Civil War submarine Hunley

Students dive into mystery of Civil War submarine Hunley

By Betty Klinck - USA Today

Part of the story is solid. Part of it remains a mystery.

What is certain is that on the night of Feb. 17, 1864, the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley sank the USS Housatonic in Charleston Harbor in South Carolina to become the first submarine to sink a ship during combat.

Then the Hunley itself literally sank into oblivion when it went down with its crew of eight. The resting place of the Civil War submarine, which had remained a mystery for more than century, finally was discovered in 1995 off Sullivan's Island.

But before the submarine sank, the story goes, it flashed a blue light to Confederate soldiers on the shore to signal success.

But as this part of the story comes from second- and third-hand accounts, it "gets a little fuzzy," says archaeologist Mike Scafuri of the Warren Lasch Conservation Center in Charleston, where the recovered Hunley is on display.

Nobody knows whether the signal was supposed to be made directly after the attack or as the Hunley approached shore, Scafuri says. And another question remains: Could a lantern have produced a strong enough light for the soldiers to see?

To try to answer the question of the mysterious blue signal, 12 students at Hamburg (Pa.) Area High School are building three replicas of the submarine's lantern in the school's metal shop.

Retired history teacher Ned Eisenhuth and retired shop teacher Fred Lutkis began the project after expressing interest last summer in the history of the Hunley to the Lasch Conservation Center. Before they retired, Eisenhuth and Lutkis had worked with students at Minersville (Pa.) Area High School to create replicas of a Viking burial sled and a medieval cart.

These will be the only true replicas of the Hunley's lantern, Eisenhuth says. Next month, the school plans to donate the best replica of the lantern to the conservation center, which has been studying the submarine since it was excavated in 2000 with help from the Friends of the Hunley Organization.