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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (08/2014) Headlines (06/2014) Headlines (10/2014)   Vol. 48 August 2014 
Treasure In The Headlines
As seen in the August 2014 edition of W&ET Magazine


More than 60 pounds of gold were recovered from an infamous 157-year-old shipwreck off the coast of South Carolina recently, and the deep-sea exploration company that retrieved it announced that there is plenty more down there.

The Odyssey Marine Exploration used a robot to recover nearly 1,000 ounces of gold during the first reconnaissance dive to the S.S. Central America shipwreck site in more than two decades.

The exploration was appointed by an Ohio court in an effort to retrieve the treasure for former investors who were defrauded in the original hunt.

The 280-foot wooden-hulled steamship, en route to New York from San Francisco, was carrying as much as 21 tons of gold ingots, freshly minted gold coins and raw gold from California mines when it sank in a hurricane in September 1857. The sinking triggered part of what historians say was the first U.S. financial crisis, known as the Panic of 1857. Most of the ship’s 477 passengers— many of them gold prospectors— perished.

The ship now sits 160 miles off the coast of Charleston, SC, 7,200 feet below the surface.

In 1988, a team led by Ohio engineer Tommy Thompson recovered about two tons of gold from the wreck, sparking a two-decade legal battle over the treasure. Facing federal charges, Thompson and his assistant, Alison Antekeier, fled a secluded Vero Beach, FL, mansion where they had been living, paying their rent in cash. According to the Columbus Dispatch, the couple left behind $10,000 bands from stacks of bills, international phone cards and “a book that explains how to assume a new identity.” And, of course, one large treasure a mile and half under the sea.

“We know that the wreck was only partially excavated, only about 5 percent of the site.” Mark Gordon, Odyssey Marine Exploration president and chief operating officer, told Reuters. Recently the company was awarded an exclusive contract to conduct an archaeological excavation and recover the remaining cargo from the S.S. Central America.

The treasure recovered by the Odyssey recently includes “five gold ingots and two $20 Double Eagle coins (one 1857 minted in San Francisco and one 1850 minted in Philadelphia).” Estimated value: $1.3 million.

The recent dive “confirms for me that the site has not been disturbed since 1991, when I was last there,” Bob Evans, the chief historian and scientist for the project, said in a press release.

The Odyssey’s 41-person crew is expected to remain on site for up to five months. The value of the remaining treasure is about $85 million, Gordon said.

And according to the New York Times, that doesn’t include “a cargo long rumored to be aboard the wreck: 15 tons of Army bullion.” The secret shipment, detailed in a 1988 book about the wreck, “Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea,” was meant to “shore up the faltering Northern industrial economy.”

From The Chicago Tribune, submitted by Bob Bolek, Hometown, IL, Willard R. Smith III, Naperville, IL, and Lisa Lommasson, Pebble Beach, CA.


Talk about a good deal!

Three college students from State University of New York, New Paltz, NY, found $40,000 in cash hidden inside the cushions of the couch they had purchased for $20 at their local Salvation Army outlet, WABC reports.

“We almost didn’t pick that couch,” Lara Russo told, which broke the story. “It’s pretty ugly and smells, but it was the only couch that fit the right dimensions for our living room.”

The oddly uncomfortable couch had been sitting in the students’ apartment for a few months until one day, Reese Werkhoven noticed a zipper on the bottom of the cushion. Inside, he found an envelope full of hundred- and 50-dollar bills.

“So we pulled it out of the couch. And we’re freaking out, we’re shaking,” Werkhoven told WABC.

“The most money I’d ever found in a couch was like 50 cents. Honestly, I’d be ecstatic to find just $5 in a couch,” Werkhoven told

The first envelope contained about $4,000. But the cash kept on coming. Werkhoven and his roommates, Russo and Callie Guasti, kept searching and found a lot more envelopes, each with a lot of cash, but no name and no indication as to whom it might belong to.

Werkhoven joked that they were thinking about what type of boat to buy, until they found a bank deposit slip mixed in among the cash. At that point, they say, their next step became obvious.

“We were always pretty clear. If we could find her and she was alive, it was her money, no matter what the circumstances,” Russo told WABC.

The trio quickly tracked down the woman, who is 91 and didn’t trust banks (hence the unconventional deposits). She had recently broken a hip and while she was in the hospital, her children had donated the couch to the Salvation Army, WABC reports.

