On July 7, 1933, welcomed by mill whistles, bells and sirens, "Old Ironsides" anchors on the north side of Pier 1 at the foot of Hewitt Avenue in Everett and opens to visitors. Everett is one stop on a three-year U.S. tour made by the Constitution between 1931 and 1934, a goodwill trip on which the ship travels 22,000 miles and visits 91 ports. The ship's stay in Everett ends on July 14.
A Need for Optimism
Everett's citizens welcomed any signs of recovery in the early years of the Great Depression since Snohomish County was economically one of the hardest hit areas in the state. Businesses and industries in the City of Smokestacks closed and opened, then closed and opened again during the decade of the 1930s. Those that managed to continue operating usually did so with part-time workers. Local newspapers worked to keep readers' hopes alive with good news and stories of economic uptrends, but the daily reality was somber, with many business buildings boarded up and prepared for sale.
By the end of the decade, Everett and Snohomish County had put national government relief programs to good use, but in 1933 hope was slim. The USS Constitution's visit was a welcome sign of recovery.
The "Old Ironsides" Story
By 1933 the USS Constitution had escaped being scrapped three times. Each time public sentiment supported its restoration. Launched in 1797 at the Edmund Hart's shipyard in Boston, the Constitution was part of a fleet of six cruisers built to defend the new American nation, thus beginning the U.S. Navy. A wooden-hulled, three-masted frigate, the ship was a combination of power and maneuverability, and in 1798 Secretary of War William McHenry (1771-1835) ordered the Constitution made ready for sea.
The ship was first used to protect U.S. merchant shipping from invasion by North African Barbary pirates. It fought in the War of 1812 against Great Britain, capturing several small ships, conquering HMS Java and earning the name of Old Ironsides when a British shot from HMS Giuerriere bounced off the Constitution and a crew member commented that her sides must be made of iron.
The ship was declared unseaworthy in 1830, but an Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894) poem Old Ironsides sparked public sentiment that led to a government-funded restoration. For the next 20 years, the Constitution sailed around the world and even patrolled the African coast in search of illegal slave traders. The ship retired from travel in 1881 and became a Navy ship in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
Major repairs were done in 1906 and 1907 when much of the its rigging, spars, masts, and woodwork were replaced. In 1925 Congress authorized rebuilding the frigate but allowed no money to do so. Instead, money was raised by U.S. citizens, including a nationwide children's campaign that collected pennies to help restore the ship. Out of the million dollars needed, $700,000 was from citizen contributions.
The newly refurbished frigate embarked on a thank-you tour, stopping at Atlantic and Gulf Coast ports from July 1931 to May 1932, and then was towed to the Washington Naval Shipyard in Washington, D.C., to prepare for its West Coast visit. As historian Daryl McClary writes in his HistoryLink account of the trip:
"On December 8, 1932, "Old Ironsides," under tow by the 188-foot minesweeper USS Grebe (AS-43), set sail for the Pacific Coast, with week-long visitations scheduled at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Cristobal and Balboa, Panama. The two ships transited the 48-mile-long Panama Canal on December 27 and arrived in San Diego on January 21, 1933. During the winter and spring of 1933, the Constitution and Grebe slowly worked their way up the coastline toward Washington state. The ships called at nine major ports, including Grays Harbor (Gray's Harbor County), arriving at Port Angeles (Clallam County) in the Strait of Juan de Fuca on May 27, 1933. The historic vessel was on exhibition there for four days before departing for Seattle" ("Frigate USS Constitution…)."
The Constitution made visits to Tacoma and Bremerton before docking in Everett.
The ship's arrival in Everett received front-page newspaper coverage and radio station invitations by Mayor Arthur C. Edwards (b. 1873), attorney Lloyd Black (1889-1950), and Lt. J. Y. Dannenberg (1889-1970), the Constitution's navigator. The ship was not fully restored and on the trip was towed into ports by the minesweeper USS Grebe. A convoy of Everett Yacht Club boats, organized by the events committee, and led by its chairman Captain Henry "Harry" Ramwell (1862-1935), met the Constitution as it neared Mukilteo and accompanied it to its Pier 1 docking location in Everett.
Owner of the American Tugboat Company and spinoff businesses, Ramwell was one of Everett's most prominent city boosters, a member of the Everett Yacht Club and a powerful industrial figure on the Everett waterfront. The Constitution's visit was challenging, requiring routing usual car and truck traffic to specified locations (impacting workers at Fisherman's Packing Company and Weyerhaeuser's Mill A), setting in place ramps for the public to enter and leave the ship safely, providing fire protection for the Constitution and the Grebe as well as installing telephone service. Ramwell and his committee also worked with the community to host social events for visiting officers and crew, including lunches and dinners held at the Everett Golf and Country Club, the Everett Elks, and the Ramwell family home.
Events held that week included a baseball game featuring nine players from the Constitution's crew opposing the Everett White Sox; a dance held at the Everett Elks, and special day visitations for school children and senior citizens. Stevens Pass Boosters -- a group formed to support completion of the Steven Pass highway across the Cascades -- brought a delegation of more than 300 visitors from Eastern Washington who traveled to Everett in a caravan of 60 cars. Sunday drew nearly 15,000 people. Total attendance for the ship's stay in Everett was 35,797 in a city whose population was about 30,000.
Remembering the Day
Photos, promotional materials and personal stories linger from that July visit and have passed on to families and friends. Sisters Flora Hoekendorf (1901-1992) and Louise Eshwig were photographed aboard the ship, images shared through the Ruth Hieb family collection. An Everett Daily Herald article told the story of 80-year-old John Dwyer, then of Startup, Washington, who had spent three years as a Naval Intern aboard the Constitution, leaving it in 1866.