Last month we introduced the Loring Model, a 140-year-old scale model of USS Constitution that is currently undergoing a restoration as part of the USS Constitution Museum’s annual ship model show, Masters of Miniature. The late 19th century model was built for American Civil War Union General Charles Greely Loring and was displayed in his home in Prides Crossing, Beverly, Massachusetts. Loring saw much action in the war, including the late battles of the Wilderness, Spottsylvania, and Bethesda Church. As part of the Ninth Corps he was involved in the later successes of the Army of the Potomac up to the surrender of General Robert E. Lee in April 1865.
USS Constitution was also involved in the American Civil War, although not as an active warship. Beginning in 1860, she became a floating training ship for midshipmen at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. At the outbreak of the war in April 1861, Constitution and all of the Academy staff were evacuated from the southern port and relocated to Newport, Rhode Island for the duration of the war.
It is unclear why Loring, a Union Army General, had a large model of Constitution made for his home between 1875 and 1881. We can only speculate that, as a native Bostonian and military officer, he had great admiration for the Boston-built and battle-hardened “Old Ironsides.”
Constitution last sailed in the autumn of 1881, and by December of that year was at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York. After having had her rigging, guns, powder, and stores removed, she was decommissioned on December 14, 1881. It is clear from these historic photos that the Loring model of Constitution closely resembles the ship in the early 1880s. In fact, many years later, Mrs. Mary H. Loring, General Loring’s wife, claimed that the model “was built and rigged by one of her crew as a faithful copy, of the old Man o’ War.”
These same davits are visible on the starboard after quarter of the Loring model. The modeler was faithful to the layout of the ship’s equipment, here depicting the aftermost pair of davits correctly positioned between the two rigging channels.
The model also correctly recreates the ship’s spar deck hammock stowage. The area is covered with white wooden boards and topped off with tarred canvas. On Constitution, this hammock storage configuration was a late 19th century alteration to provide better protection for the crew’s hammocks.
After Constitution was decommissioned in December 1881, she was taken to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine where a house was built over her deck so that she could be used as a receiving ship. The photo below, taken c. 1890, depicts Constitution‘s hammock stowage with the late 19th century alteration, including the white sheathing boards. The tarred canvas covers were no longer needed as the enormous two-story house more than covered the spar deck.
Further restoration work on the model by Rob Napier, a professional ship model builder and restorer, revealed more details about the model’s structure. After removing several berth deck planks in January 2016, the hold was exposed.
Using a small brush, Rob swept up more than a century of dirt and accumulated debris, including a piece of eggshell, bits of rigging, and one cast lead hatch grating. All of the ship-related items found will be catalogued and stored for future work on the model.
Once the larger debris was swept up, Rob used a vacuum fitted with a HEPA filter to remove the remaining particles.
The end result of the vacuuming was a collection of dirt and detritus that somehow made its way into the model over time. Rob will carefully remove any ship parts that should be saved and catalogued.
Rob’s cleaning uncovered the model’s mizzen mast step and showed that it is located on the after orlop deck as it is on Constitution. However, the ship’s real mast steps run fore and aft, not across as seen on the model. The mizzen mast step is in the center of the photo below, in the shadow of a berth deck beam. The model’s mizzen mast fits securely into the opening in the step.
The level of meticulous detail revealed throughout the model’s restoration leads us to wonder why the modeler went to such pains to construct a faithful representation of “Old Ironsides.” Could the modeler have anticipated that his hidden handiwork would be uncovered by future generations? Without Rob Napier’s careful disassembly of the Loring model, these intriguing details would have remained buried under the deck planks and debris.
Constitution‘s mizzen mast step is the only one of the three mast steps that is located on the orlop deck, the fourth deck down. The masts for the fore and the main go all the way through the ship and their steps are positioned directly on top of the upper keelson. The plan below is a detail of Samuel Pook’s May 10, 1849 longitudinal plan of USS Constitution. The red arrow locates the mizzen mast step on the orlop deck. Although not labeled on the plan, a portion of Constitution‘s upper keelson can be seen immediately below the after magazine.
There is still time to see Rob Napier restoring the Loring model on Wednesdays from 10am to 2pm during the Masters of Miniature ship model exhibit at the USS Constitution Museum. The exhibit is open daily and runs through March 5, 2016. View Part I of this series here.
Margherita M. Desy
Historian, Naval History & Heritage Command
Margherita M. Desy is the Historian for USS Constitution at Naval History and Heritage Command Detachment Boston.
Manager of Curatorial Affairs, USS Constitution Museum
Kate Monea is the Manager of Curatorial Affairs at the USS Constitution Museum.