BALTIMORE, Md. - The USS Constellation was taken out to Fort McHenry with pomp and circumstance Thursday as part of the restoration process, ensuring the ship weathers on both sides while docked at Baltimore's Inner Harbor.
The flagship of the American Navy, built in 1854, according to the Board of Historic Ships, the USS Constellation tells endless stories. The vessel stopped slave traders in Africa, and played a role in the Civil War.
The crew endured rough living conditions throughout, they slept on the third deck, in swinging hammocks while the ship was out to sea for years at a time. They ate crackers and had a daily ration of grog (rum mixed with water).
"It was discovered that a happy drunk sailor is just happier than a sailor who's sober and eating bad food," Alan Walden, Board Member of the Historic Ships of Baltimore, said.
On the second deck are the cannons, as the USS Constellation was a war ship. Many of the cannons are replicas made of plastic, but there are several antiques among them.
On deck, all aboard were mesmerized by the views, and ceremony. On every half hour the bell tolled, and once the ship arrived at Fort McHenry, the USS Constellation saluted with cannon fire. The fort returned fire, as a sign of acknowledgement.
One man, Saleem Le-Amin, was particularly touched, not only by the opportunity to be on the vessel, but what it means to him personally.
Le-Amin is part of the Living Classroom's Project Serve, where men and women returning from incarceration learn on-the-job skills.
Le-Amin grew up in Sandtown-Winchester and was pulled down a bad road, landing him in jail for 42 years. In jail he said he saw many men leave and come back, and he didn't want to be one of them.
"Coming out of prison that's all we wanted was a second chance, a second chance to prove ourselves and that we can contribute, and that's what I'm getting, a second chance, so I call it the big O," meaning opportunity, Le-Amin said.
He got his GED, and a Bachelors in Managerial Science and is now a case worker with Living Classrooms constantly doing outreach to help kids growing up under his circumstances.
The USS Constellation was turned around so Le-Amin and his crew of volunteers could continue working, painting protective coatings on the hull.
The ship stands not only as a tribute to American history, as a living artifact, but as a floating symbol of hope to those who see her at the Inner Harbor.