior, causing further rust.

“We have cared for Olympia lovingly,” McLean said. “We have put $5.5 million into it and spend money on it every day.”

The Olympia was authorized in 1888 and commissioned in 1895. The state-of-the-art vessel led five other U.S. warships into Manila Bay in the Philippines on May 1, 1898, and fired shots in a battle to wrest control of that country from the Spanish.

Navy Commodore George Dewey stood on the bridge of the ship and uttered the famous words: “You may fire when you are ready, Gridley.”

Under Dewey’s command, the U.S. fleet destroyed 10 Spanish cruisers and gunboats in hours without losing an American life.

The Olympia spent World War I in the Atlantic Ocean, and brought remains of the Unknown Soldier home from France in 1921.

It was docked at the Philadelphia Navy Yard from 1922 to 1959, and was on display at Pier 11 at the Benjamin Franklin Bridge through the 1960s until 1976, when it was moved to Penn’s Landing. Today, the vessel is the world’s oldest floating steel warship.

“The Navy has been in discussions with the museum to come up with a disposition plan if they can no longer operate it,” said Patricia Dolan, a Navy spokeswoman. “Any plan for disposal of the vessel – scrapping or reefing – will have to be approved by the Navy.”

The thought of scuttling the naval time capsule – filled with paintings, photos and artifacts – has raised the ire of historians.

“It will be a national disgrace and major embarrassment for Philadelphia and Pennsylvania if Olympia is disposed of by scrapping or being sunk off the coast of New Jersey,” said naval historian Lawrence Burr, who has produced documentaries and written four books, including “U.S. Cruisers 1883-1904: The Birth of the Steel Navy.”

“Neither the Spanish navy in 1898 nor the German navy in 1917-18 was able to sink Olympia,” he said. “It will be ironic if the state of New Jersey is able to sink this unique historic warship that has been in the care of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania for over 50 years, and who have benefited from its role as a tourist attraction. ...

“If sunk, she will only be seen by a small elite who are able to dive, with the risk that she will be plundered for souvenirs,” he said.

Also expressing disappointment was the nonprofit Theodore Roosevelt Association in Oyster Bay, N.Y. Congress chartered the group in 1920 to perpetuate the legacy of Roosevelt, who was assistant secretary of the Navy before the Spanish-American War and ordered the Olympia furnished with extra coal so it could be sent to the Philippines. Roosevelt resigned from his office and served as a colonel in the Rough Riders during the invasion of Cuba.

The possible sinking of the Olympia “is an outrage,” said Howard Ehrlich, executive director of the association. “You would think veterans groups would get together and lobby the Navy to save the ship.”

Even sinking the 5,600-ton ship would be costly. Because of the ship’s 211/2-foot draft, the basin where it is berthed would have to be dredged so the vessel could be moved to dry dock. There, it would be structurally reinforced so it could be safely towed down the Delaware River to the reef location.

“No decision has been made,” McLean said. “This is not what we want to do. In these tough economic times, everybody is forced to make tough decisions.”

TOPICS: US: Pennsylvania; US: Washington
KEYWORDS: historic; olympia; philadelphia; scrapped; sunk; warship
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To: C19fan

Also an 1897 ship,,, in Saint Petersburg.

41 posted on 05/27/2010 2:02:49 PM PDT by DesertRhino (I was standing with a rifle, waiting for soviet paratroopers, but communists just ran for office)
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To: omega4179
USS Salem in Quincy, MA is the last big gun cruiser anywhere.

I think she is the last of the US boats. The Brits saved one of their 6" gun cruisers from WWII. And they have a WW I hull that was stripped down and would need to be completely refurbished.
42 posted on 05/27/2010 2:03:41 PM PDT by GonzoGOP (There are millions of paranoid people in the world and they are all out to get me.)
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To: GonzoGOP

HMS Caroline - 1914
43 posted on 05/27/2010 2:08:55 PM PDT by GonzoGOP (There are millions of paranoid people in the world and they are all out to get me.)
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To: DesertRhino

Maybe the southern ship museums like USS North Carolina do better but here is what is in Mass.

USS Salem-private,barely hanging on
USS Massachusetts private, barely hanging on

USS Cassin Young/ USS Constitution-Boston Navy yard government financed, perfectly preserved and maintained.

44 posted on 05/27/2010 2:13:32 PM PDT by omega4179 (
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To: llevrok

Typical frickin’ Philly - try going there to learn about our own NATION’s history, only to find out very little was saved, most is a “facsimile” of the original. It’s SOOO FRUSTRATING! Take Benjamin Franklin’s house - his darn kids get it when he dies and then tear it down to make their century’s version of condos. I’m telling you...this is SUCH the “dispose of it” country. Our History is not only going down the tubes with this administration, soon...we won’t have any real evidence of anything that came before!!! Arrrrgh!

