In 1905, when word came that the Secretary of the Navy had recommended that the decrepit USS Constitution be taken from its moorings in Boston Navy Yard and used for target practice, outraged citizens of Massachusetts fought to save the century-old frigate. They were led by a Boston artist named Eric Pape, who conceived a giant petition that eventually gained thirty thousand signatures, including, writes Rape’s son Moritz, those of “all living Governors of Massachusetts, as well as legislators, mayors and descendants of the crew. This petition was attached to a drumhead painting by my father depicting the ship’s encounter with the English frigate Guerrière .”
Mr. Pape, seen here at the left, came to Washington, unfurled his 170-foot-long petition from the Speaker’s platform, and won a reprieve. Today the Constitution , berthed in Boston Harbor, is the symbolic flagship of the American Navy and the oldest commissioned vessel afloat in the world.