Saving Navy history
The USS Olympia is thought to be the oldest surviving steel warship in the world. The protected cruiser, Admiral Dewey's flagship at the Battle of Manila Bay in the Spanish American War ("You may fire when ready, Gridley") for years has rusted away on Philadelphia's Delaware River waterfront. For a time it seemed inevitable that it would be sunk offshore as a reef, the costs of repairs deemed to be beyond the reach of those who wished to keep the cruiser as an historic ship museum.
South Carolinians who have followed the travails of the Patriots Point Authority in recent years to maintain the destroyer Laffey, the submarine Clamagore and the aircraft carrier Yorktown are surely cognizant of the long-term difficulty and huge expense in keeping aging steel ships afloat in salt water (or in the case of Yorktown, sunk upright in salty harbor mud).
Six organizations initially sought stewardship of the Olympia from its present custodian, the Independence Seaport Museum. Four are currently in the running and one of them is the "South Carolina Olympia Committee" of Beaufort. Its proposal is to berth the ship in an abandoned Navy dry dock at Paris Island.
This strikes us as a sensible idea, provided sufficient funds can be raised to make the Olympia seaworthy and to have her towed here from Philadelphia. The National Trust for Historic Preservation is accepting contributions to fund necessary repairs.
A decision on who will get the Olympia is expected to be made in 2013. The three other sites under consideration are Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Mare Island, Calif.
Any can be expected to provide a better prospect for the ship than its current location or the ocean deep.