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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (11/2004) Headlines (10/2004) Headlines (12/2004)   Vol. 38 November 2004 
Treasure In The Headlines
As seen in the November 2004 edition of W&ET Magazine


Love letter, evening dresses and two bottles of 1811 cognac that belonged to Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson were among items in a sale recently of memorabilia from an affair that created an international sensation.

Included in the auction at Christie's in Rome were some 14 letters and notes exchanged by Edward and Simpson spanning the period from their turbulent courtship in the 1930s to their marriage after he abdicated the throne of England in 1936 to marry the twice-divorced American.

The letters from Edward to Simpson sold for $18,000; the bottles of cognac went for $10,500.

Christie's officials were still counting the sales the night of the auction, but it appeared the sold items fetched about $245,000, said Milena Sales, head of marketing and public relations for Christie's Italy. That was short of the expected $360,000.

One note from Edward to Simpson, apparently written shortly before their wedding in 1937, reads: "You'll never know how much I love you Wallis or how much it's helped seeing you in the middle of all this... I will need you more and more sweetheart and it's so lovely to think WE will be able to be married soon now."

The note, which does not carry a date, was delivered by hand to Simpson at the house in London she shard with her second husband, Ernest Simpson, before eloping with Edward. "WE" was the signature, representing the initials of the couple's first names, that marked much of their correspondence.

Also put up for sale was a framed photo of Simpson and the future king in 1935 - the first known photo of the couple - on holiday in the Austrian mountain resort of Kitzbuhel, Austria.

The abdication of Edward VIII to marry a divorcee and a commoner created a sensation worldwide.

Edward stepped down after 325 days as king - the only British monarch to give up his throne voluntarily. Edward died in 1972, and Simpson in 1986.

From the Kennebec Journal, submitted by Gary S. Mangiacopra, Milford, CT.


A California man who collected 1 million pennies for a bet is having a hard time cashing in on his $10,000 fortune.

Ron England has amassed 3.6 tons of copper in his garage in the Los Angeles suburb of Granada Hills after making a bet with his brother 30 years ago that he could collect 1 million pennies.

But neither the U.S. Mint, the U.S. Comptroller of Currency, coin collectors nor the local bank is interested in cashing in his stash - at least without a charge.

"I've been working seriously for the past two weeks to get rid of these pennies," England, 60, told the Los Angeles Daily News. "It's kind of frustrating. Nobody will take them without charging me."

What's worse, England is still waiting for his brother to honor his side of the bet - a meal in Paris. "I don't remember making the wager. Am I still good for it? I'm not going to answer that question," Russ England told the Daily News.

From the Star-Ledger, submitted by Russell W. Balliet, Bridgewater, NJ.


If you could drain the Mississippi River, what would you find?

Well, most recently, a car presumably containing the body of a man nobody has yet identified. He drove in near the Gateway Arch last week in what may have been a suicide.

But the disappearance of the mystery driver and car is just the latest example of nature absorbing the artifacts of man - from pistols to steamboats to people themselves.

"Imagine the number of people who suddenly disappear who may have gone in the river," said St. Louis police Capt. Harry Hegger, commander of the Central Patrol Division. "They remain missing forever. Once the river takes you, it doesn't want to give you up. It's extremely treacherous."

Riverbeds shift around, and things roll and tumble down the current. The sand that rushes along the bottom forms dunes, some 5 to 10 feet high, and they can bury things fast.

St. Louis firefighters, using a sonar scanner on one of their boats, searched for four days for the silver Ford Escort seen sinking last week. Two passers-by tried but failed to save the driver. Police are investigating whether he is a man whose mother reported him missing recently from his home in Richmond Heights.

Capt. Dan Deiters of the St. Louis Fire Department's Marine Unit Task Force said he arrived at the scene within about four minutes, but the car was already out of sight.

If the Escort was weather-tight, with its windows rolled up and its tires inflated, the car could possibly have "achieved neutral buoyancy" and bobbed along, just under the surface for a while.

"I'm not going to tell you it'll end up in Louisiana, but it could go miles," he said.

St. Louis firefighters had searched 2-1/2 miles downstream by Friday night. The side scan sonar, equipment that resembles a torpedo and costs roughly $24,000, reads the contours along the bottom of the river and shows objects on a printout. Deiters says it can detect everything from piers to a roofline on a car.

"There is zero visibility down there," Deiters said. "You could put your hand in front of your face and not be able to see it down there because of all the silt and mud."

Last week's loss of a car and driver was not an isolated incident.

In March 2002, a Dodge Intrepid carried retired teacher Wilma Jean Bricker over the edge of a parking lot at the Alton Belle Casino and into the Mississippi River, disappearing apparently forever. Divers were forced to give up a search in near-freezing water after more than a week.

The family of Bricker, 66, of Godfrey, believes she had a heart attack or stroke, because a surveillance tape shows her slumped over the wheel of her car as it rolled into the river.

"We know rescuers did all they could, but technology can only do so much," said Bricker's niece, Katherine Steward of Carlinville, IL. "If her car is hung up somewhere, on the debris, they're not going to find it."

A water search expert from Idaho came with a sonar device in June 2002 but failed to turn up anything.

"If it's God's will, she'll surface," Steward said. "But I don't think she can. She always wore her seat belt, and the windows were rolled up. We don't know where the car could've landed."

The family filed a wrongful death suit against the city of Alton and the casino, alleging they failed to keep a safe area by providing guardrails.

