It was a bitter cold day when Justin Parkoff showed me into the Conservation Research Lab on the Texas A&M’s Riverside Campus. A room filled with mismatched pieces of iron and metal. Fragments from the USS Westfield, the Union Flagship in the Battle of Galveston. A New Year’s Day Civil War battle in 1863 that left hundreds of men dead, Galveston safe in Confederate hands, and the Westfield lying broken and lifeless at the bottom of Galveston Harbor.
Dozens of pieces sit in the lab in various stages of preservation or restoration. One of the largest artifacts, the main cannon on the Westfield, is an intimidating weapon that likely struck fear in the hearts of anyone who faced it.
Parkoff and his team of four preservation experts, have been tasked to take what’s left of the Westfield and put it back together. The finished products will go on permanent display at the Texas City Museum.
Parkoff told me he’s never liked puzzles, but the Westfield quickly became an exception to that rule.
“I got this project and I was completely overwhelmed. But then it became a challenge, and it became fun,” said Parkoff.
My time at the lab left me with a sense respect for Parkoff and his team. From artifacts like the cannon to Union belt buckles, the Westfield’s story will be retold in exquisite detail. And now, so will the story of the team who is making it all possible.
Watch the full story Thursday night at 10 on KBTX News 3..