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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (05/2003) Headlines (03/2003) Headlines (06/2003)   Vol. 37 May 2003 
Treasure In The Headlines
As seen in the May 2003 edition of W&ET Magazine


Marine scientists announced yesterday they had found the paddle steamship Portland, known as the "Titanic of New England," which sank in a wintry gale November 1898 with more than 190 people on board.

Researchers had spent decades looking for the 281-foot vessel. Sonar images and digital video from remotely operated vehicles confirmed the find recently. The ship was found in the Gerry E. Studds Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, an area the size of Rhode Island between Cape Ann and Cape Cod.

"This discovery closes the chapter on one of the greatest maritime disasters in New England," said Benjamin Cowie-Haskell, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's primary investigator of the Portland expedition.

The tale of the Portland is well known to many New Englanders. A majestic ship with gold trim and velvet carpets, it left Boston's India Wharf for an overnight voyage to Portland, Maine, as scheduled after Thanksgiving on Nov. 26, 1898.

Captain Hollis Blanchard may have believed the Portland could outrun an impending gale, but two weather fronts ended up colliding at sea in a storm that ultimately took more than 450 lives and wrecked in excess of 400 vessels across the region. Winds reached 90 mph, and waves crested at 30 to 40 feet, as high or higher than the ship's smokestacks. At one point during the night, 10 inches of snow fell in six hours.

Witnesses saw the Portland reverse course, and one man reported hearing four distress blasts from the steamer's whistle before the vessel disappeared.

There were no survivors when the Portland sank. Only 38 bodies, which washed ashore along with ship wreckage, were recovered. Researchers believe there were more than 190 people on board.

A search for the Portland in 1899 turned up nothing.

The wreck was first found in 1989 by underwater explorers, Arnold Carr and John Fish, but they were unable to produce high-quality photographs and could never prove it was the Portland. It took the knowledge of previous missions as well as advanced technology, vastly improved survey maps, and a joint mission by NOAA's Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary and the National Undersea Research Center at the University of Connecticut, to finally meet with success, scientists said.

A two-day investigation conducted recently gathered sufficient evidence to confirm the wreck. Researchers said they were able to identify several distinctive features of the Portland, including the rudder assembly, paddle guard, and wheel hub.


From The Honolulu Advertiser, submitted by Ron Paul Smith, Honolulu, HI.

A man using a metal detector to look for old toys has found what appears to be the site of old Fort Cobb, a U.S. military garrison established in 1859.

"I was sitting around one day, telling my mother, 'I wish I had those old Hot Wheels I used to play with,'" George Guy said. "I said, 'I bet they are worth some money now.' So I bought a metal detector and started looking on our property."

Guy's grandmother, Gladys, mentioned an old blacksmith shop. Gladys said her late husband, Harry, used to talk about the old shop, and thought it used to be on the back of the family's land allotment, which dates back to 1882.

Guy followed his grandmother's lead in July and immediately began unearthing horseshoes, handmade nails, metal buttons and lead balls. His search yields artifacts every day- an old pocket watch, an old metal pan and even a mint-condition coin dated 1856.

"It all makes sense now," Gladys said. "Old No. 9 highway used to run right by this place, and my husband said he always remembered people riding by here in covered wagons."

Guy believes the trail used to lead travelers by old Fort Cobb.

Representatives from Fort Sill and the Oklahoma Historical Society have spoken with Guy about sending archaeologists to the site.

Artifacts unearthed by Guy have come from a wooded site just southwest of present-day downtown Fort Cobb, about 60 miles southwest of Oklahoma City. The site is located atop a small bluff with Fort Cobb Creek flowing to the west.

Historians have long been unclear as to the exact location of the old fort from which the town of Fort Cobb is named.

"I believe he has found the old fort," said Ernest Topah, historian for the Kiowa Tribe. "This is an extremely significant find, especially as far as we are concerned. Our people would have used this fort. They would have received their rations and supplies here."

Topah recently inspected the site with Guy, who also is a member of the Kiowa tribe. Guy plans to donate some of his artifacts to the tribe's museum in Carnegie.

During the Civil War, Fort Cobb fell under Confederate control. After the war, the fort became prominent again in frontier expansion, housing military giants such as Gen. Phil Sheridan and Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer.

Sheridan and Custer used Fort Cobb as their command post after the Battle of Washita in November 1868. The Custer-led attack killed more than 100 Cheyenne men, women and children.

From the Enid News and Eagle, submitted by Enos Ridgway, Alva, OK.


A Tyler man was recently reunited in a sense with his late father after 40 years when his father's long-lost World War II dog tag was found and returned.

Mason Lemley's father, James Robert Lemley, died in an accident in 1964 at their farm in Chandler. Mason was just 12 years old at the time and his father died while he was working on a car and the jack gave out.

"It's so strange that (the dog tag) was laying in that field for 40 years. It was really nice to get that back," Mason said.

Kyle Wright is a member of the Smith County Metal Detecting Association and was hunting near Lemley's old house when he spotted the dog tag a few weeks ago, he said.

Wright said he asked Bob Norman, president of the association, if the name on the dog tag sounded familiar.

Norman remembered the name- he went to school with Mason and his older brother James Lemley Jr., who now lives in Port Aransas. Norman said he asked around town and came upon a man who kept in touch with Mason and knew where to find him. The rest is history.

"Mason was shocked to say the least," Norman said. "I probably hadn't seen him in about 30 years. But he knew me. He remembered my name."

Wright said members of the detecting association always try their best to return things with sentimental value- things that can't be replaced.

Wright said he began the hobby about three years ago and has become a "fanatic."

"The hobby is not to get rich," he said. "It's kind of like an Easter egg hunt for grown-ups. You never know what you'll find. Most of it doesn't have a lot of value, but some of it has a lot of history. When I return something to its owner, it always gives me a warm feeling."

"War sometimes brings everybody together," Mason said. "If it wouldn't have been for that war (my parents) never would have met." Mason served in the Vietnam War and moved to Tyler after he was discharged. He now works at Anderson Automotive Supply.

When he was a child, his father worked at the La Gloria Oil and Gas company in Tyler, where he was nicknamed "Yankee" by his co-workers, Mason said.

"In a way it's like bringing him back to life after all this time," Mason said teary eyed.

Mason said he has plans for the dog tag. The Henderson County Memorial Library East in Chandler has memorials from different wars. He is going to donate his father's dog tag if they will display it.

"My dad always had a good sense of humor," he said. "Finding this after 40 years and with his birthday coming up, I think this was his way of saying hey."

Wright said he followed the association's code of ethics- he got permission from the owner before he began hunting on the old farm in Chandler and found the dog tag.

The metal detecting association has about 50 members that attend a monthly meeting. There are six categories to place treasures in and there is a "find of the month" contest.

"It's more for fun than it is serious competition," he said. "We get a big kick out of it."

Two to three times a year the club has a group hunt.

Mason said he plans to meet Wright at the next group hunt in Chapel Hill.

"I want to meet him and give him my thanks," he said.

Wright will continue to hunt for treasures and return sentimental items to their rightful owners. He said he is still looking for the owner of a 1964 gold class ring he found a few years ago at Bergfeld Park in Tyler, but has become stumped in his search. The ring has the initials J.A.W. engraved in it and the name H.B. Timberton High School.

From the Tyler Morning Telegraph, submitted by Sandy Wright, Chandler, TX.

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