MARBLEHEAD — The fabled USS Constitution won’t be returning to Marblehead in April, but this town is planning to remember one of the biggest events in its history anyway.
With two larger, British frigates in angry hot pursuit, Constitution slipped into the safety of Marblehead Harbor and beneath the protective guns of Fort Sewall on April 3, 1814. Thus, on April 3, 2014, the town will celebrate the 200th anniversary of its part in saving the vessel that became a national treasure. Details are still in the planning stages.
Historian Matt Brenckle of the USS Constitution Museum in Charlestown was set to confer with the Historical Society on its part in the observations earlier this year. Unfortunately, hopes that the vessel might return to Marblehead to mark the occasion have been dashed. Given the ship’s value as a tourist attraction and a national icon, officials have been loath to risk putting her to sea following its historic sail in 1997.
The town’s official involvement will include the Historical Commission, according to Selectman Harry Christensen. “And I would be surprised if the Board of Selectmen wasn’t involved,” he said. The importance of the 1814 incident is magnified, Christensen said, by the town’s claim as the birthplace of the American Navy.
“It was a very important event,” said Wayne Butler of the Historical Commission. “Of course, many of the men on the Constitution were from Marblehead.”
It was the shared history of Marblehead and the Constitution, the world’s oldest commissioned warship, that led to the ship’s visit in July 1997, the bicentennial year of her launch. That event was covered by the national television networks and drew people including Sen. Ted Kennedy who was aboard for the ship’s first sail in more than 100 years. Towed out to sea, surrounded by modern U.S. Navy vessels, Constitution was freed of the tow line and her sails allowed to briefly fill.