Like many other vessels of the Civil War, the Arizona settled into its watery repose and became a footnote of the history of that time and place. But that footnote was destined to become a story. A story of a ship with an historic name more frequently identified with a vessel from another era and a different conflict. In the mid-1990s, a high school history teacher came across a reference to a Civil War Gunboat named Arizona in the official records from the War of the Rebellion. As a fourth generation Arizonan, Rob Christopher’s interest was piqued and he reached out to a colleague about the ship with hopes that it could be a possible topic for his graduate work at the Arizona State University. The colleague, who had done much research around the land battles of the American Civil War, did not know about the Arizona, stating that there did not seem to be much information about the ship. Rob was not discouraged and after exploring all available information on the Arizona he reached a momentous decision declaring that he wanted to "find" the Arizona!
As Rob’s research on the vessel intensified, he began to identify potential sources of information and support in Louisiana. These efforts resulted in the first site visit in the summer of 2000. A marine archaeologist named Allen Saltus, led Christopher and his wife on a series of surveys in the Mississippi using a ground magnetometer. Information was gathered and analyzed and ultimately another survey was planned for the following summer.
In June of 2001, a larger project team returned to several sites on the Mississippi River. Using the information that was collected during the previous summer and nearly a decade worth of archival records research, the team was optimistic about the possibility of finding the Arizona.
Using side scan sonar and a boat and crew provided by T. Baker Smith & Sons, Rob Christopher and fellow researcher Tom Veilleux watched the onboard computer monitors intently as they approached the area that they believed would reveal the Arizona. His efforts and those of his team proved fruitful when they discovered a wreck near its last known coordinates that matched the dimensions of the Arizona.
In the years that followed Rob crafted a vision to not only to officially identify the wreck as the Arizona, but also to harness the attention around the project to share the story with a broader audience. Sadly, Mr. Christopher would never be able to see this vision to fruition as he was tragically killed by a lightning strike in 2011.
USS Arizona Civil War Project Fund
In the winter of 2012, Colin Kindgren, a participant from the original survey team, reached out to the Jennifer Christopher, Tracy Lanz and the rest of Rob’s immediate family to discuss the status of his efforts with the Arizona. Colin was near the completion of his Master’s in Business Administration from Boston College and was interested in rejoining the pursuit for the location of the Arizona. With the support and assistance of the family, Colin and the team pulled together a new approach and action plan to complete Rob’s vision for the USS Arizona while preserving his legacy. This public charity will seek to raise funds to support the activities necessary to locate, survey and secure the wreck of the USS Arizona and other significant American Civil War vessels. Additionally, upon the successful identification of these vessels the organization will work to preserve the history, artifacts and educational legacy of these vessels through various partnerships and public outreach.