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USS Constitution Closing to Public

October 19, 2002

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BOSTON (AP) _ The USS Constitution, at 205 years old the world’s oldest commissioned warship, will be closed to visitors indefinitely amid a standoff between the U.S. Navy and the National Park Service over security concerns and funding.

The Constitution will close to the public Monday, but will ``hopefully″ open again in the next two weeks, U.S. Navy spokesman Petty Officer Pete Robertson said in a statement Friday.

The Navy statement said the National Park Service has revoked funding for the ship, placing ``the visiting general public at an unacceptable risk.″

A National Parks Service spokeswoman said she was surprised by the announcement and declined initial comment. Calls to Navy spokesmen were not immediately returned Friday evening.

The ship shut down after last year’s Sept. 11 terror attacks, and did not reopen to the public until Nov. 9.

The Constitution, commissioned in 1797 and known as ``Old Ironsides,″ docks at Boston’s historic Charlestown Naval Yard, a national park. The ship never lost a battle, from fighting pirates in the Caribbean to British in the War of 1812. Active-duty sailors dressed in vintage 1812 uniforms lead free tours of the ship.

The ship earned its ``Old Ironsides″ nickname by deflecting canon balls off its sturdy hull during an 1815 battle with the French, as legend has it. The hull was bolstered by American-made copper sheets built by a Paul Revere-owned company.

In 1849, Pope Pius IX became the first pope to ever step on U.S. territory when he came aboard the ship.

In the 1920s, children around the country collected pennies to help restore the ship.

In 1997, it sailed under its own power for the first time in 116 years.

The Constitution remains one of Boston’s top tourist attractions, and has drawn about one million visitors a year.

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