At first glance Arco, Idaho seems about as unremarkable as any other small town in America. That’s why it’s a surprise to see a submarine sail rising from the ground at the edge of town, emblazoned with the numbers ‘666’.
Nicknamed the “Devil Boat,” this is not an occult art installation or commentary about military spending. The sail was part of an actual submarine, the USS Hawkbill (SSN-666), which served 16 deployments over 29 years. It’s remembered best for its research expeditions to the Arctic Ocean. The Hawkbill was capable of breaking through three feet of solid ice when it surfaced (often to the excitement and delight of the crew). It was the first submarine to operate in the Bering Straits during winter, and made history when it surfaced alongside two other submarines at the North Pole. After the Hawkbill was decommissioned, a group of volunteers along with the Naval Historical Society arranged for its sail to be placed in Arco during the 2003 annual Atomic Days celebration.
Arco’s proximity to the Idaho National Laboratory has made nuclear research a fundamental part of the town’s history. It wasn’t far from here that the first nuclear submarine prototype was developed during the Cold War, and over 40,000 Sailors were trained in nuclear operations. The Devil Boat exhibit is a celebration of this history, and perhaps it will be the cornerstone of a future atomic energy museum the town hopes to build.