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At Charlestown Navy Yard, sadness over DC shootings but business as usual

Posted by  September 30, 2013 02:50 PM

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Photo is courtesy of the USS Constitution Museum

By Jordan Frias, Globe Correspondent

The Washington Navy Yard and the Charlestown Navy Yard have a strong historical connection: Both were among the original six federal shipyards established in 1800 to build war ships.

But while employees of the Charlestown yard were shaken by the Sept. 16 shooting massacre at the Washington, DC, yard, the incident has not led to increased security or other policy changes, a spokesman said.

“All of the employees at the [Charlestown] park feel horrible about what happened,” saidSean Hennessey, a spokesman for the National Park Service, which oversees the yard. But he said there was no indication that visitors were making any connections to what happened in Washington.

On a recent day, locals and tourists were walking in and out of the Charlestown yard while law enforcement vehicles circled the inside area. Though gates are open for guests on foot, a security gate prevents unauthorized vehicles from entering the yard. A guard is present at the gate to give cars clearance when necessary.

Unlike its Washington counterpart, the Charlestown Navy Yard ceased operations as an active military installation in 1974, and 30 acres of itis now a national park and museum, best known as the home of the U.S.S. Constitution, the oldest commissioned US warship. Since the shooting, visitors continue to stream in. The yard drew about 1.8 million visitors last year.

Lauren McCormack, manager of bicentennial programs at the U.S.S. Constitution Museum, said that she and her colleagues haven’t noticed a change in mood among visitors or employees since the Washington Navy Yard shooting.

“The parks team and the Navy take care of security for the Navy yard and ship,” McCormack said. “We take our lead from them.”

She added,“Our hearts go out to our friends, our colleagues, and all those affected by the shooting.”

The Washington yard was the scene of an attack on Sept. 16, by military contractor Aaron Alexis, who took the lives of 12 workers before he was killed. On the day of the shooting, the U.S.S. Constitution was closed as it usually is on Mondays, due to low visitor attendance.

Hennessey said that while the park is open to walking tourists and residents of Charlestown, the Navy yard is adequately guarded.Most of the workers at the Charlestown yard are national park rangers and Navy sailors who act as tour guides. Law enforcement officers work on the property 24 hours a day, he said.

Hennessey said there have been no major security incidents in recent years.He said the yard overseers have worked to maintain a balance between a sense of “openness” and safety. 

“We maintain a very high level of security here,” Hennessey said. “Our security posture is adequate enough to protect the people who work here and visit here, and these resources.”

Because the yard has no contract hires and no active affiliation with the Department of Defense, the Charlestown facility does not have the security concerns that the Washington complex does.

Hennessey said that the Charlestown Navy Yard and the Washington yard have a similar architecture design -- brick and granite from the nineteenth century,with a Commandant’s house on base.

Because the Charlestown yard is one of the last of 16 historical sites along Boston’s Freedom Trail and is right below the Bunker Hill Monument, it is frequently visited by locals, tourists and schoolchildren. 

This article was reported and written under the supervision of Northeastern University journalism instructor Lisa Chedekel, as part of collaboration between The Boston Globe and Northeastern.

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