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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (02/2015) Headlines (12/2014) Headlines (04/2015)   Vol. 49 February 2015 
Treasure In The Headlines
As seen in the February 2015 edition of W&ET Magazine


Hey, bat-fan, if you thought those “Batman” TV show DVDs were the coolest cape crusader-themed gift you could buy, the joke’s on you.

What’s billed as the oldest-known “Batmobile” is being offered by Heritage Auctions.

The custom car was designed in the early 1960s, years before George Barris got to work on the iconic car that would carry Adam West and Burt Ward into the camp hall of fame.

Built for fun by New Hampshire teenager Forrest Robinson, the curvaceous Oldsmobile-based coupe caught the eye of a representative for All Star Dairy, which was selling a line of Batman ice cream and drink products at the time.

The company leased the car for Robinson for a few years to use at promotional events, but never got it officially licensed as a “Batmobile.” It was then sold a few times and neglected, its deteriorated hulk finally ending up on eBay last year.

Sid Belzberg, owner of, bought it and shipped it to Borbon Fabrications in Sacramento for a full, 1,700 man-hour restoration, which was completed this past winter. It won the first car show it was entered in.

The opening bid is $90,000, a bargain compared to the $4.2 million that one of the TV show cars sold for early last year.

From FN, submitted by Marty Maher, Langlois, OR.


A frigate carrying French colonists to the New World that sank in a storm off the Texas coast more than 300 years ago is being reassembled into a display that archaeologists hope will let people walk over the hull and feel like they are on the ship’s deck.

The 1686 wreck of the 54-foot oak frigate La Belle- in an expedition led by famed Mississippi River explorer Rene-Robert Cavelier Sieur de La Salle- is blamed for dooming France’s further exploration of what would become Texas and the American Southwest.

But La Salle’s short-lived Fort St. Louis near the shipwreck site in Matagorda Bay, about 100 miles southwest of present-day Houston, also convinced Spain to boost its presence in the region to ward off a feared French territorial expansion.

“In a very real way, it’s responsible for our Hispanic heritage we have today,” said Jim Bruseth, curator of the La Belle project at the Bullock Texas State History Museum. “They had nobody here, and it started the process of settling Texas.

“History oftentimes turns on seemingly small events,” Bruseth said. “We have that actual ship, the remains of it there, that’s the icon of that event.”

Recently, visitors to the Austin museum are able to watch Bruseth and other archaeologists put the wrecked ship back together and talk with them as they work. The reassembly is expected to be complete by spring.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun. It’s like a dinosaur, big and dynamic and magnetic,” said Peter Fix, one of the assembly team members and chief conservator for Texas A&M University’s Center for Maritime Archaeology and Conservation. “Once we get the framing up it’s going to look like a big beached whale, a bone carcass. And that’s dynamic and hopefully it will pique curiosity.”

The keel and other large structural pieces of La Belle- resembling old railroad ties- were discovered in 1995 by Texas Historical Commission archaeologists. Researchers built a dam around the site, pumped it dry, then retrieved the nearly intact hull that had been preserved in up to 6 feet of mud.

In 2012, the 600 waterlogged pieces were taken to Texas A&M, where the timber was stored at 60 degrees below zero in the world’s largest archaeological freeze-dryer to remove more than three centuries of moisture.

Once the assembly is finished, the hull will be encased in a glass cabin-like structure so people can have the sensation of being on the ship’s deck, peering into the hull and its cargo holds “and understand that they’re not looking at just a bunch of dirty old boards,” Fix said.

La Salle was the first European to travel the Mississippi River south to the Gulf, claiming all the land along the river and its tributaries for France in 1682. Three years later, he sailed from France with more than 300 colonists aboard four ships including La Belle to establish a settlement at the mouth of the Mississippi- a destination he missed by 400 miles.

By then, one ship had been lost to pirates. Another ran aground and sank. A third eventually headed to France, leaving La Belle as his only lifeline. That was severed with its sinking. Then the colony at Fort St. Louis was ravaged by disease, rattlesnakes, water shortages and Indians. Its inhabitants died or were killed while La Salle led a handful of men inland, where he wound up killed by some of them.

