Saturday Reader: Georgia’s Unknown, Rich Maritime History

Savannah River scavenger Charlie Ellis searches for artifacts around the shipwreck called "Dave's Derelict" while a container ship passes beneath the Talmadge Memorial Bridge coming into port in Savannah. The rusted century-old tugboat with iron boiler, left, rises out of the water twice a day, when tides are low, a reminder of Georgia's lost maritime history. Some estimate around twelve-hundred historically significant ships dating to the early 1700s have gone down in Coastal Georgia waters. Not a single ship, though, has been excavated and put on permanent display. (Photo: GAARCH)

Savannah River scavenger Charlie Ellis searches for artifacts around the shipwreck called “Dave’s Derelict” while a container ship passes beneath the Talmadge Memorial Bridge coming into port in Savannah. The rusted century-old tugboat with iron boiler, left, rises out of the water twice a day, when tides are low, a reminder of Georgia’s lost maritime history. Some estimate around twelve-hundred historically significant ships dating to the early 1700s have gone down in Coastal Georgia waters. Not a single ship, though, has been excavated and put on permanent display. (Photo: GAARCH)

The wind and the waves peeled back layers of Cumberland Island sand last December to reveal a piece of history: the wooden bones of a long-lost cargo ship.

Archaeologists surmised from the gunnel and wooden nails that the 100-foot-long vessel was at least 150 years old, possibly a blockade runner used during the Civil War to transport guns, food and soldiers past Union forces.

Experts believe the so-called “Cumberland Shipwreck,” never documented, could be a major historical discovery. So they did what the state of Georgia usually does with such significant maritime finds: They took samples, re-covered the ship in sand, then walked away.

At least 1,200 historically significant ships — dating to the 1730s, by one respected reckoning — have gone down in Coastal Georgia waters. Revolutionary War gunships. Civil War Ironclads. Whaling ships. Cotton schooners. Paddle-wheel steamers. WWII oilers.

Not a single coastal shipwreck, though, has been excavated and put on permanent display. Florida and the Carolinas do a more thorough job investigating, cataloging, preserving and exhibiting their underwater booty and profiting from the tourism it attracts. North Carolina, for example, attracted 400,000 visitors last year to its three maritime museums.

Georgia’s neighbors spend more money on maritime archaeology and employ more staff. They also tap more public and private resources to discover what’s underwater and if it’s worth preserving.

Meanwhile, Georgia gets by with one maritime archaeologist, a donated Boston Whaler and a budget of $71,000 per year – which includes the scientist’s salary.

“We have a rich history – I’d put it up against any of our neighboring states,” said David Crass, the historic preservation director for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. “But Georgia has not traditionally stressed the maritime portion of our heritage.”

With limited budgets, states must prudently decide what part of their maritime history to highlight. Once a wreck is found, for example, it is typically surveyed and cataloged and left in place. Reburying in mud or sand preserves the vessel in a cost-efficient manner.

Georgia may soon begin to recapture a critical piece of its maritime history with the help of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The corps, armed with $14 million, will raise the remains of the CSS Georgia, a Civil War Ironclad sitting on the bottom of the Savannah River a few miles east of the city’s picturesque waterfront.

Judy Wood, a maritime archaeologist newly retired from the corps in Savannah, documented the 1,200 shipwrecks off Georgia’s coast between 1738 and 1890. Her database was compiled over 25 years of researching shipping records, newspaper accounts, personal diaries and other sources.

Up until the 1800s, Georgia life revolved around the coast as most citizens lived within 50 miles of the ports and the commercial hubs of Savannah, Sunbury, Darien, Brunswick and St. Marys. Traders along major rivers, including the Altamaha, Ogeechee and Savannah, delivered deer skins, timber and naval stores to ocean-going vessels. Sloops ferried rice and cotton from coastal plantations to port towns.

Georgia is blessed, or cursed, with a hundred-mile coastline and 2,344 miles of shoreline wending in and around inlets and islands. Its shallow waters, filled with shifting shoals and barrier islands, have befuddled mariners for centuries. Bad weather amplified navigational challenges.

