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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (12/2004) Headlines (11/2004) Headlines (01/2005)   Vol. 38 December 2004 
Treasure In The Headlines
As seen in the December 2004 edition of W&ET Magazine

NO SIGN OF BABE RUTH'S PIANO DURING 4TH DIVE

Divers searched through the silt of a Sudbury pond recently for an elusive piano that- according to legend- Red Sox slugger Babe Ruth pushed into the water, but surfaced without so much as a pedal or a piano string.

"Personally, I believe in providence, and I think we've gone too far for it not to be there," said piano-hunter Eloise Newell.

A veteran underwater search expert, John Fish, has helped the enterprise by searching for promising underwater spots at the one-mile-diameter Willis Pond, but the three-diver expedition struck out for the fourth time last week. It is actually the fifth search; the first was with a camera lowered into the water.

Newell believes the piano will be found buried somewhere in the muck at the bottom of the pond. She's using the search to raise awareness about mental illness, which she equates with the stigma of the "Curse of the Bambino" against the Red Sox.

The Red Sox sold the Babe to the New York Yankees in 1919, the year after the Red Sox won the World Series. The Red Sox haven't won a World Series since, and superstitious Red Sox fans say that was the start of the curse.

From the Connecticut Post, submitted by Gary S. Mangiacopra, Milford, CT.



NEW PUZZLE FOR CODE BREAKERS

The experts who cracked Nazi Germany's secret codes are tackling a 10-letter enigma that has stumped fine minds for more than 250 years- D.O.U.O.S.V.A.V.V.M.

Former code breakers from Britain's World War II intelligence center at Bletchley Park set out this week to decipher a cryptic inscription on an 18th century monument at an English estate.

Legend says it reveals the location of the Holy Grail. Some believe it is a private message to a deceased beloved. No one knows for sure.

"The inscription is obviously a classical reference. It's either Latin or Greek and based on some historical happening," said mathematician Oliver Lawn, 85, a Bletchley Park veteran who is leading the quest along with his linguist wife, Sheila.

The mystery is carved on a marble monument tucked away in the gardens of Shugborough House in central England, the ancestral home of photographer Lord Lichfield.

Based on a painting by French artist Nicholas Poussin, but carved in reverse, the etching depicts three shepherds pointing at an inscription on a tomb that reads "Et in arcadia ego" ("And I am in Arcadia, too").

Below the image is a line of letters- O.U.O.S.V.A.V.V.- and beneath that on either end, the letters D and M.

Lawn, who was recruited to Bletchley Park in 1940 while studying mathematics at Cambridge University, proclaimed himself puzzled.

"The picture's a funny one," he said. "Why it's a mirror image is very strange."

Some believe the monument holds the key to finding the Holy Grail, the cup Jesus Christ drank from at the Last Supper. The Anson family, who built the Shugborough estate in the 17th century, had a long-standing interest in the Knights Templar, a secretive medieval order who claimed to be guardians of the grail.

Shugborough spokesman Russel Gethings said the carving made significant changes to Poussin's painting that could contain clues to the code.

"They changed what one of the shepherds is pointing to," he said. "He's pointing to a completely different letter than in the painting. And they've added a second sarcophagus to the picture."

Others think the letters are a private message from one person to another. The current Lord Lichfield's grandmother believed it stood for the opening letters of a line of verse: "Out of your own sweet vale Alicia vanish vanity 'twixt deity and man."

Teams of mathematicians, linguists, crossword-puzzle aficionados and chess champions worked at Bletchley Park, northwest of London- code-named Station X- to crack Nazi secret codes during the war. Their greatest success was breaking the Enigma, the machine that produced codes used by the German navy to direct U-boat attacks on Allied convoys.

Christine Large, director of the Bletchley Park museum, said the monument's code was different from the mathematical ciphers used by the Nazis. "This looks to us as if it's probably going to need language expertise- maybe skills in Greek and maybe forgotten languages- as well as mathematics and puzzles," she said.

From The Post and Courier, submitted by Stephen & Julie Buckler, Walterboro, SC.



DIAMOND HUNTERS ARE FOREVER

Miners struck with diamond fever panned near Koidu in the northeast of Sierra Leone near the Guinean border recently after a 25-year-old miner in impoverished Guinea dug up a 182-carat diamond worth millions of dollars. The Guinea gem is 4" by 1.2" high- roughly the size and shape of your average computer mouse. That makes it four times the size of the famous Hope diamond. The gem was moved to a bank vault after its discovery.

From The Minneapolis Star Tribune, submitted by Doug Amundson, Cambridge, MN.



AMATEUR SLEUTHS RECOVER MEMORIES FOR WAR WIDOW

It was a wintry Chicago night when Loretta Kreft's landlady telephoned the defense plant where she worked and asked her to come home. A telegram had arrived from the War Department- and during World War II that could only mean bad news.

When Kreft arrived at her boarding house, the woman dug her hand in an apron pocket and pulled out the yellow envelope.

