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Hunley Lantern Project

NEA-Retired Members Help Rewrite History

By Edward Graham

One February night in 1864, just off the coast of Charleston, S.C., the Confederate submarine H. L. Hunley surfaced alongside the Union screw sloop USS Housatonic, and put a barbed torpedo into the vessel’s hull. Seconds later—in history’s first successful submarine attack—an explosion sent the Housatonic to the bottom of Charleston Harbor.

As the Housatonic sank, a Union sailor in the rigging of the vessel saw a mysterious light on the dark water. The same light was seen by Confederate soldiers on shore. It was a prearranged signal telling them the Hunley’s mission had been successful. Hours passed, but the submarine never returned. The Hunley and its crew were too close to impact and all sank as a result.

In 2000, the Hunley was raised from its watery grave. Archaeologists at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center took X-rays and drew designs of the lantern’s remains. What they really wanted was a working replica to help them understand the submarine.

Enter Ned Eisenhuth and Fred Lutkus, two retired educators. Former colleagues at Minersville Area High School in Eastern Pennsylvania, the duo had retired with more than 70 years of combined teaching experience. Eisenhuth was in the first class that Lutkus taught as the school’s industrial technology teacher, and returned to the school after college to teach World Cultures and American History.

Beginning in the mid-1990s, Eisenhuth and Lutkus organized after-school projects that blended interdisciplinary teaching with hands-on learning. “There’s no better way to learn than to actually build something that’s relative to history or math,” says Lutkus, “or really any of the curriculums. And that’s originally what we started with on our first project,” he continues, referring to a 21-foot working replica of a Viking boat that they helped the school’s seniors complete as a graduation requirement.

Lutkus retired in 2006. As his own teaching career wound down, Eisenhuth noticed that history books provided little detail about the way the Hunley had changed naval warfare. He contacted Conservation Center’s archaeologists for more information. Eisenhuth mentioned his students’ projects. Impressed, the archaeologists asked the men to work with students to build several replicas of the Hunley lantern. But the teachers no longer had access to a shop class and interested students.

The Hunley Program Club is Born

Eisenhuth’s wife, Nanette, a teacher at neighboring Hamburg Area High School in Hamburg, Pa., prompted the school’s administration to get involved. The metal shop was brought out of storage, and 12 students signed up to help research, construct, and create a Web site for the lantern project, with Lutkus and Eisenhuth as their advisors.

“For us, this was a win-win situation,” says Mike Scafuri, an archaeologist at the Center. “We were really interested in getting an accurate replica of our lantern, in addition to working with Fred, Ned, and their school group, and we thought that was a fantastic idea.”

Within five months, students progressed from learning the basics of metal-working and soldering, to creating four museum-quality replica lanterns built to the exact specifications of the original.

 “We found that a hands-on approach to teaching was very effective in generating student involvement,” says Eisenhuth. “Not only did it generate an interest in the students, but it gave us, as teachers, a fresh approach to our disciplines.”


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