Confederate Civil War vessel H.L. Hunley, the world's first successful combat submarine, was unveiled in full and unobstructed for the first time on Thursday, capping a decade of careful preservation.
"No one alive has ever seen the Hunley complete. We're going to see it today," engineer John King said as a crane at a Charleston conservation laboratory slowly lifted a massive steel truss covering the top of the submarine.
About 20 engineers and scientists applauded as they caught the first glimpse of the intact 42-foot-long (13-meter-long) narrow iron cylinder, which was raised from the ocean floor near Charleston more than a decade ago.
The public will see the same view, but in a water tank to keep it from rusting.
"It's like looking at the sub for the first time. It's like the end of a long night," said Paul Mardikian, senior conservator since 1999 of the project to raise, excavate and conserve the Hunley.
In the summer of 2000, an expedition led by adventurer Clive Cussler raised the Hunley and delivered it to the conservatory on Charleston's old Navy base, where it sat in a 90,000-gallon tank of fresh water to leach salt out of its iron hull.
On weekdays, scientists drain the tank and work on the sub. On weekends, tourists who before this week could only see an obstructed view of the vessel in the water tank, now will be able to see it unimpeded.
Considered the Confederacy's stealth weapon, the Hunley sank the Union warship Housatonic in the winter of 1864, and then disappeared with all eight Confederate sailors inside.
The narrow, top-secret "torpedo fish," built in Mobile, Ala., by Horace Hunley from cast iron and wrought iron with a hand-cranked propeller, arrived in Charleston in 1863 while the city was under siege by Union troops and ships.
In the ensuing few months, it sank twice after sea trial accidents, killing 13 crew members, including Horace Hunley, who was steering.
"There are historical references that the bodies of one crew had to be cut into pieces to remove them from the submarine," Mardikian told Reuters.
"There was forensic evidence when they found the bones (between 1993 and 2004 in a Confederate graveyard beneath a football stadium in Charleston) that that was true."
The Confederate Navy hauled the sub up twice, recovered the bodies of the crew, and planned a winter attack.