GOLD!

Posted on
SS George Law
SS George Law, later known as Central America, in The Mariners’ Museum collections
While not everything that glitters is gold in a shipwreck, one particular wreck that has been widening eyes and dropping jaws since 1988 is back in the news. That is the wreck of the SS Central America, a Pacific Mail steamer sunk in a hurricane off Hatteras in 1857. This past week, the side wheeler was back in the news with word from US District Court in Norfolk that the salvage company’s operational reports and an inventory of the the magnificent treasure of gold pieces could be made public. See a detailed report at www.maritime-executive.com


The reason the salvors were in court in the first place is a tale of treachery. The marine engineer who found the hulk in 1988, a man named Tommy Thompson, worked to salvage a hoard of gold bars and gold coins. The Central America, it seems, carried a cargo of $2 million in gold, now worth orders of magnitude more. It appears that the gentleman took some of the salvaged gold worth about $50 million, sold it, spent some or all of it on legal wranglings, and walked away without paying his investors a red cent. There is a warrant out for his arrest, and he is considered a federal fugitive (see the story here).   Read more

Swashbuckler: The Romance of the Pirate

Posted on
DSC05960

As the day for our Pirates Pack the Park event draws near (less than a week now!), I have begun to think about exhibitions we’ve had about pirates.  I believe we’ve had two in the past twenty years, Swashbuckler:  The Romance of the Pirate and Under the Black Flag:  Life Among the Pirates, although I was only fortunate enough to see the former.  The opening of Swashbuckler was set to coincide with the release of the second Pirates of the Caribbean Movie, Dead Man’s Chest, in 2006.  I remember the exhibition as being vibrant and fun, while at the same time educational as it explored real pirates and pirates in popular culture.  Below are some photos from Swashbuckler.

This was the entrance to the exhibition and talks about a few of the most famous pirates, the one’s most of us know at least a little something about, including Blackbeard.   Read more

The S.S. Port Nicholson

Posted on
The S.S. Port Nicholson

In today’s issue of The Virginian-Pilot, an article appeared about a recent and potentially valuable maritime discovery made off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts.  Treasure hunter Greg Brooks says that he has discovered the wreck of the S.S. Port Nicholson, a British steamship that was torpedoed by German u-boats in 1942.  Brooks claims that the ship was carrying some 71 tons of platinum, valued today at around $3 billion.  Brooks also believes diamonds and gold bullions to be among the cargo some 700 feet underwater.  Salvage efforts have yet to begin, but, as Brooks states, “I’m going to get it, one way or another, even if I have to lift the ship out of the water”.

But Brooks might be in for a big disappointment, as he is apparently not the first to have sought the treasures of the Port Nicholson.  Both an American and a British company have previously searched for the contents of the ship, and some sources say that they successfully retireved a portion of the ship’s cargo.  Others claim that the ship may not have even been carrying valuable materials.  Anthony Shusta, a lawyer representing the British government, states, “Our initial research indicated it was mostly machinery and military stores”.   Read more

Wants his money back! (duh)

Posted on

The benefits of technology are far reaching, as expressed in an experience with a couple from Hampton, Va. who were visiting the museum for the first time!  (can you believe it?)   I said, “let me show you the treasure that exists in your own “back yard”.  I gave them the usual 3 minute greeting and an overview of the museum via our new innovative slide presentation.  Which, if you have not experienced it, is a brief docent manually controlled slide showing several views highlighting features of the galleries of the museum.  After I had finished this greeting and slide presentation, the gentleman said “may I get my money back?”  With astonishment, I remarked “why would you want that?”  He said.”well, I feel like that we have just had a TOUR OF THE MUSEUM”, His request for a refund was in jest, of course.  Naturally, I was pleased with the acceptance and reception by this greeting delivery.

Once again, the joys of being a docent continue with each passing day.

Visitor Experience – The Library of Congress

Posted on

I recently had the pleasure of greeting ladies from The Library of Congress, (Juretta, Susan, & Kris) who were in town for the Virginia Forum at Christopher Newport University.  They had  been to The Mariners’ Museum on Thursday for a meeting and dinner and had time for a small sampling of the treasures of the museum. They decided it would be a good opportunity for a further look.  They were especially interested in The Monitor Center, and I was pleased to provide them with a few of the in-depth aspects of the center and the historic Battle of Hampton Roads.  I also gave them a view of our new and innovative slide-show highlighting the other galleries.  What a joy to have real scholars who are interested in what the museum has to offer.  I expect to see them on a return visit in the future.