Sometimes people depend upon the river to make its claim.

"You'd probably find many a murder weapon in there," said Hegger, former head of the city's homicide division.

Two homeless men admitted stabbing a third to death and throwing him into the Mississippi River on April 6, but authorities have been unable to find a body. Police contacted all law enforcement agencies south of St. Louis, along the river, to be on the lookout.

Two knives the killers say they threw into the river haven't been recovered. Neither have the bloody clothes the killers say they stuffed into a metal drum and dumped in. The fire department sonar located what is believed to be the drum, but divers have not yet recovered it.

Exploring beneath the surface is a dangerous experience for divers.

"It's pitch black, and it's all by feel," said Chad Pregracke, who used to be a commercial mussel shells diver on the Mississippi north of St. Louis. "It's a whole different world down there."

Along the river's belly, maybe 20 to 40 feet down, Pregracke said he explored with his hands and felt everything from a couch to an old van. He once felt the tires of a car on the floor of the Illinois River, found his way to the car door and got inside to play behind the wheel "just for fun."

Pregracke said the Mississippi's current is so strong it could easily knock you off balance. "It's dangerous with the logs and full trees down there," he said. "We'd lose things like our bags full of shells. They'd come off our necks and be gone."

The sounds Pregracke remembers at the bottom of the Mississippi stuck with him. "You can hear barges go by and, on a quiet day, you can hear the radio on a boat 20 feet above you clear as a bell. You can hear the click, click, click of the perch. You can hear bullfrogs. It almost gets eerie."

Deiters, of the fire department, said when it comes to rescue diving, his crews weigh the risks against the benefits. Debris could snag them or cut their air lines. They don't want to injure themselves just to recover property, yet they want to bring closure to relatives of people who have drowned.

Last year, task force divers helped recover a sunken pickup at Louisiana, MO, that had a victim inside.

What may be especially difficult to envision is the way the river bottom of sand, mud and rock is constantly changing. If the car had gone into a lake, it would be easier to find.

"You could have a sand dune 5 to 10 feet high, and the sand is constantly moving," said Dave Gordon, a river engineer with the Army Corps of Engineers. "If the car falls between the dunes, it could quickly be swallowed up by one.

"It could cover it up probably within a day."

A floating car is going downstream, but not necessarily in a straight line, as it probably would be pulled into the channel. In that area of the river in front of the Arch, Gordon speculates the water spans about 2,500 feet across and could be 25 to 30 feet deep. The deepest section near St. Louis is probably now about 40 feet, a low stage for spring, he said. The current rushes along at about 6 feet per second, Gordon said.

With the last dam just above St. Louis, the Mississippi River flows freely the rest of the way to the Gulf of Mexico. "Objects are easier to find above a (dam) because the velocity is a little slower," Gordon said. "But around the Arch, there are no locks and dams downstream to slow down the river currents, so it's an untamed river, basically."

Untamed - and deeper as it flows south. By Grand Tower, IL, about 80 miles southeast of St. Louis, the river runs as deep as 100 feet.

And all along is debris from old steamships, reportedly hundreds of them, and their barrels of cargo and myriad other things. Also, plenty of stolen cars. Hegger can attest to that. And though he knows the ways of the river, he cannot help but still be awed by its power.

"It's amazing something as heavy as a car can go in there and then, a short time later, they can't find it."

From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, submitted by William J. Felchner, Staunton, IL.


A wooden ship called the Kad'yak was bound from Alaska to San Francisco in the winter of 1860 on a trade mission, carrying 356 tons of ice, much of it destined for California gold miners - who, it was said, liked their beer nice and cold.

But this now legendary 132-foot three-masted vessel, a workhorse of the Russian-American Co., struck a giant underwater rock and filled with water. All hands were saved after the captain ordered them into boats, according to historians who have pieced together the path of the ship's misfortunes.

The Kad'yak, which stayed afloat for thee days because of all the ice in its cargo hold, eventually drifted six miles before sinking to the bottom of Monk's Lagoon, in the Gulf of Alaska, near Kodiak Island in southwest Alaska.

Almost a century and a half passed before the shipwreck was discovered, in July 2003, when divers recovered several pieces of the Kad'yak's body, preserved by the cold Alaskan water.

But it was not until two weeks ago that investigators identified the wreck as the Kad'yak, after divers pulled from the water a chunk of brass believed to be the hub of the ship's wheel, which was inscribed with "Kad'yak," Russian for Kodiak.

Last week investigators, on a mission financed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Science Foundation, found what they believe to be the ship's stern, some 300 yards from where the hub of the wheel was recovered.

The shipwreck is one of thousands believed to have occurred in Alaskan waters, the scene of brisk trading between Russian and the United States in post-colonial times, and it is the oldest one located in Alaska to date, said Fred Gorell, a spokesman for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (Russia controlled Alaska until the United States bought the territory in 1867.)

The Kad'yak holds a prominent place in the folklore of native Aleutian Alaskans who live on Kodiak Island and on swampy Spruce Island, northeast of Kodiak, where the shipwreck was discovered.

The most famous Russian Orthodox missionary to settle in the area was Father Herman, a monk later canonized as St. Herman of Alaska, who built a chapel on Spruce Island.

The captain of the Kad'yak had promised to visit the shrine to Father Herman of Spruce Island before sailing for San Francisco, according to local lore, but he did not. And so the shipwreck became a tale of divine punishment.

From the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, submitted by Ron Paul Smith, Honolulu, HI.

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