What is this?
A walking stick made of USS Constitution wood
When is it from?
Second half of the 19th century
Why is it Important?
As an attorney in Kittery, Maine, a town intimately connected with the sea, Moses A. Safford knew ships and the men who sailed them. A constant stream of vessels plied the Piscataqua River delivering goods to Portsmouth, Kittery, and the Naval Shipyard on Seavey’s Island. In the summer of 1857, the frigate Constitution sailed up that twisted, rocky channel and shipyard workers hauled her out for a thorough refit. She was stripped of her planking down to the frames. Souvenir hunters looking for a memento of the famous ship scooped up tons of discarded wood.
Safford most likely acquired this ivory-headed cane at this time. A silver band, engraved with his name, “M.A. Safford,” and “‘Old Iron Sides'” forms a narrow ferule just below the head. Was this a gift from a client, or did Safford himself have this made? Perhaps it was presented to Safford later, after the Civil War, in which he distinguished himself as the storekeeper on board USS Constellation. We will never know the particulars of how he acquired the cane, but he clearly cherished it as a symbol of national pride. His name and that of the ship were linked together in a circle, going round and round forever.
Canes have been a symbol of power and importance for many centuries, but their heyday was the nineteenth century. These slender accessories allowed gentlemen to demonstrate their wealth and standing. Presenting canes to friends, colleagues, or respected public servants was common. Isaac Hull grew up in that tradition and saw an opportunity when the 1830s restoration made available great quantities of wood from USS Constitution. He had many canes made as presentation pieces. Subsequent restorations yielded more canes and the USS Constitution Museum has over 20 of these in its collection. Not all canes are necessarily associated with people who served on board Constitution but a cane made of wood from Old Ironsides was a valuable asset for many gentlemen.
Text © 2010 USS Constitution Museum