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Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Day-tripping to
Torsk in Baltimore Harbor
 [Photo: David Alan Dickens/Writers Clearinghouse News Service
Historical, Artistic Sites, and Museums

By David Alan Dickens
[Writers Clearinghouse News Service]

One of a Series
Just a short drive down I-95 from Philadelphia is Baltimore. Known primarily for its sporting venues, this medium-sized city also has a bulging core of historical sites and museums. In lieu of Harbor Place, the National Aquarium and the Maryland Science Center, many of Baltimore’s art centers go unnoticed, quiet gems just waiting to be discovered.

When beginning a journey through this old colonial city (named after Lord Baltimore, aka: Lord Calvert) one is readily reminded of the past, of the city’s historical relevance and its role in building our Nation and Independence. Much as Philadelphia reveres the Liberty Bell and the reminders of our Continental Congress, so too does Baltimore enjoy its Fort McHenry, where Francis Scott Key penned our National Anthem. But scattered throughout this ever-evolving city is an impressive array of quieter, more private symbols of freedom.

Let’s begin this Baltimore-tour at the little–known Shot Tower, just blocks from Little Italy. Here, at Fayette and Front Streets, is a 234-foot Shot Tower. This towering structure of clay-brick and old mortar was the tallest manmade structure in the United States, eventually being surpassed by the Washington Monument, completed after the Civil war. Used for cooling shot (or musket balls) during the Civil War, the importance of this monument is amplified as there were only seven such structures.

The Shot Tower was in operation from 1828 to 1892. Molten lead was dropped from a platform at the top of the tower through a sieve-like device and into a vat of cold water. When hardened, dried and polished, the shot was sorted into 25-pound bags, producing a total of 1,000,000 bags of shot a year--a number that could be doubled.

Known originally as the Phoenix Shot, then the Merchants' Shot Tower and now the old Baltimore Shot Tower, the red brick tower was erected in 1828. Charles Carroll, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, led in its development and construction. This type of building was rare even during the 19th century, and this National Historic Landmark affords an excellent example of the simple elegance that can be achieved in the design of industrial architecture.

Further up the street, at Pratt and Light Streets, is Baltimore’s --- Harbor Place. Standing proudly at the Pratt Street Pavillion is the USS Constellation, a ship of service during the War of 1812. and a flexing of America’s early naval muscle. Majestic and sturdy, the Constellation harkens back to the early days of uncertainty, when the high-seas would prove vital to our Independence.

Baltimore's Constellation was commissioned in 1855, the very last all-sail fighting vessel. Visitors can climb aboard this last-of-its-kind ship and get a firsthand look at what the life of a sailor was like in days past.

A knowledgeable and enthusiastic crew of tour guides is ready to answer questions about the ship's history, including its missions to disrupt the slave trade, and its latter role in delivering famine relief supplies to Ireland.

For hours, dates, admission fees, and a history of the ship, visit the USS Constellation website at: www.constellation.org.

After touring this American naval classic, you’ll notice another vessel of the sea, this one from an entirely different generation. The USS Torsk, a US Navy submarine (long-retired) saw extensive action in the Sea of Japan and help secure the seas for General MacArthur and Admiral Halsey as they continued their Island-Hopping Campaign toward the Japanese home islands (the Torsk got its name from a gadoid fish, allied to the codfish, which is found in the North Atlantic. The name Torsk is Norwegian in origin).

USS Torsk (SS-423) was built at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, New Hampshire and placed in commission on 16 December 1944 with Commander Bafford E. Lewellen, U.S. Navy, as its first commanding officer.

After clearing Hawaii, Torsk sailed to Guam for a short stop. Then she went on to the Sea of Japan. On 11 August she rescued seven Japanese seamen whose ship had been sunk by a U.S. plane. On 12 August she had her first combat action when she fired two torpedoes at a small freighter. The ship appeared to be damaged, but postwar investigation failed to show that she sank.

The next day Torsk torpedoed and sank three enemy vessels for a total of 2,473 tons.

After patrolling off Japan for a few days, Torsk headed east on 9 September 1945. She made brief stops in Guam and Hawaii, and on 20 September cleared the Panama Canal en route to New London, Connecticut. where she arrived on 15 October 1945. For the next ten tears Torsk was assigned to the Submarine Squadron 8 at the Submarine School in New London, where she trained officers and enlisted men for submarine duty. This assignment earned her the title of the “divingest” submarine in the U.S. Navy as she made dives several times a day in the course of her training activities.

Torsk was revamped and upgraded in 1951 and, beginning on 19 August 1957, she took part in NATO exercises operating with submarines of the Royal Navy. In 1959 she took part in the ceremonies marking the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway during which time she made an inland cruise through the Great Lakes to Milwaukee, Chicago, and Buffalo. More than 100,000 visitors toured the submarine during the trip.

Torsk was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for operations during the 1960 Lebanon Crisis, operating as a unit of the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean Sea. She took part in the 1962 naval blockade of Cuba established by the United States during the Russian missile crisis. During the operation, Torsk sent boarding parties to inspect some Soviet merchant ships. For this action she won the Navy Commendation Medal.

On 4 March 1968,  Torsk , at the ripe old age of 24 and after 11,884 dives, was decommissioned at the Boston Navy Yard. On September 26, 1972 she was transferred to Maryland; on May 1, 1973, she was established as the Maryland Submarine Memorial, and berthed at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor (alongside the Coast Guard Cutter Taney, and the lightship Chesapeake).

These other wonderful sites are also within minutes of Baltimore’s bustling Inner-Harbor. Be on the lookout as each will be featured in forthcoming articles:

The Baltimore Museum of Art Port Discovery Children’s Museum
The Walters Art Gallery The Fire Museum of Maryland
America Visionary Art Museum Great Blacks in Wax Museum
The Edgar Allan Poe House The Poe Burial Site