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USS Pittsburgh treasure headed for Soldiers & Sailors museum

By Craig Smith
Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A 7,000-pound ornament from the bow of a World War I cruiser that's been in storage for a dozen years will be moved to Soldiers & Sailors Military Museum and Memorial.

"It is a rare artifact," said museum CEO Ron Gancas. A committee will begin planning the move next week and looking for ways to pay for it.

The bronze ornament, which adorned the bow of the USS Pittsburgh, has a connection to the military museum in Oakland; architect Henry Hornbostel designed both, said Frank Stroker, assistant archivist at the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation.

Officials said the decorative object, measuring 8 feet by 17 feet, was manufactured in a Homestead foundry.

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The first phase of the relocation project involves placing the front piece, which reads "Pluribus Unum," on a concrete base outside Soldiers & Sailors. That will cost about $50,000, Gancas said.

"People will be able to walk up and touch it and learn about their history," said Judy Halleran of McCandless, president of the Pittsburgh Council of the Navy League of the United States, a civilian organization that was working to find a home for the ornament.

The USS Pittsburgh, originally named the USS Pennsylvania, was an armored cruiser built in 1899 as part of the Great White Fleet sent around the world by President Theodore Roosevelt from 1907 through 1909. The vessels were painted white except for the scrollwork on their bows.

After their return in 1909, the Navy repainted the ships battleship gray and removed the bow ornaments. The Pennsylvania was renamed in 1912.

The bow ornament was displayed at Carnegie Institute after World War I, overlooking Junction Hollow, but was placed in storage to make room for new buildings, said Halleran's husband, Richard, a retired Navy captain who serves on the national board of directors of the Navy League of the United States.

A replica was located on the roof of Roberts Hall in the 1990s after the original went into storage.

An elaborate plan to relocate the ornament to Soldiers & Sailors in 1999 included the installation of reflecting pools and would have cost $500,000, Gancas said.

The historical object needs to be refinished, Richard Halleran said. In an effort to preserve it, someone apparently painted it -- maybe several times.

The dismantled ornament sits on 10 pallets in the basement of the Carnegie Science Center's SportsWorks building near Heinz Field. The Port Authority will raze the building to make room for a light rail station, said Mike Marcus, a science center spokesman.

Craig Smith can be reached at or 412-380-5646.
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The bow ornament

J.C. Schisler/Tribune-Review

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The ship


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