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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (12/2005) Headlines (11/2005) Headlines (01/2006)   Vol. 39 December 2005 
Treasure In The Headlines
As seen in the December 2005 edition of W&ET Magazine


A rare Gold Rush-era coin owned by a descendant of Chinese immigrants who worked in the California gold fields sold for $253,00 at a Beverly Hills auction.

The coin has been confirmed by numismatists as one of only 12 "Quarter Eagles" known to exist from the 246 that were made at the San Francisco Mint in 1854.

The Quarter Eagle is about the size of a dime and was made from Gold Rush ore at the San Francisco Mint just months after it opened. It contains one-eighth ounce of California gold.

The anonymous seller's great-grandfather acquired the coin between 1856 and 1858 while working the gold fields, according to the American Numismatic Rarities of Wolfeboro, NH, which auctioned the coin recently.

"They took exceptional care of this important piece of American history for nearly 150 years," said John Pack of American Numismatic Rarities. "In fact, it is the second finest known surviving example."

The coin, which was expected to sell for at least $150,000, opened at $140,000 and quickly jumped in $5,000 and $10,000 increments before going to an anonymous collector for the final price.

From the Associated Press, via e-mail from many readers.


In the ghostly blue lights of a video camera, sea snakes, squids and schools of blue and yellow fish swirl past five-inch battle guns of a World War II submarine 200 feet beneath the South China Sea.

"With all the fish and the coral covering the Lagarto, it's almost like someone put flowers on a grave," said Elizabeth Kenney-Augustine, whose grandfather, Bill Mabin of La Grange, was on the vessel.

For decades, no human knew where to put flowers for the 86 men who disappeared with the USS Lagarto somewhere between Thailand and Australia shortly before World War II ended.

In May, a diving team, following the hints of fishermen telling tales of snagged nets, discovered the Lagarto in the Gulf of Thailand. Experts say this is the missing boat because it is believed to be the only American Balao class submarine sunk in the Gulf of Thailand during the war, and because Japanese records released after the war show Japanese sailors sank a submarine in the area where the Lagarto disappeared.

"We believe the wreck to be the Lagarto," said Jamie Macleod, who, with the U.S. Navy's permission, dove down to look at the outside of the vessel.

Macleod and Stewart Oehl of the MV Trident dive boat in Thailand discovered the missing submarine.

Author Clive Cussler has spoken with the men about a documentary on the Lagarto, as well as their discovery. U.S. Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.) has called on the U.S. Navy to confirm the submarine's identity.

After talking with the family, Macleod took Kenney-Augustine and her brother, John Kenney Jr., off the shores of Thailand last week to read letters and poems from family members in the first burial ceremony the missing men have had.

On July 31, a diver tucked a dozen white roses into the conning tower, or attack center, of the USS Lagarto. Minutes later, the flowers had disappeared.

"We thought that was nice," said Kenney-Augustine, of Chicago's Wicker Park neighborhood. "Like they accepted our offering."

For 60 years, Mabin's daughter, Nancy Kenney of Lake Leelanau, Michigan, wondered if her father had somehow come out of the war alive. She waited for him to be released from a prisoner-of-war camp. Or to appear on a remote island. Or to pop through the front door after a top-secret mission.

She knows the families of the other 85 men on board the submarine must have wondered the same things.

"From the letters between my mother and the other wives, I can see there was great confusion," Kenney said. "They were hoping their husbands were in prison camp. Imagine that- seeing that as the best-case scenario."

Kenney was 2 when her father was lost. She said her mother, Margaret Chambers of Glen Arbor, Michigan, was pleased to hear her husband's resting place had been found.

"He was the love of her life," Kenney said. "She's been shaken by this.

The USS Lagarto was one of 28 submarines built in Manitowac, Wisconsin, and the Wisconsin Maritime Museum has adopted the submarine and created a memorial to it. According to the museum, the submarine was tested in Lake Michigan.

It left Subic Bay in the Philippines on April 12, 1945, for the Siam Gulf, now the Gulf of Thailand, for its second trip.

