While most ships her age are lost to history or resting in a watery grave, the 215-year-old USS Constitution is still operable and recently enjoyed a cruise across the Boston Harbor.
The Constitution is the Navy’s oldest commissioned warship still afloat and was originally launched in 1797 as one of the six original frigates of the United States Navy. Although wooden-hulled, her resilience and victory over the British vessel HMS Guerriere, during the War of 1812, earned her the nickname “Old Ironsides” as sailors watched British cannonballs bounce off her sides.
Sunday marked the 200th anniversary of the USS Constitution’s triumph over HMS Guerriere and the Navy commemorated the occasion by having the ship sail 1,100 yards across the Boston Harbor under its own power — the first time since 1997.
“I cannot think of a better way to honor those who fought in the war as well as celebrate Constitution’s successes during the War of 1812 than for the ship to be under sail,” said Cmdr. Matt Bonner, Constitution’s 72nd commanding officer.
Besides the sailing of the ship, the event included a great deal of fanfare, including a 21-gun salute and military reenactors wearing the Marine’s uniform from 1812. Additionally, the aging warship proved she still had some fight left in her as she fired one of her guns to the delight of onlookers who felt like they were stepping back in history.
“You can’t help but be moved that you have this living hero of the War of 1812, and a lot of our early nation’s battles, still doing the same thing that she did. Although we’re not patrolling the seas, our navy today is doing those same missions of keeping the seas free. And it’s kind of connecting the past with the present,” says Commander Bonner.
On a typical day, the USS Constitution resides in the Charlestown Navy Yard and is open to free guided tours for the public. Active-duty sailors narrate the tour and take visitors through the ship’s top three decks where they can learn the history of the vessel. Around 500,000 people visit the warship each year.