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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (12/2011) Headlines (10/2011) Headlines (02/2012)   Vol. 45 December 2011 
Treasure In The Headlines
As seen in the December 2011 edition of W&ET Magazine


U.S. salvage company Odyssey Marine Exploration said recently it had found the sunken wreckage of a British cargo ship filled with silver in the Atlantic Ocean, where it was torpedoed by the Germans during World War II.

The wreckage of the SS Gairsoppa was found in international waters 300 miles off Ireland at a depth of 15,510 feet, the Tampa-based company said.

The Gairsoppa sank Feb. 17, 1941, after it was hit by a torpedo from a German submarine. Only one of the 85 men aboard survived.

The 412-foot ship was carrying cargo for the British Ministry of War Transportation.

Its cargo included about 7 million ounces of silver, the company said in a statement, which would make it the largest known cargo of precious metal ever recovered from the sea.

Odyssey Marine was awarded a salvage contract by the British government in 2010. Under the contract, the company will retain 80 percent of the net salvaged value of the silver bullion.

The ship was located using sonar, and a remote-controlled vehicle sent pictures of the wreckage to the surface.

Recovery operations are expected to begin in the spring of 2012, the company said.

Odyssey Marine has been in a legal battle with Spain over 500,000 gold and silver coins it discovered in the Atlantic Ocean in 2007. Spain says the coins came from a Spanish ship that sank in 1804. A U.S. appeals court ruled this fall that U.S. courts had no jurisdiction in the case and it should be decided in Spain.

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


Abe Lincoln is still making news.

The National Archives announced recently that it had recovered a handwritten document signed by Lincoln that had been filched from the government.

“It’s a remarkable document,” Bill Panagoulos, a Stamford, Connecticut, auctioneer, says in a video describing the document’s return. He turned over the paper to the archivist of the United States, David Ferriero, in Washington.

The document features Lincoln’s Nov. 12, 1862 endorsement of the Rev. Henry Edwards as chaplain of a military hospital in Hagerstown, MD. It was returned to the Archives along with a letter from military surgeons requesting that the president appoint a chaplain to hospitals treating the wounded from the Battle of Antietam.

That Maryland battle on Sept. 17, 1862, remains the bloodiest in American history. An estimated 23,000 soldiers were killed, wounded or missing during the 12 hours of fighting, which repelled the South’s first invasion of the North.

A government archivist spotted the documents in a New York autograph dealer’s catalog in 2009, the Archives said in a statement.

Two items were listed, the Archives said: the surgeons’ letter to Lincoln and the wrapper, or cover sheet, of Edwards’ military file, on which Lincoln had endorsed the appointment.

The archivist contacted the dealer, who purchased the documents for $9,600 from Panagopulos. Panagopulos, of Alexander Autographs Inc. and Alexander Historical Auctions, had received them on consignment from a Rhode Island family. He refunded the dealer’s purchase price and spoke with the family about returning the items to the Archives. The family will receive a tax deduction.

Retired National Archives Civil War archivist Michael Musick was quoted by the Archives as saying that government files “apparently at one point were hit rather hard, by a thief interested in Lincoln documents, perhaps when these records were still in the custody of the War Department,” before the Archives was created in 1934.

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

Lost Wedding Band Found On Beach

Gary Cedarquist said he was “absolutely devastated” when he lost his $4,000 wedding band during a family outing to a Wellfleet beach recently.

Frantic searches were fruitless.

Out of other options and fearing the white gold, diamond-studded band was gone forever, Cedarquist tells the Cape Cod Times he called Wellfleet Beach Administrator Suzanne Grout Thomas.

She called the “king of metal detectors,” retired Wellfleet Fire Chief Alan Hight.

Hight swept his top-of-the-line metal detector over the sands of White Crest Beach for an hour before he heard a telltale beep and found the ring buried six inches deep.

Cedarquist, who got his ring back, says the return of the band is proof that he and his wife are destined to be together.

From The AP, submitted by K. Zejnullahu, Brockton, MA.

9-Year-Old Gets Money Back

A 9-year-old boy who left his wallet containing hundreds of dollars at a Virginia convenience store got it back after he posted a handwritten letter.

The Daily Press reported a woman returned the wallet and its contents to a 7-Eleven store in Poquoson.

From The Daytona Beach News-Journal, submitted by Zoueva Grossman, Palm Coast, FL.

