On this day in 1912, RMS Carpathia was sent to the location of RMS Titanic‘s sinking in the North Atlantic Ocean. The Carpathia, arriving approximately 2 hours after the sinking, rescued those passengers fortunate enough to board the limited number of life boats. While the Carpathia was steaming to New York with the Titanic‘s survivors, the Navy radio operators in Building 10 in the Charlestown Navy Yard were ordered to send a message on behalf of President William Howard Taft to USS Chester. The request was for Chester to intercept the Carpathia and obtain a list of survivors. The radio operator in charge of the station at Building 10 reported to the Charlestown Navy Yard’s Commandant DeWitt Coffman on April 19, 1912, that “we are unable to find out whether the Chester received [the message] from us or not.” The radio operators did not obtain list of survivors for the president.Originally built in 1853, Building 10 was the Pitch House and Oakum Loft. This is where the tar was heated to coat the rigging and cover the hull seams, and where oakum was rolled for use in caulking. Throughout the rest of the 19th century, Building 10 was used for many purposes before being moved across Pier 1 in 1900 to its present location. After serving as a radio station in the early 1900s, it became a laundry, and then was used in the support of the development of sonar for the U.S. Navy after the close of World War II. In preparation for Constitution‘s 1973 dry docking, an observation deck was built around the north and east sides of Building 10 so that visitors could enjoy views of the ship in Dry Dock 1. Prior to the closure of the Charlestown Navy Yard in 1974, the building had been used as the battery charging facility.
Starting with her National Cruise of 1931-1934, USS Constitution became a floating museum filled with Navy artifacts and relics of her history. The artifacts remained on the ship until they were removed just before Constitution entered Dry Dock 1 in 1973. The collection was moved to a temporary facility for exhibition on the second floor of Building 10 and thus began the first iteration of the USS Constitution Museum. The museum later moved across the Navy Yard to its present home in Building 22, where it opened its doors on April 8, 1976.
Following the USS Constitution Museum’s move across the Navy Yard, Building 10 once again served many purposes, including as a fast-food restaurant in the 1990s and early 2000s. Today, it is the home of Decca, a counter-service restaurant that caters to Charlestown Navy Yard visitors. Next time you visit Building 10, take a moment to read the historical markers and recall the link that this unassuming building had with one of the greatest maritime disasters of the 20th century.
– K. Monea