The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards and guidelines for Historic Vessel Preservation Projects defines four treatment approaches. Those are: preservation, rehabilitation, restoration and reconstruction.
The intended process of the first of those, preservation, is described as:
“…placing a high premium on the retention of all historic fabric through conservation, maintenance and repair. It reflects a building’s (or ship’s) continuum over time, through successive occupancies, and the respectful changes and alterations that are made”.
In 1998, as staff and volunteers for the USS Missouri Memorial Association began the initial work of preparing the battleship for opening to the public, there was little awareness of those Historic Preservation standards, guidelines or specific treatments among those first staff and volunteers who were busy cleaning, chipping, painting and working hard to make the battleship shine again.
What we did learn was that historic preservation of a historic battleship is hard physical labor.
As weeks and months passed, our relationship with the Missouri became personal, we called that feeling the “Mo Bug”; it was contagious and everyone caught it.
We came to know the physicality of the battleship intimately; every nut and bolt, every teak plank, everything about the ship gradually become more and more familiar, and it was clear to us what our job was all about.
Then came a moment, a visit by a former crewmember, and then another, and finally another. And as we walked the decks with these veterans of WWII and Korea and Operation Desert Storm, we suddenly began to see the battleship quite differently.
Until then, we had come to know the ship as a place, as a physical presence, and an empty, lifeless ex-Navy battleship. Now suddenly, we began to see the ship as a living, breathing presence filled with familiar smells and sounds and memories of historic times, and shipmates, and ports of call, and life at sea - and of war and being far away from home.
Suddenly preservation took a turn for us.
As we continued the physical labor of historic vessel preservation, and as we learned about the treatments and standards and guidelines of our responsibilities, we also recognized that there was a purpose and obligation in our work that went far beyond the preservation of the nuts and bolts and steel and teak of this historic vessel. We began to appreciate that preservation was also about remembrance, about memory, about generations of crewmembers who lived and worked and would always remember their precious time aboard this historic battleship.
In the 1944 2nd edition of the Naval Officer Guide, is a narrative poem by an anonymous author, entitled: “The Soul of a Ship” that reflects our shared realization about historic preservation and the obligation we have taken to heart. It is quoted in part below:
“The Soul of a ship is a marvelous thing,
Not made of its wood or its steel,
But fashioned of mem’ries and songs that men sing,
And fed by the passions men feel.
It’s built of ambition, of jealousy, strife,
Of friendship, of love, and of fear;
It includes almost all of the makings of Life;
It’s nurtured on grumble and cheer.”
The Soul of a ship is a molder of men –
Her spirit lives on through the years,
As she started her life, so she is to the end;
She shares each recruit’s hopes and fears.
And each man who joins feels the breath of her life –
As he stands up and takes heart again –
So he takes to himself the old sea as his wife,
And the ship’s made a man among men.”
And so we learned that historic preservation is the hard, difficult labor of physically preserving a battleship. But we also learned and are striving to preserve the remembrances of generations of crew who breathed life into her and always called her “My ship”.
Post by guest blogger: Mike Weidenbach, Curator, USS Missouri Memorial Association
The Battleship Missouri Memorial is celebrating National Preservation Month and spreading the word on why This Place Matters. We encourage you to do your part by sharing her story or contributing to her preservation. https://ussmissouri.org/donate/donate-online/