The telegram was terse. Earlier that day- Jan. 30, 1945- her husband, Tech. Sgt. Harvey Cook, and three other airmen died when their B-24L Liberator crashed and burned in the Mojave Desert, not far from the Army airfield in Victorville, CA, where they were stationed.

A second telegram arrived a few days later, filled with misspellings and confusing text. It was as callous as the first: "Remains of your husband Late T Ut Sgt. Harry L. Cook have been prepaired and placed in casket and are being shipped... The government will pay to the person who will incure interment expenses a sum not in excess of fifty dollars."

Nearly six decades later, last September, Kreft- now 80 and widowed for a second time- heard from David Schurhammer, an amateur aviation archeologist. Schurhammer had found one of Cook's dog tags and a birthstone ring Kreft had given him as a wedding gift.

The ring and the tag had lain in the desert for all those years, ignored or overlooked by the soldiers who had retrieved the bodies and hauled away the wreckage in 1945.

The discovery left Kreft torn. She had long ago started a new life, having remarried and raised two children. All the same, a few days later she called the number on Schurhammer's letter, which had been forwarded by the Veterans Administration. And in hearing his account, she found herself reliving powerful memories of a romance that blossomed in the dark days of World War II, when love was just about the only hope young people had.

For Schurhammer, returning Cook's possessions provided a rare moment of triumph that helped make up for all the hours he has spent pursuing his weekend hobby: searching for old airplane crash sites.

"I had found a simple ring that symbolized their love and was lost for 60 years, and I was returning it to her," Schurhammer said. "Wow!"

The hunt for old crash sites is part obsession and part charity to Schurhammer and fellow "wreck finder" Gary Pat Macha. Like several dozen other wreck sleuths across the country, the two men from Orange County, CA, are driven by the detectivelike work of pinpointing a crash site.

Because most of the crashes occurred long before the advent of the global positioning system, finding wrecks can be an Indiana Jones-like experience. Schurhammer and Macha scour military records that typically offer only the barest of facts about the accident and do not include map coordinates- only general information.

The two learned about the crash of Cook's B-24L from a 1945 newspaper article. It took them several weeks and five desert trips before they found where the plane went down.

Schurhammer, 41, and Macha, 57, catalog their finds on Macha's website: www.aircraftwrecks.com The pages are filled with photos of old wrecks accompanied by crash stories culled from military reports and old newspaper stories. The military usually ignores their sleuthing, having surrendered its interest in a crash site after completing an investigation.

Macha, a retired high school teacher from Huntington Beach, has no aviation training. Neither does Schurhammer, a construction worker from Fullerton, who reads military airplane crash reports in his free time. But they share a passion for aircraft wrecks, especially planes from World War II.

Sometimes Schurhammer and Macha can bring a closure that widows and siblings feel they were denied by the military's blunt, detached style of delivering bad news.

That was the case with Loretta Kreft.

"I've been curious all these years about why the plane crashed," she said. "Nobody told me anything back then."

At the time of Cook's death, they had been married seven months. Because of the war, they had spent about six weeks together as husband and wife.

"We made a lot of plans together, but everything went by the wayside," said Kreft, who still wears a watch Cook bought for her at an Army post exchange.

From the Chicago Tribune, submitted by Bob Bolek, Hometown, IL.



DIG FINDS CLUES TO DONNER PARTY

Archaeologists have unearthed a cooking hearth in the Sierra Nevada where they believe the Donner Party gathered for meager meals in the months before starvation led to the country's most famous tale of cannibalism.

Government and university researchers said recently that bone fragments they located appear to be large enough to allow for DNA testing to determine whether they are human. They also found lead shot, musketballs, jewelry beads and wagon parts.

If some of the bones are human, they would be the first physical evidence to back up survivors' accounts that some members of the Donner Party resorted to cannibalism to survive being trapped in the snow during the winter of 1846-47.

Dogs trained to find graves in criminal investigations are repeatedly signaling the presence of human remains at the site in the Tahoe National Forest, just north of Truckee and about 35 miles southwest of Reno.

"There's many, many people... who sincerely believe that this is the site based on the artifacts, the types of artifacts and what we call the archaeological assemblage that is here," Forest Service spokeswoman Carrie Smith said.

"The big discovery is a definitive hearth. We also found a large piece of charcoal and pieces of bone 1 to 1-1/2" long," said Julie Schablitsky, a leader of the dig from the University of Oregon State's Museum of Anthropology.

Some of the bones clearly are not human- probably deer, she said. But others could prove to be human through nuclear DNA testing.

The dig is taking place at a picnic area at Alder Creek Camp, where it's believed the George and Jacob Donner families were trapped. A Discovery Channel team found the site last summer with ground-penetrating radar.

This summer's dig found the hearth buried about a foot deep in a meadow covered with foot-high wildflowers and surrounded by 100-foot-tall ponderosa pines.