USS Baya officers reported at the time that they were to rendezvous with the Lagarto to discuss plans to attack a Japanese convoy on May 3, 1945. At 1 a.m. May 4, 1945, the Japanese convoy drove off the Baya, but nothing was ever heard again from the Lagarto. It was supposed to dock in Australia at the end of May, but it never arrived.

In June 1945, Mabin's family received a letter saying he was missing in action. A year later, another letter arrived describing him as "presumed dead."

"This will give you a real glimpse into World War II," Kenney said. "This is what I grew up with. That's the last correspondence any of the families had with the Navy."

After the war ended, the Japanese released records showing the minelayer Hatsutaka sunk a submarine at the same time and same place the Lagarto was believed to be during the war, but there was no confirmation.

Kenney's children grew up with Mabin's ghost. Every year on Memorial Day, John Kenney has searched the internet for some sign of his grandfather.

"This year, I did a Google search, and someone had posted that it had been found," John Kenney said. "Two divers had found it. It's considered one of the holy grails of Asian diving because it's one of the only U.S. subs lost anywhere near the Gulf of Thailand."

Kenney said he immediately called his mother and asked if she were sitting down. After he told her, she began to cry.

"I went through so many emotions," Nancy Kenney said. "It's an odd feeling to grieve for someone for 60 years after they're gone."

She began to contact the families of the missing men.

Kelan Spalding's brother R.B. Spalding of Springfield, MO, was also on the Lagarto.

"My wife heard about it on the news and said, 'Do you suppose that could be Bobby's sub?'" Spalding said. "But I thought it would be in deeper water."

Then he got the call from Nancy Kenney.

"I was 9 years old when it went down," he said. "I'm relieved to know exactly why and how and where. I hope they allow the divers to film it."

But he doesn't want anyone to go inside the sub.

And no one will. According to the U.S. Navy, all sunken U.S. ships are considered gravesites and are off-limits.

But Macleod said the divers don't want to go inside the submarine.

"We have no plans to explore the wreck," Macleod said. "We hope to be able to conduct non-intrusive filming only."

For the families, seeing the outside of the submarine ha provided closure.

"I thought there would be a moment when they scraped the coral off and found letters: USS Lagarto," Kenney-Augustine said. "But it wasn't like that. We just sat above as they dove beneath, and I thought, 'How wonderful.' It was similar to going to a cemetery and visiting a loved one who has passed and standing over his grave."

John Kenney said the submarine is sitting upright as if it sank straight down. There are no numbers or names on the side, and research shows the only place divers could find the name of the ship is inside the captain's quarters. Instead, they used the five-inch guns- an upgrade from previous subs and a good marker for the Belao class- and the slant of the bow to determine its make.

The teak deck and outer superstructure have deteriorated and been torn away, leaving the pressure hull, the conning tower, and a perfectly preserved light.

On the port side, the middle torpedo bow tube remains open. The torpedo is missing.

"It looks like they went down fighting," John Kenney said.

Nancy Kenney hopes to find more Lagarto families so she can relate the news. Her e-mail address is She said she finally feels as if her father has been laid to rest.

"I can't tell you how wonderful the divers have been- so sensitive to the families," Nancy Kenney said. "They even attached an American flag at the top of the tower. I thought, 'God bless them for that.'"

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


George Spangenberg sold weapons to both Wyatt Earp and the gang he faced at the OK Corral. Today visitors can see the G.F. Spangenberg gun shop- "Est. 1880," according to its sign- standing on Fourth Street.

Well, actually, the shop was established only 16 years ago and has no connection to the gunsmith whose name it borrowed.

"We don't say it's the same shop," said Jim Newbauer, a manager of the store, which is across the street from where the original stood. Nor does the shop go out of its way to say it isn't.

Just how true to history this famous Old West town should remain is the subject of a modern-day shootout. "The town too tough to die," as Tombstone bills itself, is at risk of losing its designation as a national historic landmark because some say it has been a little too kitschy in embellishing its heritage.

"It's becoming like a Hollywood set instead of an authentic historic Western town," said Sally Alves, a bed-and-breakfast owner.

