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USS MONITOR RESEARCHERS DEBUNK 142-YEAR-OLD LEGEND OF 'CAT IN THE CANNON'

NOAA image of USS Monitor gun turret being pulled out of the Atlantic Ocean on Aug. 5, 2002, for the first time in 140 years.Aug. 25, 2005 Conservators from The Mariners' Museum and NOAA scientists were able to debunk a 142-year-old legend with 90-percent confidence this past week after spending most of August documenting and excavating the bore of both 11-inch Dahlgren cannons from the Civil War ironclad USS Monitor's iconic gun turret. One of the most popular legends in the history of the Monitor, it began with a crewmember from the vessel, Francis B. Butts, who claimed during the night the ironclad sank, he shoved his coat and boots in one cannon, and a cat in the other. (Click NOAA image for larger view of USS Monitor gun turret being pulled out of the Atlantic Ocean on Aug. 5, 2002, for the first time in 140 years. Click here for high resolution version. Please credit “NOAA.”)

In a December 1885 article entitled "The Loss of the Monitor," Butts says:

"I took off my coat—one that I had received from home only a few days before (I could not feel that our noble little ship was yet lost)—and rolling it up with my boots, drew the tampion from one of the guns, placed them inside, and replaced the tampion. A black cat was sitting on the breech of one of the guns, howling one of those hoarse and solemn tunes which no one can appreciate who is not filled with the superstitions which I had been taught by the sailors, who are always afraid to kill a cat. I would almost as soon have touched a ghost, but I caught her, and placing her in another gun, replaced the wad and tampion; but I could still hear that distressing yowl."

NOAA image of USS Monitor turret after it was brought onboard the Derrick Barge Wotan on August 5, 2002."We've excavated and screened enough material from both cannons to say with certainty that neither cannon is loaded. We have also failed to find any trace of organic material such as leather, wool or bone," said the Mariners' Museum Assistant Conservator David Krop. "Although we are still clearing concretion and sediment from inside both bores that may hide cat bones or organics, I seriously doubt anything will turn up." (Click NOAA image for larger view of USS Monitor turret after it was brought onboard the Derrick Barge Wotan on August 5, 2002. Click here to view high resolution version. Please credit "NOAA.")

"The excavations confirmed my suspicion that Francis Butts fabricated the whole story," said Monitor Sanctuary Historian Jeff Johnston, who has uncovered other instances in which Butts apparently stretched the truth in giving his account of his service aboard the Monitor.

The cannons were removed from the Monitor's gun turret in 2004 as part of the ongoing conservation process. After resting on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean for more than 142 years, the guns filled with concretions and sediment that must be removed as one of the first steps in the conservation process. Conservators used caution during this process in case Butts' story ended up true, and because they could not immediately verify if the guns were or were not loaded. Excavation has revealed the guns were not loaded.

"Sediment removal has been difficult due to the amount of coal in each barrel but also because we are constrained by the dimensions of the conservation tank the artifacts are in," said Eric Schindelholz, Monitor lead conservator. "We've improvised by creating a variety of tools that will help us in our efforts, and have partnered with our colleagues at Northrop Grumman to borrow a bore scope so that we can get a good look inside each cannon and see what we're dealing with."

The cannon will individually undergo the electrolytic reduction conservation process to reduce their corrosion and remove chlorides from the iron. The process will take approximately five years. Conservators will also focus on saving the engravings that were placed on each cannon after the Monitor's historic clash with its ironclad foe the CSS Virginia. One engraving reads "Worden Monitor & Merrimac" (in honor of the Monitor's captain); the other reads "Ericsson Monitor & Merrimac" (in honor of the vessel's designer).

In 1987, The Mariners' Museum was designated by NOAA, on behalf of the federal government, as the repository for artifacts and archives from the Monitor. Working jointly with NOAA and the U.S. Navy, the Museum has received more than 1,100 artifacts from the Monitor, including the steam engine, propeller and revolving gun turret.

On March 9, 2007, exactly 145 years after the historic clash between the USS Monitor and CSS Virginia, the Mariners' Museum and NOAA will open the doors to one of the premier Civil War attractions across the nation—the USS Monitor Center, currently under construction. This dramatic new $30 million, 63,500-square-foot facility will enthrall families with exciting exhibits, bring students face-to-face with history, house state-of-the-art conservation labs and offer historians rich resources for research.

At the heart of the USS Monitor Center is the exhibition—a melding of artifacts, original documents, paintings, personal accounts, interactive displays and environments that will pique all five senses. The strategies, people, technology and science behind the historic circumstances surrounding this story will be displayed in a way the public has never before seen. A full-scale replica will serve a major role in this portion of the center by allowing visitors to walk on and under the Monitor, experiencing first-hand how simple, yet innovative the warship really was.

The Mariners' Museum in partnership with NOAA, broke ground for the new center in 2004. The Mariners' Museum is conducting a $30 million capital campaign for the USS Monitor Center. The NOAA National Marine Sanctuary Program has provided $9.5 million in federal funds contributing toward the $20 million that will be raised from public sources. The Mariners' Museum is conducting a $10 million private sector campaign raising funds from corporations, foundations and individuals across the nation. Currently, 79 percent of the total $30 million has been raised.

NOAA, an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of the nation's coastal and marine resources.

Relevant Web Sites
NOAA Monitor National Marine Sanctuary

NOAA National Marine Sanctuary Program

USS Monitor Recovered and Under Study; The Civil War Ironclad Reveals its Long-held Secrets

Media Contact:
Krista Trono, NOAA Monitor National Marine Sanctuary, (757) 591-7328