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Passage to Galveston: The Story of Elissa (1994)

Galveston Historical Foundation

Sound | 1994

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  •  History of the vessel 
  •  Restoration projects in Galveston align with attempts to salvage the ship 
  •  Repairs begin in Greece 
  •  The Elissa arrives off the coast of Galveston, where restoration efforts resumed 
  •  The ship formally opens as a tourist attraction on July 4, 1982 
  •  In 1986, the Elissa makes a 2000-mile journey to New York City to participate in the Fourth of July Statue of Liberty 100th birthday celebration 
  •  Resting at the Texas Seaport Museum at Pier 21 
  •  Year-round sail training 
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Produced by the Galveston Historical Foundation, this short educational film chronicles the history and restoration of the Elissa, a square-rigged sailing ship. After sailing as a freight carrier for almost a century, by 1969 the once-proud sailing ship was languishing in a salvage yard in the port of Athens, Greece. The Foundation purchased the ship in 1974, and oversaw a complete restoration of the vessel. The Elissa formally opened as a tourist attraction on July 4, 1982. The vessel now serves as the primary attraction of the Texas Seaport Museum at Pier 21 in Galveston. Opening in 1991, the museum tells the story of Galveston’s rich legacy of seaborne commerce and immigration. Visitors to the Texas Seaport Museum continue to see this film, with regular screenings presented every day in the museum’s theater.
Originally launching on October 27, 1877, the Elissa is one of the oldest sailing ships in existence. She was built in Aberdeen, Scotland, for Henry Fowler Watts of Liverpool, England. Notwithstanding the development of steamships in the 1880s, which soon replaced most small sailing ships like the Elissa, the vessel was steadily employed as a freight carrier for the next 90 years. 
After 20 years as a British merchant vessel, the Elissa was sold to the Norwegian firm of Bugge and Olsen, which sailed her for another 14 years under the name Fjeld of Tønsberg. In 1912, she was purchased by Carl Johansson of Sweden, who changed the ship’s name to Gustaf of Gothenburg and later converted her into a two-masted brigantine. In 1930, she was bought by a Finnish firm, which reconverted her into a schooner. The vessel continued operating in Scandinavian waters until 1960, when she began sailing in the Mediterranean under Greek ownership as the motor ship Christophoros. In 1967, new Greek owners changed her name to Achaios and began using her as a smuggler. 
Attempts to restore the vessel as a full-rigged sailing ship began in 1970 when she was moored at Pireaus, the port of Athens, Greece. After several attempts to locate American sponsors to underwrite the ship’s restoration failed, the Galveston Historical Foundation purchased the ship in 1974. The Elissa remained in the Mediterranean for the next five years, while civic groups in Galveston raised the necessary $40,000 to bring her to Texas and extensive repairs were carried out on the ship’s iron hull. 
After setting sail for Texas on June 25, 1979, the Elissa arrived off Galveston on July 20. Over the next three years, she underwent a complete restoration, including new masts, rigging, sails, and deck. (The total cost of the project was about $4.2 million.) The Elissa formally opened as a tourist attraction on July 4, 1982. On Labor Day of the same year, she made her first voyage as a restored sailing ship, and has sailed periodically ever since. She is now berthed at Galveston’s Pier 21.