Kabang!!! Or is it Kaboom!!!?

By “ Tortuga” Jack Hackett

Well, whatever sound you would make to indicate a thunderous explosion from a cannon, resounding throughout the bricked vaulted ceilings of the casement or gun-room in which it is heard. The decibels produced would exceed those of a heavy metal rock band with the volume cranked to the max.

One might arrive at this conclusion while standing inside one of the casements at Ft. Jefferson. This is just one part of the fort’s awesome architecture evident amidst sixteen million bricks utilized in the construction of the fort that began in 1846.

General Joseph Totten, chief of engineers, is the man most responsible from Fort Jefferson’s construction. He was a meticulous calculator and super micro-manager. Masons of today when arriving at Fort Jefferson to begin and/or continue major projects, marvel at General Trotten’s innovations and designs. For example, methods of cutting castings and fittings of stone and metal (in particular massive iron shutters known as “Totten Embrasures)” are remarkable. In order to prevent mortar from fragmenting, General Totten made lead concrete which was used to mount the shutters.

Oh, this kind of thing just scratches the surface; talk to someone as enthused as Kelly Clark about these projects and you will be engulfed in a sea of amazement. Kelly first arrived in the Dry Tortugas for the “Hot Shot” project in 2003. She, of course, fell in love with the area but had to return to Santa Fe in order to complete other assignments. She has now returned to lead, coordinate and supervise several of the Historic Planning Programs. Not only does she have a good understanding of the hurdles encountered during the original construction, but also has a firm grip on the challenges present at this time. There are a myriad of glitches that arise in the field that find their way to her desk.

On the other hand, they are well underway to remove seventeen shutters and salvage brick for reuse. Next they will duplicate these shutters from the original design plans, and install them following the rule of preservation as closely as possible. This rule, in a nutshell, is to use the same materials, methods and tools as were used in the nineteenth century. One deviation from this rule will be the use of reinforced fiberglass concrete as a substitute for iron. This will prevent rust, expansion and the fading of the color of the embrasures.

All of these multifaceted restoration projects will be performed during the next three to five years. Currently, the most visible project is the “Totten Embrasure” project. So head on out to the Dry Tortugas National Park and to Ft. Jefferson, find your way across the parade ground, read the information posted there, stroll into the gunroom, cover your ears and be amazed.

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