Guasti said the widow, who asked not to be identified, was grateful for their honesty. “She said, ‘I feel like this is a gift from my husband, my husband’s looking down on me.”

The woman gave the three students $1,000 for doing the right thing, reports. No word on whether they plan to spend it on a couch that doesn’t smell.

From The Daytona Beach News-Journal, submitted by Zoueva Grossmann, Palm Coast, FL, and Lisa Lommasson, Pebble Beach, CA.


The Ohio company owned by a fugitive treasure hunter is fighting to gain control over recently recovered gold from a ship that sank off the South Carolina coast in 1857 in one of the worst maritime disasters in U.S. history, arguing that the Florida company now salvaging the sunken treasure from the shipwreck is trespassing.

In documents filed in federal court recently, Columbus-America Discovery Group, Inc. argues that it has the exclusive rights to the sunken SS Central America and asks a judge to grant them custody of any recently recovered gold.

The company is owned by Tommy Thompson, the Ohio shipwreck enthusiast who led the 1987 expedition that found the Central America and recovered gold that later sold for $50 million to $60 million. He was later sued by investors who paid $12.7 million to fund the expedition but never saw any returns.

Thompson has been a wanted fugitive since August 2012, after he failed to show up for a key court hearing.

Recently and with the approval of an Ohio judge, deep-sea divers with Tampa, Florida-based Odyssey Marine Exploration returned to the shipwreck and began recovering gold under a contract with the court-appointed receiver over Thompson’s former company, Recovery Limited Partnership.

Columbus-America and its current president, Milt Butterworth, are now fighting to gain control over any recently recovered gold, stop the ongoing expedition and conduct any future trips to recover the gold.

Mike Lorz, a spokesman for Columbus-America, said the company is solvent and argued that it is better suited for the recovery effort. He said the last he spoke with Thompson was three years ago and that the company is now acting independently of him.

Late last week, federal Judge Rebecca Beach Smith declined to rule which company has the rights to the sunken ship but did find that Odyssey Marine “is qualified to perform the ongoing salvage operation,” ordering that it can continue doing so.

It’s unclear when she’ll issue a ruling about who has rights to the sunken treasure.

The SS Central America was in operation for four years during the California gold rush before it sank after sailing into a hurricane in September 1857 in one of the worst maritime disasters in American history; 425 people were killed and thousands of pounds of gold sank with it to the bottom of the ocean.

From the Associated Press, submitted by Lisa Lommasson, Pebble Beach, CA.


Another famous painting was brought out of storage in Massachusetts after it hung in a school principal’s office for 50 years.

According to WBZ-TV, the painting dates back to 1941 and was a gift to the principal from the artist Norman Rockwell.

The painting was one of many of Rockwell’s artworks intended for The Saturday Evening Post’s cover, but this one never made the cut.

The original painting depicts World War II, a recurring character seen in other paintings as he rides with soldiers in the back of a military vehicle. According to a Rockwell Museum official, they didn’t even know it existed.

The Boston Globe reports Rockwell gave the principal the painting as a gift for graduating seniors. It was then put into storage in 2001 when school officials feared it would be stolen.

The painting will be auctioned off with 10 other Rockwell paintings at Sotheby’s in New York. It was estimated to be worth at least $1.5 million.

A previous Rockwell painting titled “Saying Grace” sold for a hefty $46 million in December. It appeared on the Saturday Evening Post’s cover in 1955.

The mayor and school officials plan to use the money from the auction to start a foundation benefiting schools.

From AOL, submitted by Martin Maher, Langlois, OR.


Volunteers for Vermont’s annual Green Up Day made an odd discovery when they looked inside a maple tree: wrapped in plastic inside an old VCR cassette was the World War II Good Conduct Medal for a Nebraska man who died 32 years ago.

The 1945 medal had belonged to Robert Gene Woody, who served on the USS Hughes, a Navy destroyer that saw action at the Battle of Midway and Guadalcanal. The medal turned up in the town in Milton. The cassette in the tree was also hiding a treasure trove of copper coins and other military medals— a Veterans of Foreign Wars medal from the 1930s, a Spanish American War medal, a woman’s Relief Corps medal and a Civil War pay stub for Pvt. Lewis N. Lucas of the Vermont 2nd Light Artillery. Price stickers were attached to the medals.