The National Park Service, which administers the landmark program, last year listed Tombstone's landmark status as "threatened" because of building alterations "that didn't have any basis in history," said Greg Kendrick, regional manager of the program. Only about 90 of the nation's 2,400 historic landmarks are considered "threatened," mostly because of deterioration.

Stating Sept. 1, Tombstone will hold a three-day public meeting, with federal and state officials in attendance, to discuss whether and how to preserve its historic authenticity.

Anthony Veerkamp, a senior program manager for the non-profit National Trust for Historic Preservation, said some other famous places, like Cannery Row in Monterey, California, have faced similar dilemmas. "There's often tension between protecting the historic resource and exploiting the historic resource, if you will," Veerkamp said.

In Tombstone, some people say that if the town is too authentic, visitors will be bored.

"They don't particularly want dusty, dried-up history," said Donna Winn, manager of a tourist attraction called Ghosts and Legends.

Tombstone was founded by Ed Schieffelin, a prospector who was warned that if he went into the heart of Apache territory, he would find nothing but his own tombstone. He discovered silver here in 1877, and Tombstone became a boomtown.

The silver boom faded after a decade, and the town shrank. But it has survived for more than a century largely because of its 30 seconds of fame, which is all it took for Wyatt, Virgil and Morgan Earp, aided by Doc Holiday, to gun down Billy Clanton and Tom and Frank McLaury on Oct. 26, 1881.

One tourist, Bill Hovanec of Pittsburgh, said he and his wife were disappointed. "We thought it would be more authentic," he said.

But Thierry Mestach from France said Tombstone was realistic enough. "You will see that half of Rome has been redone, too," he said. "I take it with a little salt."

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


It isn't unusual for farmer Terry Bailie of Basin City, Washington, to bring odd-shaped rocks home.

His girlfriend, Jody Arias, said she has received rocks as presents, including a heart-shaped one when they first started dating, then a stone that looked like Mr. Potato Head.

But while doing his morning chores recently in a 60-acre field of seed corn, Bailie, 53, came across an unearthly surprise.

"I said, 'What in the heck is that?'" Bailie said, holding the maroon-colored rock he found near a small irrigation ditch.

Scientists say Bailie discovered a metallic meteorite that apparently broke off a larger meteor and fell through the Earth's atmosphere. Tests have yet to be conducted, so the rock's age is unknown.

Bailie's meteorite is fist-sized and weighs about 3 pounds. Its texture is bumpy and similar to an oyster shell with chocolate chip-sized hazel-amber flecks.

George Last, Pacific National Northwest Laboratories geologist, said the meteorite may be among 10 that have been found in the Pacific Northwest.

Five were discovered in Washington and were displayed in the Burke Museum on the University of Washington campus in 1999, according to the Washington NASA Space Grant Consortium Website,

Bailie, who has collected rocks since he was a boy, said he's always scanning the ground for them.

"I think that kind of helped," he said. "Most people would have walked past it."

Bailie said he sensed he had something rare when he first picked up the meteorite to study its texture and clean its small orifices with an air-powered tool.

"The jade, crystallike particles are very unusual and strange," said Bailie, who rushed home with the meteorite shortly after finding it and checked the internet for more information.

Once he realized he could be holding the real thing, Bailie said he began some amateur experiments. One test included setting a magnet on the meteorite to prove it contained iron. The magnet stuck, he said.

To make sure there was no question, Bailie said he connected with Last and his father, George, a metallurgist who studies earth minerals.

The three met in a Pasco parking lot and marveled over the meteorite. A couple of days later, the Lasts visited Bailie and surveyed the area where he discovered the rock.

"They wanted to look around and look at the sediment material," Bailie said.

Last said the meteorite may have ended up at the Bailie farm during the last Ice Age.

There were huge, catastrophic floods that brought extraordinary rocks, said Last, adding there is a slight chance the meteorite could date back a couple of million years. But he also said that the meteorite may have landed on Earth about 100 years ago and Bailie found it after it was unearthed during cultivation. He said he won't know the truth until he tests it.

In the meantime, Bailie said he hasn't decided whether he wants to donate it.

From the Yakima Herald-Republic, submitted by Andrew A. Martin, Sunnyside, WA.

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