Over 100 UPS workers move clay models to DC

Seeing history may have been easy when clay recreations of USS Monitor sailors' faces were revealed, but getting the models to Washington from a laboratory in Louisiana was not.

The faces, created based on skulls discovered in the gun turret of the USS Monitor, are made of never-fired, never-dried clay. Each hollow head rests on a steel rod going through the middle. The slightest touch or vibration would shatter the months-long project.

But when NOAA director of Maritime Heritage James Delgado contacted UPS about shipping this fragile cargo, they were ready to take on the challenge.

“We wouldn’t have said yes if we didn’t think we could accomplish it,” said UPS PR manager Dan McMackin.

The company has moved sharks and pandas across the world and was in charge of the travelling Terra Cotta Warriors exhibit, so while this project was unique, it was doable.

Since the figures had to be free-standing, UPS developed a box within a box, incorporating multiple types of foam and cardboard to absorb movement. Meanwhile in Louisville, Ky., where UPS's airline is based, they studied how an egg reacted to movement on loading machinery to identify what the danger zones would be when moving the clay replicas.

The entire team, from handlers checking the boxes to meteorologists making sure the plane wouldn’t hit turbulence, worked together to build a strong shipping strategy. In total, over a hundred people had a hand in the project.

“To say it was a group effort would be an understatement,” McMackin said.

Once the plane touched down at Dulles airport outside Washington, local drivers in rented SUVs – traditional UPS trucks vibrated too much for this cargo – made sure to take the smoothest roads. En route, the back windshield burst as though it was hit with a bullet. It was a freak mishap -- no real bullet involved -- and the drivers maintained control and delivered the packages safely.

“We’re so very proud and happy that those skulls made it and we’re really looking forward to finding out who those individuals are,” McMackin said.

The replicas are now on display at The Mariner's Museum in Newport News, Va. Archaeologists and genealogists are working to accurately identify the sailors.

Donate Now

Help protect our national marine sanctuaries. Your support helps our mission to enhance national marine sanctuaries in their goal to protect essential U.S. marine areas and to ensure a healthy ocean.

Donate Now!

Sanctuary Store

New item: Sanctuary Notecards illustrated by Sherman's Lagoon creator Jim Toomey

Shop Now