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Elissa: A Crown for a Queen (1986)

Galveston Historical Foundation

Sound | 1986

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  •  Preserving the Queen City of the Gulf 
  •  The Elissa visits nineteenth-century Galveston 
  •  Under changing flags 
  •  The first stage of the restoration process, known as the Greek campaign, begins 
  •  The Elissa’s homecoming in Galveston elicits both awe and disappointment  
  •  The project stalls 
  •  Do-or-die effort 
  •  Recreating a nineteenth-century shipyard 
  •  Craftsmen from around the country complete the restoration 
  •  The total cost nears $4 million 
  •  The ship formally opens as a tourist attraction on July 4, 1982 
  •  Volunteers train to earn a place on the ship’s crew 
  •  First sail 
  •  Galveston’s historic awareness 
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Presented by the Galveston Historical Foundation, Elissa: A Crown for a Queen is a television documentary directed by University of Houston alumnus Robert Cozens, the director of Film Operations at KUHT, Houston’s PBS affiliate. It was broadcast on local PBS stations on June 25, 1986 and nationally that fall. The film traces the monumental efforts of the Galveston Historical Foundation to restore the sailing ship Elissa, from the immense difficulty of raising the necessary funds to the technical dilemma of re-fabricating a nineteenth-century ship with twentieth-century suppliers.
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.