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Monument To Team Leader Who Discovered the 'Monitor' To Be Dedicated In Beaufort

BEAUFORT, N.C. -- A black African granite monument honoring the Duke University team leader involved in the 1973 discovery of the long-sunken Civil War Union ironclad Monitor will be dedicated March 9, the 140th anniversary of the historic vessel's battle with its rival Confederate ironclad Virginia (originally the Merrimack before its capture and refitting).

The monument to John G. Newton, who was then Marine Superintendent for the Duke University Marine Laboratory adjacent to coastal Beaufort, will be dedicated in a Beaufort waterfront ceremony with remarks by town Mayor Thomas Steepy; Mike Orbach, who directs the Marine Laboratory in what is now Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences; and Cathryn Newton, the Syracuse University Dean of Arts and Sciences who is John Newton's daughter.

Another speaker will be Robert Sheridan, now a Rutgers University professor of geology and geophysics, who as University of Delaware researcher was a member of Newton's discovery team. A monument inscription also notes Sheridan's contribution, as well as those of others who include Harold Edgerton, an MIT professor and inventor, and Gordon Watts, an underwater geologist for the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources.

The Monitor and Merrimack's epic draw ended the era of wooden warships. Newton, who died in 1984 at the age of 52, led the group aboard the marine lab's former research vessel Eastward that discovered the Monitor on Aug. 27, 1973, lying upside down in 230 feet of water about 16 miles off Cape Hatteras.

That discovery was preceded by nearly a year of intensive historical research that narrowed the search to a 6-by-16 mile rectangle in what is known as the "Graveyard of the Atlantic" because of the frequency of shipwrecks.

"Before our first week was over, we had picked up 21 targets," Newton recalled in a January 1975 National Geographic article. The day the right target was found, he wrote, "the scientist on watch paid little heed to a slight echo" traced on the paper track of a sonar recorder. Fortunately, Newton added, Fred Kelley, the chief of Eastward's oceanographic party, passed by while wrapping up a bit of fishing from the ship's rail. 'Hey -- that looks like something,' Fred said, and suggested that Eastward reverse course to take a closer look."

It would take another five months of post-discovery study, plus a second site visit in April 1974, to unquestionably identify the wreck.

Newton went on to direct the Monitor Research and Recovery Foundation, which started in Beaufort and then relocated to Norfolk, Va. His legacy includes the nation's Marine Sanctuary Program to preserve and protect underwater sites of note. With impetus from his advocacy, Congress designated the Monitor wreck as the first sanctuary.

Efforts to design, fund and erect the monument in a grove of trees near one of the restaurants on Beaufort's Front Street was spearheaded by Bob Wilson, editorial page editor of the Durham Herald-Sun and a former Duke News Service assistant director, and Orrin H. Pilkey, research professor emeritus of geology at the Nicholas School.

Wilson said the idea originated when he encountered another Beaufort waterfront monument commemorating Michael Smith, pilot of the doomed space shuttle Challenger.

Note to editors: The March 9 ceremony will begin at 11 a.m. adjacent to the Dock House restaurant off Front Street in Beaufort.