45 posted on 05/27/2010 2:15:07 PM PDT by NordP (COMMON SENSE CONSERVATIVES - Love of Country, Less Govt, Stop Spending, No Govt Run Health Care!!!)
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To: GonzoGOP

Yah gotta love our society today....arrrgh

46 posted on 05/27/2010 2:16:18 PM PDT by NordP (COMMON SENSE CONSERVATIVES - Love of Country, Less Govt, Stop Spending, No Govt Run Health Care!!!)
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To: llevrok

Thank you.

47 posted on 05/27/2010 2:17:22 PM PDT by tacticalogic ("Oh bother!" said Pooh, as he chambered his last round.)
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To: GonzoGOP
A few other survivors

Avrov (Greece) - 1909

USS Little Rock (USA) - 1943
Mikhail Kutuzov (USSR) - 1952
48 posted on 05/27/2010 2:20:30 PM PDT by GonzoGOP (There are millions of paranoid people in the world and they are all out to get me.)
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To: Paladin2
Love the shape of the bow. Not at all sure why they did that, but it wuz apparently the style of the time.

It was probably done to increase her length at the waterline, which in turn increases her top speed. This is the same reason you see the huge bulbs at the the bow on modern commercial ships (and some warships) and was the theory behind the reverse transoms seen on many yachts. Marine designers have long come up with tricks to increase LWL for that extra speed.

I certainly hope something can be done to save the Olympia. I grew up in Philadelphia, and my father was very involved in the group that originally brought the Olympia to the City. This ship is an important piece of history that really ought to be preserved. There is no shortage of old vessels that can become reefs off of Cape May.

49 posted on 05/27/2010 2:21:34 PM PDT by blau993 (Fight Gerbil Swarming)
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To: DesertRhino

Well said.

Only scumhole leftist PIGS would sink this beautiful and unique historic relic.

F’n Hate America™ pigs.

50 posted on 05/27/2010 2:22:43 PM PDT by wolficatZ ( WEIRD WAR TALES!! All May! Fun and chat!)
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To: llevrok

My brother and I used to cross the bridge into Philly every 4th of July. The Olympia was a regular stop. Is the WW2 sub still tied up next to her? I can’t remember the sub’s name. I think it started with a “B”. Buscemi(?)

51 posted on 05/27/2010 2:23:52 PM PDT by 4yearlurker (How shall he rescue his imprisoned self?)
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To: blau993

Is the Olympia wood framed?

52 posted on 05/27/2010 2:30:28 PM PDT by Paladin2
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To: llevrok

It should just be sold as an antique. Some lucky private citizen will restore and treasure it, preserving it for future generations. It would likely turn out to be a good investment that would increase in value over the long term anyway.

53 posted on 05/27/2010 2:39:05 PM PDT by Teflonic
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To: llevrok

Port holes are port holes, even on the Starboard side.

54 posted on 05/27/2010 2:39:52 PM PDT by Paladin2
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To: omega4179
Olympia is the last cruiser from that era

"No there is another"


55 posted on 05/27/2010 2:40:10 PM PDT by Oztrich Boy (May 15: It's Jessica Watson Day!)
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To: llevrok

I always thought that stern design was to counteract the effects of a following sea.

56 posted on 05/27/2010 2:52:01 PM PDT by ryderann
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To: 21twelve; Feasor13; matt1234; Bosun; washingtoncon; Pavegunner72; cherry; aw93472; WeatherGuy; ...
Thanks to llevrok for the ping.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket Say WA? Evergreen State ping

Quick link: WA State Board

FReepmail sionnsar if you want on or off this ping list.
Ping sionnsar if you see a Washington state related thread.

57 posted on 05/27/2010 2:53:45 PM PDT by sionnsar (IranAzadi|5yst3m 0wn3d-it's N0t Y0ur5:SONY|Remember Neda Agha-Soltan|TV--it's NOT news you can trust)
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To: Oztrich Boy

58 posted on 05/27/2010 3:18:48 PM PDT by omega4179 (
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To: GonzoGOP
The Brits saved one of their 6" gun cruisers from WWII.

HMS Belfast?

59 posted on 05/27/2010 3:56:35 PM PDT by Tallguy ("The sh- t's chess, it ain't checkers!" -- Alonzo (Denzel Washington) in "Training Day")
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To: x

indeed ... battle of manila bay ...

60 posted on 05/27/2010 4:11:06 PM PDT by Patton@Bastogne (Angels and Ministers of Grace, Defend Us ....)
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