Mexican Artifact Seized

A Pre-Columbian artifact intercepted by federal agents at O’Hare was found to be illegally exported from Mexico and will be returned to the Mexican government.

The four-inch-tall clay figurine, shaped like a woman and painted in orange, had sold for $550 at an auction and was en route from Indiana to the buyer in British Columbia, Canada, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers said.

Anthropologists at the Field Museum found it to be an authentic Pre-Columbian artifact from West Mexico. The figure of a Nayarit woman is believed to have been created by ancient Western Mexico people as part of a multipiece burial scene in an elaborate underground mountainous tomb. It dates back to the early first millennium A.D.

The figurine was seized as illegally obtained cultural property under federal law.

From The Chicago Sun-Times, submitted by Bob Bolek, Hometown, IL.

Rembrandt Work Stolen From Hotel

A drawing by Rembrandt, valued at $250,000, was stolen from a hotel in Southern California in what sheriff’s investigators said was a well-planned heist.

The pen-and-ink drawing, believed to be called “The Judgment,” was snatched while a curator was distracted by a guest at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Marina del Rey, Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials said.

From The Chicago Sun-Times, submitted by Bob Bolek, Hometown, IL.

Civil War Bullet Found As Fallen Tree Is Being Cut Up

Workers cutting up a fallen tree at Gettysburg National Military Park came across Civil War artifacts when their chain saw struck bullets buried in the tree trunk.

The bullets were discovered last week while a crew was cutting through the oak tree on Culp’s Hill, the site of intense fighting on July 2-3, 1863, Park Superintendent Bob Kirby said.

Two sections of the tree’s trunk were removed and will be treated to clean out insects and mold before they will be added to the park’s museum collection, officials said.

From The Chicago Sun Times, submitted by Bob Bolek, Hometown, IL.


The Gypsy sat for decades in a restaurant amid the Old West kitsch that fills this former gold rush town, her unblinking gaze greeting the tourists who shuffled in from the creaking wooden sidewalk outside.

Some mistook her for Zoltar, the fortune-telling machine featured in the Tom Hanks movie “Big.” Others took one look at those piercing eyes and got theheebiejeebies so bad they couldn’t get away fast enough.

But until a few years ago, nobody, not even her owner, knew the nonfunctioning machine gathering dust in Bob’s Place was an undiscovered treasure sitting in plain sight in this ghost town-turned-theme tourist attraction.

The 100-year-old fortune teller was an extremely rare find. Instead of dispensing a card like Zoltar, the Gypsy would actually speak your fortune from a hidden record player. When you dropped a nickel in the slot, her eyes would flash, her teeth would chatter and her voice would come floating from a tube extending out of the 8-foot-tall box.

Word got out when the Montana Heritage Commission began restoring the Gypsy more than five years ago, and collectors realized the machine was one of two or three “verbal” fortune tellers left in the world.

From the Napa Valley Register, submitted by Jerry R. Hallett, Napa, CA.


A Super Bowl ring lost four decades ago off Waikiki will soon be returned to former New York Jets center John Schmitt.

KGMB-TV in Honolulu reports that a family wants to return the ring to Schmitt, who earned the ring when the Jets upset the Baltimore Colts in the 1969 Super Bowl.

“That ring was found is a bloody miracle. It really is a miracle, you know,” Schmitt told the TV station.

The ring slipped off Schmitt’s finger in 1971 while he was taking surf lessons about a quarter-mile off Waikiki near the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. He didn’t notice the ring was missing until he got back to shore.

“I got a snorkel and some flippers and I went out and I dove until I was blue,” Schmitt said. “I’m not kidding you. It must have been three hours I was out there looking. I couldn’t find it anywhere. I was just exhausted. I virtually could not swim or flip my legs anymore. And I just went in broken-hearted.”

Waikiki lifeguard John Ernstberg found the ring and gave it to his wife, Mary, who put it in a box, said Cindy Saffery, the couple’s great-niece. The Ernstbergs died in the 1990s and their estate went to Saffery and her husband, Samuel.

The Safferys then recently took it to jeweler Brenda Reichel to see if it was real.

Reichel, of Carats & Karats Fine Jewelry Antiques & Collectibles, told The Associated Press recently that she was able to verify it was authentic. The 14-karat gold ring had diamonds, the trademark of the ringmaker, Schmitt’s No. 52 and his last name and the score of the Super Bowl as well as the AFL championship.

