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Crew compartment of Hunley now visible, more remains found

WCIV

As archaeologists and conservators continue their work on the H.L. Hunley, they marked a milestone on Wednesday as they unveiled the now visible crew compartment.

“It’s that wow moment when you step back and realize what you’re doing,” said Johanna Rivera, one of the submarine’s conservators.

Rivera has devoted the past 12 years to restoring one of the greatest pieces of maritime history.

“The submarine was submerged in seawater for over a hundred years,” she said. “It's amazing, because before it was on a 45 degree angle on the starboard side.”

Rivera and Michael Scafuri, an archaeologist, have seen the sub when it was barely recognizable.

“Now, it looks like a submarine now as opposed to a corroded artifact,” Scafuri said.

It’s no small task to restore a Civil War submarine, though.

Rivera said the work is very dirty and dangerous.

“We use full suits, respirators, masks, and safety harnesses,” she said.

“The objective is to remove all the concretion from the submarine that it accumulated as it sat off shore,” Scafuri added.

Underneath that saltwater crust rests more history.

“The entire crank, the hand crank that the crew used to propel the submarine, is now exposed,” he said.

They even discovered more remnants of the eight man crew.

“The most significant being a tooth concreted to one of the crank handles,” Scafuri told us.

These are just more clues about how the crew operated the four-foot tall submarine.

“The hand crank that the crew used to operate the sub, we found the remains of textiles and a thin metal wrap,” Scafuri explained. “When you're turning an iron bar in front of you or below you, you're going to need something to keep your hands from chaffing or rubbing them raw.”

It’s not uncovering new pieces of the past stored under the sea for a century, though. It’s restoring the artifact for generations to come.

“When we work in the submarine we want to avoid for the metal to dry,” said Rivera.

The ultimate goal is to have the entire sub and its components put on display for the public out of its tank.

It’s a process that could take years and extra precautions.

“The metal is really fragile,” said Rivera. “If it were to dry as it is, it would collapse. It would crumble.”

They work quickly, only dumping the tank for short periods of time.

“We need to make sure that the salts within in the metal don’t crystalize,” Rivera explained as she sprayed down the Hunley.

It’s just enough time, though, to explore.

“There’s still a lot of things we don’t understand about how the submarine worked and about what happened the night of the attack February 17, 1864,” said Scafuri. “I have a chance to solve these mysteries that have been lingering for so many years.”

Rivera said it could likely be another five to seven years before the H.L. Hunley is moved to a museum for full-time display.

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