NEWPORT NEWS, Va.—In a work area outside The Mariner's Museum, members of the conservation team are focused on the smallest details, slowly scraping away years of sediment and chemical concretion that obscure many of the artifacts that were recovered from the wreck of the USS Monitor.
Eric Nordgren is the Senior Conservator. "That's a lot of work, a lot of time, but very rewarding when you expose that original surface that hasn't been seen since the crew walked on it in 1862."
The crew last walked on the surface in December, 1862. The civil war ironclad went down in a storm on New Year's Eve as it was being towed off the coast of North Carolina. When divers from the Navy and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration brought the ships's turret to the surface in 2001, they also recovered two sets of human remains.
Joe Hoyt is a Maritime Archeaologist with the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary. "We're actively trying to do genealogical work and forensic archaeology to identify those individuals, and identify descendants of those individuals."
Many of the sailors were immigrants. Their historical records are often hard to come by, but the staff of the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary is optimistic the mystery will soon be solved.
Dave Alberg is the Director. "We know that 16 people lost their lives the night the Monitor went down, and it is two of those 16," he said. "And we know the names, but which of the 16 is really the challenge."
The human remains from the USS Monitor are now at a military facility in Hawaii. Despite the challenge, there is optimism the identification can be completed during the coming year, in time perhaps, for the two men to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery on the 150th anniversary of the day in 1862 when the ship was lost.