By Paul Leighton - Salem News
The USS New Hampshire was a wreck before it became a wreck.
The ship burned and sank during a training exercise on the Hudson River in 1921.
The next year, its recovered hull was being towed to the Bay of Fundy to be dismantled for its copper and bronze fastenings when it again caught fire. It sank, for the final time, near Graves Island off Singing Beach in Manchester.
It might have been an inauspicious ending for the once-grand vessel, the last of the U.S. Navy's 74-gun battleships. But all these years later, the ship retains its allure for Norman "Dugie" Russell.
Russell, 72, began diving to the ship in 1961, drawn by the spikes and pins and sheeting that had been forged at Paul Revere's foundry in Canton and kept the 2,633-ton boat together.
After more than 200 dives, he put his quest on hold until 20 years ago, except for one aborted and nearly fatal attempt last year. But as he told an audience of about 40 people in a recent talk at the Beverly Public Library, he plans to go back again this summer.
"The lure of this ship, I can't let go," he said. "It became kind of an obsession for me."
Russell, a retired court officer from Beverly, has salvaged thousands of pounds of copper and brass and tons of timber from the New Hampshire over the years. He has crafted the material into hundreds of items — cribbage boards, coffee tables, lamps, clocks, mantelpieces, jewelry — and sold them to retailers and individuals.