red lantern

Approaching Monitor on the first submersible dive in 1977, an archaeologist spotted a brass navigation lantern near the turret. Its red Fresnel lens suggested it was a signal lantern. In his account of watching Monitor sink from Rhode Island, Paymaster William Keeler mentioned that at approximately 1:30 a.m., the red distress lantern burning atop the turret and the ship itself was no longer visible.

This lantern was the last visible sign of Monitor before it sank, and more than a century later in 1977, it became the very first artifact recovered from the wreck. The lantern is currently on display in the USS Monitor Center at The Mariners' Museum and Park in Newport News, Virginia.

In 1987, NOAA completed baseline studies at the site that were essential for determining the rate of deterioration of the hull and changes in the sanctuary environment. In the 1990s, NOAA began noticing an alarming pattern of accelerated deterioration in several areas of the wreck. Due to this alarming rate of decay, NOAA was given a mandate in 1996 by Congress to develop a plan to preserve Monitor. In 1998, NOAA released a long-range plan that outlined a six-step proposal for stabilizing portions of the Monitor's hull and recovering the vessel's steam engine and rotating gun turret.

turret rising
turret extraction team on their spider

Monitor National Marine Sanctuary Expedition Timeline

  • 1975 - On January 30, the 113th anniversary of the vessel’s launch, Monitor National Marine Sanctuary is created as the first U.S. national marine sanctuary.

  • red lantern

    1977 - NOAA carries out its first expedition to the site in July and August, using the Research Vessel Johnson and a submersible.

  • 1979 - In July and August, NOAA sponsors an ambitious 28-day expedition to Monitor.

    pickle relish jar
  • anchor

    1983 - Monitor’s anchor is recovered.

  • monitor with turret under hull

    1985 - A number of targets believed to be structural materials or Monitor artifacts are located around the wreck site.

  • museum entrance

    1987 - March 9 marks the 125th anniversary of the Battle of Hampton Roads. The Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, Virginia, is designated the principal repository for Monitor artifacts.

  • diver

    1990 - Realizing a need to visit the sanctuary on a more regular basis, NOAA begins planning periodic site inspections.

  • monitor's bow

    1991 - After noticing increased deterioration of the wreck, an emergency assessment of the Monitor wreck site is conducted.

  • 1992 - Rough weather in August hampers the assessment expedition, but sanctuary staff observe that areas of the deck near the curve of the bow have become detached from the ship.

  • diver going down

    1993 - An 18-day expedition is conducted using crewed submersibles and divers operating from a dive bell.

  • 1998 - NOAA finalizes a six-step plan for stabilizing a portion of the hull and recovering the vessel’s steam engine and rotating turret.

  • 1999 - NOAA and the U.S. Navy begin planning large-scale recovery expeditions and implementing a stabilization plan.

  • engine recovery

    2001 - An expedition successfully recovers more than 250 artifacts, including Monitor’s vibrating lever steam engine.

  • turret rising

    2002 - NOAA and the U.S. Navy conduct a 41-day effort to recover the gun turret.

    More Images (2002)

  • photomosaic of the monitor shipwreck

    2006 - A team of researchers conduct a major mapping expedition to collect high-resolution digital still and video imagery of Monitor to create a high-quality photomosaic of the wreck site.

  • diver filming the wreck of the monitor

    2011 - A team of researchers collects high-resolution digital still and video images of Monitor.

  • wreck of the monitor on the seafloor

    2015 - Researchers collect high-resolution digital still and video images of Monitor to create a photogrammetric model of the shipwreck.

  • fish and a shark a swimming above the wreck of the uss monitor on the seafloor

    2022 - Partnering with Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration, three dives were made to USS Monitor to collect photos and video, including 3D video of the ship and site.