BALTIMOREANS NEED to believe the USS Constellation belongs to them. The old sloop was brought to the city in 1955 by a small group of boosters and preservationists called the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House Association.
Over the past 40 years, the rest of the city has grown to appreciate what the Navy no longer wanted. People have fond memories of visiting the Constellation, especially when it still had its masts. But a strong sense of endearment has been missing.
That must change if the Constellation is to survive. The 141-year-old vessel is rotting away. It is hoped that repairs to save it will only cost $9 million. The Constellation Foundation is trying to raise that amount, most of it from government and corporate sources. But the key to successfully tapping those entities lies elsewhere. The foundation has to get Baltimore, indeed all of Maryland, excited about saving the Constellation. Do that and the campaign won't be ignored by businesses and legislators.
The Rouse Co. has pledged $300,000 toward the Constellation's restoration. That sets the tone for the drive to raise $3 million from corporations. The state has agreed to provide $500,000 toward the restoration, but foundation director Louis F. Linden hopes that meager amount opens the door to a another $2.5 million in state money. The final $3 million would come from the city through a bond issue that would be on the ballot in November 1996.
Mr. Linden said there is a separate campaign to get donations from private citizens, but thus far it has been low-key. The foundation's poor financial situation means it is dependent on donated services to produce fund-raising advertising aimed at the general public. This may be where it needs help the most right now.
The Constellation must campaign to win the hearts and minds of Marylanders. People not only must want to send their money to help, they must care enough to let public officials and businesses know they want the Constellation saved.
The ship required millions of dollars of repairs when the Navy gave it to Baltimore 40 years ago. A $3 million fund-raising campaign in 1957, however, instead lost $14,000. People then apparently didn't care about the Constellation. But a lot has changed since then. Losing the Constellation now would deprive Baltimore of a vital part of the sea-faring ambience than makes the Inner Harbor a successful tourist attraction. It would also erase the embodiment of thousands of memories for Baltimoreans who have visited the ship over the years.