Connected with the Constitution

Published 1:12 pm Friday, July 2, 2010

Tryon resident and retired U.S. Navy Commander Ty Martin took over command of the famed U.S.S. Constitution in 1974, and the two have been connected ever since.

Martin, who began research on the Constitution upon taking her helm and has since published a book on her as well reams of historical data on the Internet, is recognized as a leading expert on the U.S.S. Constitution. His website, which he calls The Captains Clerk, has been selected for inclusion in the Library of Congresss relatively new web archive database.

It wasnt really intentional, Martin said of the nearly 40-year connection he has had with the ship that earned the nickname Old Ironsides for her naval victories in the War of 1812. At the time, the Constitution was not a big command I had commanded two destroyers before that, so it wasnt very challenging, and I was looking for something to do.

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The U.S. Navy was also preparing for the countrys bicentennial celebration in 1976 and the Constitution was about to undergo a multi-million dollar makeover.

Thats when Martin, who began his military career after graduating from Rochester (N.Y.) Universitys Navy ROTC program in 1952, discovered that the restoration project was about to get under way without a clear direction.

So began his research into the history of Americas most famous and revered ship, which has since become the official Ship of State by Congressional decree.

I found out that the people working on the ship didnt know much more about her than the average person walking around out there, Martin said. I started the research and basically gave them the information to make an informed decision.

After putting together enough historically accurate information on the ship itself and a plan for its restoration and upkeep, Martin said he mailed off a letter to the Secretary of the Navy.

That plan was approved and is still protocol for the ships upkeep and staffing.

Instead of these crash programs that were being done where you come in and try to do everything at once, my idea was to do the work the way it was done in 1812. .I get great satisfaction knowing that its still the policy for her.

Martin put his knowledge to use in 1980, publishing A Most Fortunate Ship, a book about the Constitution in 1980.

His database moved from the filing cabinet to a computer in 1986 and then online in 1998 when The Captains Clerk was born with the help of local webmaster Robin Michael.

The Library of Congress noticed it earlier this year as administrators of its web-archive pilot program sought themes for inclusion in the database through some 60 recommending officers. One of those recommendations was The Captains Clerk.

Since 2000, we have tracked sites relating to events such as elections, Hurricane Katrina and 9/11, but now were expanding to other thematic archives with this pilot program, said Abbie Grotke of the Library of Congresss Web Archiving Team. The idea is to take the recommendations of our officers to include websites focused on a theme in their areas of interest.

Those sites are very often the ones used that Library of Congress researchers use to help them find information they need. The recommendation for The Captains Clerk came from the Library of Congresss humanities and social sciences division.

Grotke said she expects The Captains Clerk to be included in the librarys web archives, where it will be available in toto and for public consumption, sometime next year.

Martin said he will be adding more information to the site before then. After its initial inclusion, the web archiving team will archive The Captains Clerk every six months to capture any new information.

Martin said there is much more to be added.

I have a lot more information that weve got to get to, he said. The more I dig into it, the more interesting it gets. I get closer to the people who have served on her.