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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (03/2005) Headlines (02/2005) Headlines (04/2005)   Vol. 39 March 2005 
Treasure In The Headlines
As seen in the March 2005 edition of W&ET Magazine


A portrait of a man an Augusta Museum of History curator calls Georgia's "numero uno" hero of the Revolutionary War has made it back to the city where he died, more than 200 years later.

The museum has acquired a 30-by-25-inch oil-and-canvas portrait of Elijah Clarke, said Gordon Blaker, the curator of the Augusta Museum of History.

Clarke, or Clark, led a group of Georgia militiamen in the Battle of Kettle Creek in 1779 and later led guerillas against the British and American Loyalists during the Revolutionary War, according to the new Georgia Encyclopedia.

Despite his heroism, he died discredited and nearly bankrupt in Augusta on Dec. 5, 1799.

Clarke County, the home of the University of Georgia and Athens, is named for him, as is the state park in Lincoln County where he is buried.

The portrait nearly slipped away from the museum, Mr. Blaker said.

The portrait had been given to UGA in the 1980s but made its way to the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, which later auctioned the painting through Sotheby's in New York.

The purchaser, a New York art dealer, paid $4,750 for the work but agreed to sell it to the Augusta Museum for $10,000, Mr. Blaker said.

The circa-1800 painting by Rembrandt Peel will be exhibited within the next month.

From The Augusta Chronicle, submitted by Stephen A. Buckler, Ruffin, SC.


These eager beavers had a whole new slant on money laundering.

A bag of bills stolen from a casino was snapped up by beavers who wove thousands of dollars in soggy currency into the sticks and brush of their dam on a creek in eastern Louisiana.

"They hadn't torn the bills up. They were still whole," said Maj. Michael Martin of the St. Helena Parish sheriff's office.

The money was part of $70,000 to $75,000 taken last week from the Lucky Dollar Casino in Greensburg.

St. Helena Parish deputies searched for the money for days until a lawyer, hoping to make a deal with prosecutors for a client, called and said the money had been discarded in the creek, Police Chief Ronald Harrell said.

Officers searched the creek during the weekend, finding one moneybag right away and sporting a second downstream against the beaver dam.

The third bag of cash couldn't be found, Martin said, so deputies started breaking down the beaver dam to drain the pond it was holding. That was when they saw the dam's expensive decoration.

They eventually found the missing bag, which the beavers hadn't completely emptied.

Altogether, deputies found about $40,000 and expect to find the rest in a safety deposit box at a bank in Mississippi, authorities said.

From The Courier, submitted by Jeffrey L. Hauenstein, Findlay, OH and Doug Amundson, Cambridge, MN.


If a penny saved is a penny earned, then Eugene Sukie earned $10,480.13 in his three-plus decades of thriftiness.

Over the years, Eugene Sukie, a retired glass plant supervisor rolled the pennies in wrappers and stored them in 575 cigar boxes organized by year and mint. He had them counted recently - by a machine, of course.

The pennies, more than one million of them and weighing 3 1/2 tons, were trucked from Sukie's home in Barberton to a coins-to-cash machine at a suburban Cleveland supermarket.

Sukie, 78, was worried that he and his wife were getting old and eventually wouldn't be able to get the pennies out of their basement.

From The News Herald, submitted by Doug Amundson, Cambridge, MN.


Hurricanes that struck the Florida coast this year churned up more than sand along Daytona Beach. They also yielded gold: rings of gold 40 years old.

Two people are richer for it, after their high school class rings from the 1960s were found by Lorrie Sprigg, a modern-day prospector using a metal detector.

Sprigg turned over Larry Mitchell's 1964 Clarkston High School ring, lost on spring break that year. "It was just a real big shock for me. That's 40 years. You just don't expect something to turn up," Mitchell said recently.

On a separate outing, Sprigg found a 1963 ring from Christian County High School, which she traced to Kentucky and then to Beth Townsend.

Townsend said she wasn't even aware that her ring had been lost in Florida, where she also had been on spring break.