The museum exhibition also includes cannons and rifles, ammunition, cooking utensils, tools, building materials, trinkets like beads, bells and mirrors and even some of the 1,603 Jesuit rings recovered.

“We couldn’t be any luckier in that sense,” Bruseth said. “Rather than the ship being empty when it wrecked, everything he had left that you need for a colony was in the Belle.”

From FN, submitted by Marty Maher, Langlois, OR.


A Florida man who has collected more than $21,000 in loose change over the past 10 years has donated it to charity.

Rick Snyder, of Bradenton, FL, says he found the bulk of the coins (and bills) during his daily four-hour walks, digging them out of vending machines and car wash vacuums.

“It astounds me how wasteful people are,” Snyder, who owns a 48-unit condominium complex, told the Bradenton Herald. (He also collects discarded towels- washing and donating them to shelters- and plastic bottles for recycling.)

Snyder estimates he walks between 45 and 48 miles per week, finding, on average, $5.60 a day. The change- all 2,500 pounds of it- went to the Gulf Shore Animal League, which takes care of feral cats- something else Snyder sees on his walks.

“I’ve been taking care of feral cats for years and I started noticing a lot of change laying around,” he said. “So I started picking it up and keeping track of it.”

Snyder estimates he’s found homes for about 100 cats, placing many of them with tenants in the condo units.

“People do avoid me now if they see me coming,” he joked.

The rescue group said Snyder’s $21,495 donation is the largest it’s ever received from an individual.

“This is just over the top,” Cheryl Wade, president of the Gulf Shore Animal League, told Bay News 9. “It will help so many animals in our community.”

So why didn’t Snyder keep the money for himself?

“I have enough money,” he replied.

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


Experts identified a shipwreck uncovered recently in the Arctic as the HMS Erebus, the ship British Rear Adm. Sir John Franklin was likely sailing on when it vanished along with another vessel over 170 years ago, Canada’s prime minister announced recently.

Experts believed the shipwreck was either the HMS Erebus and the HMS Terror, both of which sailed under the command of Franklin on an unsuccessful search for the Northwest Passage.

Stephen Harper said in Parliament that experts have identified the wreck as the HMS Erebus, which Franklin was believed to have been aboard and perhaps died on.

Harper’s office said confirmation was made by underwater archaeologists, following a meticulous review of data and artifacts observed from the Arctic Ocean’s seabed and using high-resolution photography, high-definition video and multi-beam sonar measurements.

Canada announced in 2008 that it would look for the ships, and Harper’s government has poured millions into the venture, with the prime minister himself taking part in the search. It’s all part of Harper’s plan to boast Canadian nationalism and a sense of ownership of the north. Harper’s government made the project a top priority as it looked to assert Canada’s sovereignty over the Northwest Passage, where melting Arctic ice in recent years has unlocked the very shipping route Franklin was after.

Canada says it owns the passage. The U.S. and others say it is international territory.

The well-preserved wreck of one of the vessels was found recently 12 yards below the surface, near King William Island, about 2,000 kilometers northwest of Toronto.

“It is in astonishing condition,” said John Geiger, president of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. Geiger was with the search team. “We’re over the moon. Not only did we find one of Franklin’s ships, we found Erebus, the ship Franklin himself was on, and we found it in such incredible condition.”

Geiger said the resemblance and size of Franklin’s cabin, among other factors, led to their conclusion.

“It is largely intact,” he said. “There is absolutely no question it is Erebus. It’s not like it’s a hollowed hull that’s been worked over. It’s basically like a time capsule of a very different time than our own. It’s got things that will be very helpful as we continue to try to understand the Franklin disaster.”

Last seen in the 1840s, the two ships have long been among the most sought-after prizes in marine archaeology and the subject of songs, poems and novels.

Franklin and 128 hand-picked officers and men disappeared after setting out in 1845 for the Northwest Passage, the long-sought shortcut to Asia that ran from the Atlantic to the Pacific by way of the harsh, ice-choked Arctic.

Historians believe the ships were lost in 1848 after they became locked in the ice near King William Island and the crews abandoned them in a hopeless bid to reach safety. Inuit lore tells of “white men who were starving” as late as the winter of 1850 on the Royal Geographical Society Island.