A half-dozen major hurricanes in the 19th century sent dozens of ships to the bottom, Wood’s research shows, including the storm of 1893 that sundered 32 steamers, ferries, barks, sloops and tugboats.

Wrecks “tend to cluster around the mouths of ports because ships would see a storm coming in and try to make it to a port in time,” Wood said. “The outgoing guys, if something was wrong, they could wait for their weather window. But if they were incoming from the Caribbean or Europe, they had to deal with the weather at hand.”

Wood documented a rich history of maritime misery. In 1780, as the Revolutionary War raged, the HMS Defiance, a 64-gun British warship, sank off the coast near Tybee Island. A hundred years later, the Petrel, a Massachusetts whaler, ran aground on Jekyll Island, although 85 barrels of sperm oil and whale bones were salvaged.

Wood relishes the tale of The Albion, a British merchant ship that lost its mast in the Hurricane of 1824 near Sapelo Island. En route to Ireland from Honduras with a cargo of mahogany, The Albion drifted for five days with five sailors lashed to the poop deck to keep from going overboard.

“A fellow sufferer on board was an unfortunate monkey” who was “killed and dried (and) eaten raw with some rain,” reported the Daily Georgian, a defunct Savannah newspaper.

The Civil War in Georgia – on dry land, at least — is well-documented with museums, battlefields and roadside markers memorializing triumphs and defeats. Yet the coastal waters hide a slew of fascinating Civil War wrecks, including the USS Water Witch commandeered by Confederate troops in Savannah; the Rattlesnake blockade runner sunk by Union forces on the Ogeechee River; and, of course, the CSS Georgia.

“Should we be preserving more? Looking for more?” asked Ken Johnston, executive director of the nonprofit National Civil War Naval Museum. “Absolutely, especially if it illustrates a particular story or historical point, like the CSS Hunley or the Titanic.”

Johnson’s museum displays portions of a gunboat and an ironclad scuttled on the Chattahoochee River as the war ended in 1865 and Union troops converged. It also has a mock-up Water Witch out front beckoning tourists. But the museum is located in Columbus, 250 miles from the coast.

Meanwhile, archaeologists have covered the Cumberland Shipwreck in sand to prevent salty air, wind, waves and poachers from further harming it.

Excavation and preservation don’t come cheap. Experts say it could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to dig up the mysterious vessel, preserve its wood gunnels and iron fasteners and display them in a temperature-controlled room.

“Is it something that has enough cultural and historic weight behind it to make it worth preserving? It’s a very expensive proposition,” Johnston said.

The CSS Jackson, a 225-foot-long ironclad brought up in the early 1960s from Chattahoochee River muck, sat in the open air for three decades until $8 million was raised privately to build the humidified naval museum in Columbus.

“How many Ironclads do we need to excavate given the amount of money it takes to mount something like that?” said John Caramia, director of interpretive programs for the Coastal Heritage Society in Savannah. “It’s got to be an incredibly historic object that governments have an interest in and want to preserve.”

Florida hired its first underwater archaeologist in 1964. Today, the Sunshine State employs three full-time underwater scientists who work closely with universities, museums and historical societies to identify and preserve still-submerged wrecks.

South Carolina counts four maritime archaeologists and a budget — supplemented by a variety of private, public and nonprofit sources — at least five times larger than Georgia’s. Like Georgia, though, South Carolina focuses mainly on surveying and cataloging shipwrecks.

“Full-scale recovery is usually not the way to go,” said Jim Spirek, who heads the state’s maritime research division. “It would require a lot of money up front before we (excavate) something huge. The Hunley is a rarity.”

Located in 1995 and retrieved from Charleston’s harbor five years later, the CSS Hunley sits in a 90,000-gallon conservation tank in North Charleston. Visitors pay $12 to a nonprofit corporation that preserves the Confederate submarine and hopes to one day display it in a museum.

