Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Benicia museum to display replica of Civil War sub

August 10, 2005

Friends of the Hunley use a replica to demonstrate the workings of the Civil-War era submarine earlier this year. This educational demonstration was held for public school students in May at Gibson Ranch in Sacramento. Courtesy photo

Benicia museum to display replica of Civil War sub

By GREG MOBERLY, Times-Herald staff writer

BENICIA - It doesn't float, but a full-sized replica of the first submarine to sink a warship is on its way to Benicia, where it will be on display later this month.

The Benicia stop is part of a fund-raising tour by South Carolina history buffs, who hope to raise millions of dollars to restore the actual CSS Hunley, a Civil War-era submarine.

This is the second attempted Benicia stop in two months. Last month, the trailer carrying the 40-foot long vessel broke down mere days before its trip to Benicia.

Sue Fisher, executive director of the Benicia Historical Museum, said she's crossing her fingers that Hunley supporters enjoy a peaceful trip, unlike last month and especially unlike the fate of different Civil War era crews.

In 1864, the CSS Hunley, a Confederate vessel, sank the USS Housatonic, a Union warship, but what happened next is shrouded in mystery, said John Nevins, a Hunley enthusiast.

The Hunley was lost for more than 131 years before being located off the South Carolina coast in 1995 with all eight personnel sealed inside dead.

Nevins said there are several theories, including the possibility the sub was too close when it fired sinking blows to the warship and subsequently sank itself. But none of the possibilities completely add up, he said.

Made from metal, the reproduction is as authentic as possible and as more is learned from the excavated sub, more is added to the replica, Nevins said. Currently, the replica is visiting a museum in Los Angeles with a San Diego stop planned before Benicia.

"I'm surprised how many people know about it," said John Dangerfield, a Friends of the Hunley member who tells stories about the sub during the replica tour.

"Everybody wants to see it but nobody wants me to finish it," said Dangerfield, who works on the replica.

Fisher said the reproduction is user friendly with children as young as 5 able to walk up to it and look inside. The replica sub is 40 feet long, 3.5 feet wide and 4.5 feet tall. A demonstration of the sub's mechanical operations will be given several times during the Benicia museum visit.

- E-mail Greg Moberly at or call 553-6833.

If you go...

What: Hunley submarine exhibit

When: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Aug. 26, 27 and 28

Where: Benicia Historical Museum, 2060 Camel Road

Cost: ranges from $1 to $5

For more information, call 745-5435.

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