Flashback Photos

Old Ironsides: The Poem

Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones collection.
Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones collection.

On Sept. 16, 1830, the Boston Daily Advertiser published the poem “Old Ironsides,” by a 21-year-old student named Oliver Wendell Holmes. Two days earlier, Holmes read in the Advertiser that the U.S.S. Constitution would be scrapped.

In a burst of emotion he wrote the poem in a day and submitted it to the newspaper. The poem was reprinted in newspapers around the country, earning Holmes national fame.

The article was erroneous, actually. The Navy had simply requested estimates for repairing the Constitution. But with the outcry after the poem, it’s doubtful there was any choice but to restore her.

The ship was finally decommissioned in 1881, and towed to Charlestown. Once there, she sank into disrepair and had to be rescued by publicity once again when the secretary of the Navy suggested in 1905 she be towed out to sea and used for target practice.

That prompted the final, successful campaign to raise money to convert the ship into a museum. This Flashback Photo shows workers raising the anchor on the vessel in the 1930s after she was converted to a museum.

Meanwhile, Holmes, who did not feel that writing poetry was a productive enough pursuit to make a career of, went on to medical school. He would ultimately prove to be a better doctor than a poet.[optinrev-inline-optin2]

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