From The News Herald, submitted by Cheryl Fealy, Las Vegas, NV, and Doug Amundson, Cambridge, MN.


Every day, the tides uncover the football-shaped iron hulk, left to rot just off the beach of a deserted island near Panama.

The locals call it a death machine, and the ebb and flow of the Pacific creates the ghostly illusion that it is endlessly diving and re-surfacing.

When the maritime archaeologist James Delgado arrived in Panama on a cruise ship in 2001, locals told him about the ship, claiming it was a Japanese sub abandoned after World War II.

Faced with the prospect of another boring bird-watching tour, he hired a boat to the remote island for a peek. There, in the surf of Isla San Telmo, Delgado found a forgotten chapter in submarine history, a Civil War-era cousin of the H.L. Hunley.

"It looked like something out of "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea," Delgado said. "At first I thought it looked like a Holland submarine, but it was much smaller."

Delgado climbed around the sub, and was struck by its strange construction. Some of its design elements appeared to date to 1900, but the strange iron bars between its two hulls seemed like they'd been forged in the 1850s.

A few years later, Delgado got his answers. He has identified the wreck as the Sub Marine Explorer, a submersible built in New York in the waning days of the Civil War. Turned down by the U.S. Navy, its builder took the sub to Central America to make a fortune in pearl diving.

Before it was over, the sub's builder made another important - and deadly - discovery about deep-water diving.

Delgado says the submarine, which in some ways is even more advanced than the Hunley, is a unique maritime treasure that should be saved. Now he's looking for a way to rescue the fallen fish-boat from the waters of Central America.

Ideally, he says, the Explorer should be brought to the Warren Lasch Conservation Center, where it could benefit from the cutting-edge technology being used to save the Hunley.

"I can't imagine a better place for it," Delgado said after a tour of the North Charleston lab earlier this week. "If the funding could be found, it would be a great fit."

The two 1860s subs have much in common: design elements, similar conservation problems and, perhaps most notably, tragic pasts.

Delgado could not get the sub out of his mind.

After returning to Canada, where he is executive director of the Vancouver Maritime Museum, he sent photos of the boat to every maritime historian he knew, and he knows a lot of them. Delgado, co-host with Clive Cussler of National Geographic International's "The Sea Hunters," has been in the shipwreck business for decades, and as formerly maritime historian for the U.S. National Park Service.

For a long while, however none of his contacts could offer much advice about the fat little sub. One friend mentioned it looked like the Intelligent Whale, a Civil War-era sub, and that made Delgado think: Could it be that old?

Then, one day last year, Rich Wills, a Navy archaeologist, said the sub resembled drawings he'd seen of the Sub Marine Explorer, built for the U.S. Navy during the Civil War by a German immigrant and engineering whiz kid named Julius Kroehl.

Delgado got the drawings and any doubt he had melted away. He had his sub. The final confirmation was found in the article accompanying the drawings in the 1902 journal. It said the sub had been abandoned off Panama in 1869.

This research is the final chapter of a long, intriguing story...

Kroehl immigrated to America in 1838, where he studied to become an engineer. He took to the work like a duck to water, and by 1845 had patented a flange-bending machine for ironwork. More than a decade later, while blasting away at a reef causing problems for ships in the East River channel, Kroehl hired Van Buren Ryerson, who had crafted a pressured diving bell, to help. Kroehl would remember the bell and its name, Sub Marine Explorer.

Delgado says that in 1861 Kroehl became the first inventor to offer the U.S. Navy a submarine to sneak into Southern ports and attack from beneath the surface. Officials instead chose to go with Brutus de Villeroi, who eventually built the USS Alligator, the Navy's first submarine.

Kroehl instead spent most of the war as an underwater explosives expert for the Union, working the Mississippi River circuit until he was discharged with malaria.

