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Alligator Symposium Report

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Postby TMSmalley » Fri Dec 02, 2005 10:20 am


The third Alligator Symposium was held on 8 November at Philadelphia's Independence Seaport Museum. Presided over by Rear Admirals Jay Cohen and Jay DeLoach as well as Dr. John Broadwater of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, this working meeting brought together the many different researchers assembled on the project: local and national historians and authors, university and grade school teachers, representatives from several nautical museums, and scientists from NOAA and a number of the partners involved in the search.

Built in Philadelphia, the Union submarine Alligator was the first such vessel of the Civil War. The boat was the first US Navy submarine and the first Navy sub deployed to a combat zone. Alligator was lost in the spring of 1863 while under tow to Charleston, SC, where it was hoped she would be able to remove obstacles in advance of an attack by the ironclads.

The purpose of this the symposium was to allow project partners an opportunity to familiarize themselves with all aspects of the hunt. The general session provided overviews from NOAA and the Office of Naval Research, as well as presentations from a number of associates which described specific facets such as the results of a local expedition to find Alligator's prototype and talks on the various ways in which the public is being made aware of the project. Attendees then broke into three groups (Historical Research, Outreach/Education, and Search & Survey) to discuss current successes and future plans on each of these fronts.

The historical record on this first USN submarine grows daily as researchers dive deeper into records from the Philadelphia region. The lives of the first crewmen are slowly being coaxed from local archives, and information about the prototype continues to surface as the result of the efforts of area historians, led by Alice Smith. The National Archives continue to be mined, and references to Alligator and its inventor, Brutus DeVilleroi, are being sought in the papers of fellow designers of the period.

Public awareness of both the Civil War story of Alligator and the current project is being accomplished on several levels, including nationally published newspaper and magazine articles, radio reports, a recent documentary, and via naval living history events and talks across the country. Using the project as a way to educate students about the history and science of the vessel (and of the Navy and the sea in general) has been previously limited to a few seaside museums and local schools; now plans are underway to develop an educational kit that will allow teachers in any state to implement an Alligator curriculum. Current lesson plans will be packaged along with a variety of collateral, (e.g., videos, posters, hands-on activities), and distributed to a small test group of teachers in 2006. Subsequent to this, wider distribution will begin.

Searching for Alligator on the seafloor off Cape Hatteras has proven the greatest challenge to the project. Just as weather caused the loss of the vessel, so it continues to bedevil project researchers. Several expeditions over the past two years have been truncated due to hurricanes. In the future, an improved methodology will be implemented

Chuck Veit
President, Navy & Marine Living History Association
Tim Smalley
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