The Donner Party families traveled west in the spring and summer of 1846 to claim free land in California. The party took an unproven "shortcut," and was delayed on the trail in Utah and Nevada. The 81 men, women and children reached the Sierra mountains in late October and were trapped in the snow at two camps, one at Donner Lake and the lower camp at Alder Creek.

About half the pioneers died and some survivors allegedly ate the flesh of their dead companions to stay alive. By then they had eaten their dogs and even boiled leather to eat the resulting glue to fend off starvation.

"Cannibalism is part of their story, but it's not the most important part," Lochie Paige, a Sacramento nurse who is a great-great granddaughter of George Donner, told the Reno Gazette-Journal. "To me, the real story is how they lived day-to-day, starving in the deep snow, and how terrible that must have been for them."

From the Charlotte Observer, submitted by David M Wolan, Charlotte, NC.



PIGEONS LEAD TO DISCOVERY OF RENAISSANCE ART



Pigeons fluttering through a hole in the ceiling of a Spanish cathedral led an art restoration team to discover a hidden Renaissance fresco of winged angels that had been covered by a false ceiling for more than 300 years.

The team had been working on the baroque dome of the cathedral in Valencia, Spain, for more than a month, removing gray paint and fending off birds flying in and out of the hole, Valencia's regional government said recently.

Underneath, the experts had been hoping to find Renaissance artwork cited in centuries-old cathedral records, although they feared it might be ruined. Their stroke of serendipity came Tuesday when they were drawn to the hole by the pigeons and their cooing.

One of the team leaders, Javier Catala, stuck a digital camera inside, shot blindly and came back with partial but spectacular images of a well-preserved fresco believed to be more than 26 feet in diameter.

The photos show parts of four winged angels against a starry blue background, all surrounded by gold-leaf trim.

The baroque ceiling turned out to be a false one that masked a fresco completed by Italian painters Francesco Pagano and Paolo de San Leocadio in 1481. They were hired by papal envoy Rodrigo Borja, a Spaniard who went on to become Pope Alexander VI.

The space between the ceiling and the fresco was 32 inches at its widest point, providing plenty of room for a bird's nest.

The duo of Italian artists served as official Vatican painters throughout Alexander VI's papacy and before that when he was archbishop of Valencia, doing other paintings in churches in the southeastern Spanish region.

The fresco is important because it is one of the earliest examples of Italian Renaissance art being imported to Spain, said Fernando Lopez, an art historian who works at the Valencia government's main library.

It is also remarkable because the fresco technique- watercolors painted on wet plaster- was rare in Spain then, and this one is in such good shape, Lopez said.

Normally, baroque artists covering up an existing work would scrape it off. "This time, they did not. They left an air pocket," Lopez said. "That is the big surprise, basically."

Covering up one kind of art with another simply reflected shifting tastes over the centuries, not a deliberate snub, said Carmen Perez, another art historian who was in on the find.

"The ones who have a reputation for following fashion are women. But art follows fashion more than we do," she said.

Italian art expert, writer and researcher Stefano Sieni said Pagano and de San Leocadio were minor figures but typical of roving Renaissance artists- "sponges who took in what was around them, the techniques, the artistic and social influences"- and carried them abroad.

"They had their market, their supporters, but were not great masters," Sieni said in Rome.

The baroque work covering the fresco was ordered in 1674 when church officials did not like it and refused to pay the agreed fee of 3,000 gold ducats. The painters appealed to the governor of Valencia and won.

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

FATHER, SON RETURN LOST $20,000

Imagine finding $20,000. Now imagine not keeping it.

It happened after the Fourth of July weekend as Tim Titterington, 48, and Dylan, 16, were headed to their farm outside Milford.

"A semi drove past, and it looked like confetti flying around," Titterington said.

It was $20 bills and receipts from the wallet of Jody Gardner, 54, of Omaha, NE. Gardner and her sisters had just closed their dead father's bank accounts. Gardner's share totaled about $21,000.

On the trip back to the family home, Gardner stopped to buy groceries in Milford. She drove off with the billfold on the roof of the van.

The Titteringtons found an emergency contact number in the contents. They reached a friend of Gardner's, who gave them directions to the home.

From The Courier, submitted by Jeffrey Hauenstein, Findley, OH.



RARE ARTILLERY SHELL FOUND IN S.C.

A rare Civil War artillery shell found at a construction site still packed enough of a potential punch to force an evacuation after a worker brought it to a sheriff's substation.

"When you get an ordnance that old, it can be very unstable," State Law Enforcement Division Lt. Mike Brown said of the Parrott shell that cleared the Georgetown County Sheriff's substation for several hours recently.

A worker waited days before bringing it to the sheriff's substation. The building, which also houses a magistrate's office, was cleared until a bomb squad took the shell to Columbia.

Officials deemed the shell too deteriorated to try to save for a museum. It was taken to a remote area and detonated, Brown said.

From the Associated Press, submitted by David M. Wolan, Charlotte, NC.











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