While recuperating, he came up with the idea of a submarine that divers could get in and out of underwater, from which they could set charges and disarm enemy torpedoes. Delgado says Kroehl was smart, and knew the Navy wouldn't pay for the construction of such an experimental boat. So he joined up with the Pacific Pearl Company, which was itching to mine the pearl beds off the Central American coast.

While Kroehl was building his submarine in early 1864, the "shot heard around the world' in the underwater arms race was fired off Charleston. The privateer H.L. Hunley had sunk the USS Housatonic four miles offshore.

The boat, which Kroehl called the Sub Marine Explorer, was 36 feet long and 10 feet wide and could carry six to eight men. It was notable for its odd elliptical shape, its flat bottom and its separate chamber for pressurized air, which could be pumped into the crew compartment to equalize the pressure enough so the hatches could be opened under water.

It was, Delgado said, the first self-propelled "lock out" dive chamber, an invention most historians have thought didn't come along until the 20th century.

By the time the Explorer sailed, the Civil War was just about over. The Navy passed on the boat, but the Pacific Pearl Co. was ready for business. They used tests of the sub in the East River to attract investors.

The New York Times covered one such demonstration in May 1866, when Kroehl took the sub down for an hour and a half, leaving the people on the dock afraid that he had perished beneath the surface.

"Kroehl popped out of the hatch smoking a Meerschaum pipe, holding a bucket of mud scooped off the bottom of the channel," Delgado said.

Soon after that, Pacific Pearl shipped Explorer to Panama, where it gathered pearls successfully for almost three years.

Kroehl did not make it so long. After one dive, Kroehl became ill. The locals said he had the "fever" and died shortly thereafter.

Delgado believes there is more to the story. In 1869, according to some accounts, the Explorer was abandoned in Panama Bay after a stint of heavy use. For 10 straight days, divers were taking the sub to a nearby pearl bed 100 feet below the surface, working for four hours and then returning to the surface. To some degree, all of them fell deathly ill.

Reading of Kroehl's symptoms, Delgado says he doesn't believe the engineer had a relapse of his malaria. His symptoms sounded, like those of the other workers who got sick in the sub, much more like the bends.

"They didn't know about decompression," he said. "It was unknown until workers on the Brooklyn Bridge started getting caisson's disease, and wasn't known as the bends until years later. I think Julius Kroehl may have died of the first recorded case of the bends."

The future of the submarine is uncertain. Exposed to the air, sea, and intrepid tourists, its hull is deteriorating badly, and it has apparently fallen victim to looters - the propeller and conning tower hatch are missing.

Delgado took a crew of scientists down in 2002 to map the sub and give it a more careful examination. Recently, Delgado said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is looking for the Alligator, has set aside money for a fact-finding expedition to Panama next year. Scientists want to find out if the sub, apparently made almost entirely of brittle cast iron, is too fragile to move, or if it can be saved.

Then - if it is determined that Explorer can be rescued - comes the hard part: finding the money to bring it up and care for it. Delgado says if it can be salvaged, it could be put in a tank of cold freshwater to desalinate it until technology invents a way to preserve it for posterity.

The Hunley lab, with its cutting-edge research on preserving Charleston's Civil War sub, is an obvious place for Explorer, says Delgado. But for the foreseeable future, scientists there have their hands full with their own crusty sub.

"It is an interesting parallel story to the Hunley," said Maria Jacobsen, senior archaeologist for the Hunley project. "It furthers our understanding of the evolution of diving technology. But they are two different things. The Explorer is an evolved concept of a dive bell, while the Hunley is a highly maneuverable, hydrodynamic stealth boat. In its case, it is the weapon."

Jacobsen said that the Hunley lab is the ideal place for such a ship, but it will be years before scientists there will have any time or energy to tackle another major project. But if the sub had to sit in holding tanks at the lab, like the cannons from the Alabama, Delgado says that would be better than allowing it to rot off the beach of Isla San Telmo.

"I'd just like to see ol' Uncle Julius's sub saved," Delgado said.

From The Post and Courier, submitted by Stephen A. Buckler, Ruffin, SC.

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