NOAA honors lost crew of USS Monitor with facial reconstructions
150 years after 16 USS Monitor sailors died when their vessel sank in a
New Year’s Eve storm off of Cape Hatteras, NOAA’s Office of National
Marine Sanctuaries has released forensic reconstructions of the faces
of two crew members.
Officials unveiled the reconstructions and dedicated a plaque
memory of the Monitor crew during a ceremony sponsored by the United
States Navy Memorial Foundation at the Navy Memorial in Washington this
The skeletal remains of both sailors were discovered inside
Monitor’s gun turret after it was raised from the ocean floor in 2002.
While much has been learned about the physical characteristics of the
men, their identities remain a mystery. By releasing images of the
reconstructed faces, NOAA hopes the public will be able to assist in
the ongoing effort to identify the sailors.
“These are the faces of men who gave their lives for their country at a
pivotal moment in American history,” said David Alberg, superintendent
of Monitor National Marine Sanctuary, which was established by Congress
in 1975 to protect the Monitor wreck site. “The best case scenario is
that someone will emerge, perhaps a descendant, who can give these
faces a name.”
“Our job is to not only protect and preserve our Naval history, but to
make it 'come alive' to our sailors and the public,” said Rear
Admiral Jay A. DeLoach, USN (Ret.), head of the Naval History &
Heritage Command. “The fusion of science, technology and
has breathed life into our shipmates, and we are very proud of the
legacy we have inherited from the sailors of the USS Monitor."
According to a Joint POW-MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) report, both of
the recovered skeletons were well-preserved and nearly complete.
Scientists estimated one of the men to be between 17 to 24 years old
and about 5 feet 7 inches tall, with relatively good oral hygiene. The
other man was about one inch shorter, between 30 to 40 years old, and
probably smoked a pipe. Both men were white, although the Monitor’s
crew included at least one African-American.
A Civil War-era Union ironclad warship that revolutionized naval
warfare, the USS Monitor is best known for its battle with the
Confederate ironclad, CSS Virginia, in Hampton Roads, Va., on March 9,
1862. The engagement marked the first time iron-armored ships clashed
in naval warfare and signaled the end of the era of wooden ships.
Less than a year later, while being towed to a new field of battle, the
Monitor capsized and sank off Cape Hatteras, carrying 16 crew members
to their deaths.
The skeletal remains found in 2002 were turned over to the JPAC in
Hawaii, which has worked to try and identify the sailors. To date, no
trace of the other 14 missing members of the crew has been found.
Forensic anthropologists at Louisiana State University’s
Anthropology and Computer Enhancement Services (FACES) Laboratory
volunteered their efforts and created the facial reconstructions by
using a combination of scientific and archaeological research, 3-D clay
facial reconstruction, computer-generated modeling, and
computer-enhanced imaging techniques. No NOAA funds were spent on the
“We don’t know all the answers about their lives but the
reconstruction is a way to bring the past to life, to create something
as similar as possible to the original,” said Mary H. Manhein, director
of the FACES lab. “To see the faces take shape, to go from bone to
flesh is very exciting. Our hope is that someone seeing the sculptures
may recognize the face as an ancestor.”
Retired NOAA archaeologist John Broadwater, who was among the first to
explore the Monitor wreck site after it was discovered in 1973, said
the facial reconstructions add another layer of history to the
Monitor’s fascinating saga.
“When Navy divers discovered the human remains in Monitor’s turret,
they immediately began referring to them as ‘our shipmates,’” said
Broadwater, author of “USS Monitor: An Historic Ship
Its Final Voyage.” “Looking into these two faces is very moving for me
and, I’m certain, for everyone involved in the Monitor recovery
The sculptures will be kept as part of the Office of National
Marine Sanctuary’s Monitor collection and will be used in future
exhibits and education programs.
NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries serves as the trustee for
the National Marine Sanctuary System, and works to conserve, protect,
and enhance their biodiversity, ecological integrity and cultural
legacy. The system includes 13 national marine sanctuaries and one
marine national monument, collectively encompassing over 150,000 square
miles of area in the ocean and Great Lakes. The Maritime Heritage
Program focuses on maritime heritage resources within the national
marine sanctuary system, and promotes maritime heritage appreciation
throughout the nation.
NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth's
environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun,
and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources.
NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries: www.sanctuaries.noaa.gov
NOAA’s Maritime Heritage Program: http://sanctuaries.noaa.gov/maritime/aboutmhp.html
Monitor National Marine Sanctuary: http://monitor.noaa.gov/150th
Louisiana State University FACES Laboratory: http://www.lsu.edu/faceslab/index.htm