On Friday, February 1, 2015, I went to the Library of Congress in Washington, DC to view "The Hunley" which was the initial episode in the 1963 TV series called "The Great Adventure." The episode is cataloged as: "The Great Adventure: The Hunley (1963) call number FCA 2689-2690. It was viewed in the Moving Image Section of the Library of Congress, room 236 of the James Madison Building. The telephone number there is (202) 707-9835. One must call ahead to have the archived tapes delivered to the Madison building for viewing. The episode is recorded on two electromagnetic tapes, and were viewed on a reel-to-reel machine. As described on various online sites, The Hunley stars Jackie Cooper as Lt. George Dixon. The cast includes some actors who would be familiar from other TV roles: James MacArthur (Danno) of "Hawaii Five-O" fame, Wayne Rogers (Trapper John) from "Mash" and George Lindsay (Goober) from "The Andy Griffith Show" as the skirt-chasing "Hampton." My main interest in The Hunley was whether it might portray a signal lantern, blue light, or other communication from the submarine to shore after sinking The Housatonic. There was no treatment of the Hunley's loss at all, however. The episode ends with the destruction of the Housatonic, and a shot of the Hunley's crewmens' graves. I therefore cannot say whether the blue lantern myth existed prior to the date of The Hunley's airing. It was, however, interesting as the first treatment of the engagement in the popular media. As might be expected, there were numerous errors in the show, since it predated the submarine's recovery, after which much of what had been believed about the sub was proved to be incorrect. For example, nine crew members were portrayed, as had been claimed by contemporary historians, although forensic study revealed only eight on board the Hunley. All of them are shown as native-born Americans, and we now know that several were immigrants. The uniforms worn by the characters were fanciful at times, so reenactors and experts on material culture of the 1860s are not going to be impressed (a raccoon tail on a kepi was particularly egregious). The sub portrayed bears only passing resemblance to the real thing, and Hampton ("Goober") observes that it is squat and fat, much like a girl he knew before the War. The crew operate the crankshaft from both sides, rather than just the port, as in the real craft. The destruction of the Housatonic was complete, being obliterated in a gigantic explosion, unlike its true demise when a large hole was imploded in its stern quarter. The arrangement of the torpedo was also incorrect: rather than detonating while still attached to the bow spar, the show displays the time-honored belief that the sub backed away and detonated the charge by means of a line unspooled from a reel mounted to the hull's exterior. It was interesting to see the producer's treatment of a "David" class semi-submersible as a motive means for the Hunley. Despite the historical flaws, the episode is entertaining, and does manage to cover the salient points of the Confederates' plan to break the blockade, the sub's technological and personnel failures, and the tension, anxiety and elation which must have been a part of the crews' experiences. It is obvious that the later Ted Turner movie on the Hunley drew from some of this show's thematic elements, especially the replacement of a transferred crewman by an underage, gung-ho volunteer. Should the series ever become available on DVD, I would recommend its purchase, especially for those who remember it fondly from their youth, when it planted a seed which would grow into a lifelong appreciation for our nation's history.
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