For many years afterward, Franklin was celebrated as a Victorian-era hero.

Dozens of searches by the British and Americans in the 1800s failed to locate the wrecks, and some of those expeditions ended in tragedy, too. But they opened up parts of the Canadian Arctic to discovery and ultimately spied a Northwest Passage, though it proved inhospitable to shipping because of ice and treacherous weather.

The search for an Arctic passage to Asia frustrated explorers for centuries, beginning with John Cabot’s voyage in 1497. The shortcut eluded other famous explorers, including Henry Hudson and Francis Drake.

No sea crossing was successful until Roald Amundsen of Norway completed his trip in 1903-06.

There is no current plan to raise Erebus, but Geiger said it would be possible and Canadians might eventually want that done. The exact location of the wreck was not disclosed for fear of looters.

HMS Terror has not been found.

From The Globe And Mail, submitted by Daniel Finch, Halifax, NS, and Marty Maher, Langlois, OR.


The divers descended 410 feet into dark Mediterranean waters off Italy, their lights revealing the skeleton of a ship that sank thousands of years ago when Rome was a world power. A sea-crusted anchor rested on a rock. The ship’s cargo lay scattered amid piles of terra cotta jars, called amphora.

Highly trained technical divers with a Florida-based group called Global Underwater Explorers- GUE for short- are helping Italian researchers to unlock an ancient shipwreck thought to date to the second Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage.

Able to descend hundreds of feet further than most divers, they aide the archaeologists by swimming about the wreck fetching artifacts- as no robotic submersible can.

On this dive, they swam past the large amphora used to carry wine, olive oil and other cargo on Mediterranean trade routes centuries ago- feeling as if they were transported to another time.

“It felt very much like a ghost ship awaiting the boarding of ancient mariners,” said Jarrod Jablonski, one of the divers with the exploration group based in the Florida community of High Springs.

Many of these divers honed their deep-water diving abilities in Florida’s labyrinths of underwater caves.

Now GUE provides the technical divers needed to access cargo and other artifacts from a ship thought to have sailed around 218-210 B.C.- when Rome and Carthage were fighting for naval superiority in the Mediterranean.

Called the Panarea III, the ship was discovered off the Aeolian island of Panarea in 2010 by American researchers using sonar and a remotely operated submersible in waters about 40 miles north of Sicily.

Archaeologists said the ship is a wooden vessel about 50 feet long that could have hit rough seas and broken up on rocks before plunging to the sea bottom- possibly a wealthy merchant’s cargo ship or one used to supply the Roman military.

“This shipwreck is a very important occasion to understand more about daily life on the ancient ship as well as the real dynamics of ancient trade,” said Sebastiano Tusa, an Italian archaeologist who is studying the site. “Of course, there are other similar shipwrecks that can offer similar study cases. But this has the peculiarity to be in a very good preservation condition.”

From The Daytona Beach News-Journal, submitted by Natasha Barbashina, Palm Coast, FL, and Daniel Finch, Halifax, NS.


A Queens woman thought all hope was lost when her 1.3 carat engagement ring worth $13,600 went missing in the sands of Robert Moses State Park- and joked on Facebook that “some broke metal-detector dude” might pocket it.

She was half-right.

There was a guy with a metal detector, but it was a retired city firefighter who did the right thing.

Erin Carrozzo, of Flushing, told The Post she was devastated when her “pride and joy” went missing along with her diamond-encrusted wedding band shortly after removing them to apply sunscreen at the beach.

“I never took those rings off except to take a shower on vacation or at the beach,” the 41-year-old mom said. “The funny thing is, I wondered if I should leave them at home that morning.”

Carrozzo frantically searched the sand, but her bling was nowhere to be found. Heartbroken, she reported the rings missing and left the beach empty-handed.

“I waited until I was in the car to break down,” she said. “I kept saying to my husband [Peter], I felt bereft.”

But retired FDNY firefighter Mike Cogan, 66, detected the ring two days after it was lost.

“It was absolutely spectacular,” he said. “Happy as I was, I realized the poor woman who lost this had to be devastated.”

From the New York Post, submitted by Marty Maher, Langlois, OR.

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