Silver service created for Indiana battleship returns to Hoosier state for public display.
After 76 years at sea, the complete sterling silver service created for the USS Indiana in 1896 was reunited in a special ceremony at the Indiana War Memorial in Indianapolis. First Lady Cheri Daniels unveiled the collection which is now on display at the USS Indianapolis Museum at the Indiana War Memorial.
“Adding these distinctive pieces to the museum’s collection means much to the USS Indianapolis survivors, their families and all Hoosiers,” Daniels said.
Tiffany & Co. designed and created the 39-piece set for $8,000. School children, citizens and businesses raised funds to pay for the collection. Today, the set is valued at $1.5 million.
Since 1973, all but five pieces of the collection were displayed aboard the USS Nimitz. After receiving a request from Governor Mitch Daniels, United States Navy officials worked to transfer the collection to the USS Indianapolis Museum. In December 2007, while the USS Nimitz was docked in San Diego, FedEx employees, at their own expense, packed, provided a personal escort and shipped the 200-pound silver service to Indianapolis. There it was reunited with the remaining five pieces which had been on display at the governor’s residence.
The set was originally presented to the USS Indiana in 1896. In 1898, the 20-pound punch bowl was damaged by a mortar shell fragment while the ship was off the coast of Cuba during the Spanish-American War. The dent was kept intact and is visible today. After the battleship was decommissioned in 1919, the collection was displayed at the Indiana governor’s residence.
In 1932, the service was presented to the USS Indianapolis, which became the flagship of the Pacific Fifth Fleet. The cruiser served as the peacetime “ship of state” for President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the secretary of the Navy and the set was used for special occasions.
During World War II, the silverware was placed in storage while the ship and its crew participated in nearly every major battle in the Pacific theatre. During a secret mission in 1945, the ship carried components to Tinian Island for the first atomic bomb. A few days after making its delivery, it was sunk in the middle of the Pacific by a Japanese torpedo. Of the 1,197 crew onboard, only 317 survived the attack and five days of floating in shark-infested waters.
The museum is free and open Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. It is located inside the Indiana War Memorial at 431 North Meridian Street in downtown Indianapolis.