Cairo, museum to reopen today

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 23, 2003

Adco Electric employee James Smith, of Jackson, aims lights installed to illuminate the Cairo Friday at the museum.(Chad Applebaum The Vicksburg Post)

[6/21/03]The men cutting grass, painting signs and checking areas around the USS Cairo worked Friday with the drive of men trying to get off a sinking ship.

Groundskeepers worked throughout the day to ensure that the ship and the museum next to it would be ready for its first opening.

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The Cairo will be open except during a few weeks yet to be determined for a few touch-ups to the new canopy and to repave the parking lot, said Vicksburg Military Park Curator Elizabeth Joyner.

“We’re trying to get it ready to open,” Joyner said. “I’d say we’re probably going to have a pretty good crowd.”

Park Superintendent Bill Nichols said the park was authorized to spend just over $3.8 million to replace the old canopy. The new canopy is larger and raised higher. He said the park has received many calls from people asking when the two park attractions will open again.

The Cairo closed in November 2001 to replace the metal canopy. The canopy wasn’t long enough to protect it from rain. The canopy also became a regular spot for roosting birds to roost, making the ship the target of years of bird droppings which damaged the ship’s wood and metal hull and insides.

“Plus it was unsightly and unsanitary,” Joyner said.

The museum closed when the work on the ship inched too close to the museum to protect visitors’ safety.

The Cairo was one of seven ironclad gunboats named in honor of towns along the upper Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. The USS Cairo was named after Cairo, Ill.

It sunk in 1862 which is the same year it was built. It holds the dubious distinction of being the first ship in history to be sunk by an electrically detonated torpedo. It sunk in the Yazoo River, seven miles north of Vicksburg.

It was raised from the river 100 years after it sank. It had to be raised in three sections because it was so heavy.

The museum displays items recovered from the ship and provides information about the daily life of those on the ship. The museum also has a video documenting how the Cairo sunk.

Joyner said it may be up to a month before the ship and museum closes for minor canopy repairs. However, she said the museum and the ship will be open until the repairs since they have been closed for so long. The museum hasn’t been idle since it closed; parts of it have been improved, too.

Renovations to the museum include installing a generator was installed to prevent future power outages, repainting the mural at the museum entrance to make the details in the sailors’ faces clearer, painting walls in colors that contrast better with museum objects, installing new water fountains and renovating bathrooms.