Reichel and the Safferys contacted the Jets and were forwarded to Schmitt, who lives on Long Island. After a few phone messages, they finally talked, Reichel said.

“I couldn’t believe it. I mean I honestly couldn’t believe it. I mean 40 years,” Schmitt said.

The Safferys say they are not interested in money. They just want to get it back on Schmitt’s finger.

From The Salt Lake Tribune, submitted by Pomera M. Fronce, Salt Lake City, UT, and Doug Amundson, Cambridge, MN.


Washington and Lee University has acquired a six-volume set of diaries chronicling the battlefield experiences and insights of a Virginia man who left the college to fight for the Confederacy.

Several members of an Indiana-based Civil War re-enactment group formed decades ago in tribute to the soldier’s original regiment purchased the leather-bound diaries of Alexander Sterrett Paxton and related items for $21,150 and delivered them and other artifacts to the Lexington school’s Leyburn Library.

When the war broke out in April 1861, Paxton and other students at what was then Washington College enlisted with the Liberty Hall Volunteers, becoming part of the 4th Virginia Infantry serving under Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson.

Paxton’s narratives give a detailed look into the life of a soldier over the span of the entire war, employing what special collections librarian Vaughn Stanley called “sprightly writing” that reflected his experiences and opinions about wartime events.

“We don’t know what his rank was but he was basically a common soldier,” Stanley said. “But he was very well educated, very literate and made very insightful observations about what was going on.”

The Liberty Hall Volunteers participated in nearly every skirmish on Virginia soil during the war, through Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse. Paxton’s admiration for Jackson was obvious in his battlefield accounts.

“Whilst we were there Gen. Jackson rode up and down the line as cool & calm as if on an evening parade, tho’ the missiles of destruction flew around him as thick as hail,” Paxton wrote in July 1861 during the Battle of First Bull Run (also known as the Battle of First Manassas), the first major land confrontation between Union and Confederate troops. “Now & then he would exclaim ‘Alls well’ & remarked ‘this night we will drive them across the Potomac.’”

Paxton also detailed how “the cannon balls from the enemy’s guns would whiz just a few feet above our bodies,” and his surprise at “how strange that the better & kinder feelings of our natures should be thus changed” when shooting at the enemy.

His writings continued through campaigns at Cold Harbor, Petersburg and the Shenandoah Valley under Gen. Jubal Early. A five-month gap in the narrative picks up again in March 1865 with an account of Petersburg’s fall and the troops’ subsequent flight to Appomattox.

“On Sunday morning the 2nd at 3 o’clock they charged our works in 3 places... they broke in at all 3 places. Gen Walker soon ran them out, Grimes did not dislodge them and they dashed a column across & rushed it across to the S side r. road & the Appomattox R came near capturing all Gen Lee’s papers at his Hd Qurs, Captured good many of Heth’s men, some of his men did not fight well.”

And, an April 1865 entry: “Cloudy this morning. Gloomy as the aspect of the time is. The very atmosphere breathes of bad news. Gen Lee surrendered to Grant on the 10th with 8,000 men! And Freedom shrieked as Lee’s Army fell.”

A Washington and Lee alumni directory from 1881 showed that Paxton later worked as a teacher in Rockingham and Augusta counties, Stanley said. Paxton later served as principal of Female Academy in Stanford, Ky.

The university plans to display Paxton’s diaries, photographs, a small chess set, and other artifacts to give visitors a chance to learn more about the Liberty Hall Volunteers, named after Liberty Hall Academy, a precursor to Washington College. The college was renamed Washington and Lee in 1870 after Lee’s death.

One of the diaries’ donors, C.J. Roberts of Tampa, is a member of the 4th Virginia Infantry Association, an Indianapolis-based group founded in 1971 that portrays Paxton’s unit in Civil War re-enactments. He said nine members of the modern-day unit, along with two anonymous donors, scrambled to assemble the funds to top two other bidders at a recent auction.

Group members traveling to Virginia for the 150th anniversary re-enactment of Bull Run personally delivered the diaries to Washington and Lee, which Roberts says is their rightful home.

“They’re going to add greatly to the body of knowledge of this organization and these young men who left college and participated in the defining event of our nearly 30-year-member of the group.

From The Daytona Beach News-Journal, submitted by Zoueva Grossmann, Palm Coast, FL.

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