Hunley submarine fully visible for the first time since 1864

(Lia Sestric/WCIV)

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. -- For the first time in nearly 150 years, the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley can now be seen in its entirety. A 50-foot truss, weighing more than 8 tons, was removed Thursday morning at the conservation lab.

Senior Conserver, Paul Mardikian said the hanging weight that has been removed, is not only a relief, but will shed new light on the old submarine.

"It's like looking at the sub for the first time ," Mardikian said. "It's like the end of a long night, even for people who worked 10 years on that submarine. It was impossible to picture that submarine upright."

The truss was used to suspend slings that lifted the sub from the water off the South Carolina coast almost a dozen years ago. Now, this is the first unobstructed view of the submarine since it sank in 1864.

The Hunley sent the federal blockade ship Housatonic to the bottom, becoming the first sub in history to sink an enemy warship. But the Hunley sank as well and scientists still aren't sure why.

Scientists believe they may find new clues to solving this long mystery. The conservation team will now work on the concretion that covers the sub's surface.

"I think this is what's going to be the major step in understanding what happened to the submarine," Mardikian said. "Finally we're going to be able to look at the skin."

Mardikian said they're getting closer to explaining what happened to the Hunley.

"We've got leads. We got ideas, and we're clearing out all the fantasies people have had in the past about that submarine."

The removal of the truss took only about 15 minutes, but was a delicate procedure. The 90,000-gallon conservation tank, which holds chilled fresh water, was filled back up that afternoon.

Mardikian said he hopes to move the chemical treatment of the submarine in six months. He said it will be a critical step to conserving the historical submarine.

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