“I can only speculate,” Capt. Zachariah Fike, founder of the Vermont-based nonprofit Purple Hearts Reunited, told the Lincoln Journal Star. “But the way they were priced, like a trade-show, I imagine some kid stole the medals from a vendor, got nervous, and hid them in that tree.”

Fike tracked down Woody’s 62-year-old son Myron Gene Woody in Sidney, NE, and told him about the find.

Robert Woody spent 30 years in the Navy after enlisting in 1942. The son told the Journal Star he’s looking forward to the return of his father’s medal.

“When my dad passed away, I got an old Timex watch and a few shirts, and that was all,” Myron told the newspaper. “This would be one of the very few things of his past that I’d have.”

From FN, The Associated Press also contributed to this story, submitted by Ben Myers, Elizabethtown, PA, and Martin Maher, Langlois, OR.


A letter written by a passenger on the Titanic describing the “wonderful passage”— hours before the ship hit an iceberg— sold at auction recently for 119,000 pounds ($200,000).

Auctioneer Andrew Aldridge said the handwritten note, which had belonged to a collector, was bought by an anonymous overseas telephone bidder during a sale in Devizes, western England.

The price, which includes a fee known as the buyer’s premium, topped the pre-sale estimate of 100,000 pounds ($168,000).

Aldridge said the price reflected “the exceptional quality and rarity” of the letter.

The letter was written by second-class passenger Esther Hart on April 14, 1912. “The sailors say we have had a wonderful passage up to now,” she said of the ship’s journey from England toward New York.

Her 7-year-old daughter Eva added a postscript: “Heaps of love and kisses to all from Eva.”

Hours later the passenger liner described as “practically unskinable” hit an iceberg and sank, killing more than 1,500 people including Hart’s husband, Benjamin.

The letter, on White Star Line notepaper, was tucked inside the pocket of a sheepskin coat Benjamin Hart gave Esther as he put his wife and daughter in a lifeboat. The family had been traveling from England to Canada, where they planned to settle.

Esther and Eva were rescued, along with some 700 others.

Esther Hart died in 1928. Eva Hart, who died in 1996, became a prominent Titanic survivor, critical of attempts to salvage the ship, which she considered a mass grave.

Prices for Titanic memorabilia have soared in recent years. In October, a violin believed to have been played as the doomed vessel sank sold for more than 1 million pounds.

Aldridge, whose auction house specializes in Titanic items, said the continuing fascination with the ship and its passengers was no surprise.

“It was a microcosm of society,” he said. “Every man, woman and child on that ship had a story to tell, so you have over 2,200 individual subplots to the main story.

“The Titanic encapsulates almost every human emotion we are able to experience.”

From the Associated Press, submitted by Martin Maher, Langlois, OR.


A small dog that wandered away from its owner in South Florida five years ago is finally back home.

Jessica Namath, the daughter of former New York Jets football star Joe Namath, had her Shih Tzu mix named Tula with her in a Jupiter backyard five years ago.

The dog wandered into the front yard, and when Namath went to look for it, the dog was gone.

She frantically searched for Tula, posting a $2,000 reward, calling animal control, and sending friends to search nearby canals in kayaks. She never found Tula.

Namath tells the Tampa Bay Times that she was shocked to get a phone call recently about the missing dog.

The caller was Michael Cecere of St. Petersburg, who had found the dog in front of his car as he was running errands.

He first knocked on neighborhood doors trying to find the owner and then took the dog to an animal hospital, where a tracking chip was found in the dog.

Cecere tracked down a phone number for Namath through Facebook. “I could hear her jaw drop over the phone,” said Cecere.

Namath and Tula were reunited the next day.

A St. Petersburg woman tells the Tampa Bay Times that she found the bedraggled dog four years ago in West Palm Beach. The dog had missing teeth and sores and was losing hair in chunks.

“We didn’t think she had a chip in her because of the condition she was in,” Yanelys Miranda said.

She took in the dog, and it moved with the family to St. Petersburg two years ago. Miranda said the dog recently slipped away from their home, possibly after her children left a gate open.

She posted an ad about the dog on Craigslist, and she eventually learned that she had Namath’s dog.

“It’s a huge loss for us,” Miranda said. “But what can we do?”

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

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