Resurrecting and restoring the Hunley has cost an estimated $20 million, with private sources covering 70 percent of that amount. A North Charleston museum, expected within eight years, could cost upward of $40 million and would be the state’s third museum dedicated to its seafaring history.

In North Carolina, private sponsors raised $450,000 to pull up the final remains pirate Blackbeard’s 17th century flagship, and two cannons were pulled from waters near Beaufort earlier this month. State taxpayers covered the $1.5 million spent the last fiscal year to run the N.C. museums, which don’t charge admission.

“We’ve got signature projects out there, just like North Carolina,” said Crass, the Georgia preservationist. “We just haven’t reached the point of critical mass where we can bring resources to bear on that project. We’re missing a tremendous opportunity.”


Crash Notes: Freaky Friday News


Former Honeymooners

A Saratoga Springs, New York, resort has begun accepting totally defeated husbands and wives for a relaxed weekend that includes divorce, bringing to America a concept already successful in six European cities. The Gideon Putnam Resort & Spa charges $5,000 for a couple to check in on a Friday, married, but leave Sunday officially single (complete with all legal niceties and various resort amenities, including, of course, separate rooms). Even though the couple must be fairly level-headed to accept this approach, the facility manager expressed concern that since the resort also books weddings, the “uncouplers” might inadvertently witness difficult scenes. (Gideon Putnam has hosted four divorces so far, but, said the European founder of the package service, “hundreds” of couples have used the services in Europe.) [New York Post, 2-10-2015]

Weird Science

— Another Animal With a Worse Sex Life Than Yours: No organism has it tougher than the male South-East Asian coin spider, according to research reported by New Scientist in January. It is somehow driven to mate with a female up to four times larger who is almost as driven to eat the male as to mate. After insemination, the male impulsively fights off other males’ attempts to disrupt the conception, and that means becoming a more nimble fighter, achieved, according to Matjaz Kuntner of the Slovenian Academy of the Arts and Sciences, by biting off its own genitals, since that organ comprises about one-tenth the spider’s body weight. [New Scientist, 1-16-2015]

— Because We Can: Scientists at the University of California, Irvine (with Australian partners) announced in January that they had figured out how to unboil a hen’s egg. (After boiling, the egg’s proteins become “tangled,” but the scientists’ device can untangle them, allowing the egg white to return to its previous state.) Actually, the researchers’ paper promises dramatically reduced costs in several applications, from cancer treatments to food production, where similar, clean untanglings might take “thousands” of times longer. [UC Irvine press release, promoting publication in the ChemBioChem journal, 1-23-2015]

Police Report

(1) The Knoxville (Tennessee) Police Department reminded motorists (via its Facebook page) that all vehicles need working headlights for night driving. Included was a recent department photo of the car of a Sweetwater, Tennessee, motorist who was ticketed twice the same evening with no headlights but only flashlights tied to his bumper with bungee cords. (2) A forlorn-appearing Anneliese Young, 82, was arrested at a CVS pharmacy in Augusta, Georgia, in February after store security allegedly caught her shoplifting a container of “Sexiest Fantasies” body spray that, according to the packaging, “provides a burst of sensuality … as addictive and seductive as the woman who wears it,” “sure to drive any man wild.” [WATE-TV (Knoxville), 2-5-2015] [The Smoking Gun, 2-9-2015]

Bright Ideas

— The Jeju Island Korean restaurant in Zhengzhou, China, staged a promotion last month to pick up lunch tabs for the 50 “most handsome” people to dine there every day. Judging was by a panel of cosmetic surgeons (who were partnering with the restaurant) and, as contestant-diners posed for photographs, they were evaluated on “quality of” eyes, noses, mouths and especially foreheads (better if “protruding”). [Daily Telegraph (London), 1-13-2015]

— The owner of the Kingsland Vegetarian Restaurant in a suburb of Canberra, Australia, apologized in February for the cockroach infestation that contributed to a $16,000 fine, explaining that, for moral reasons, he could not bring himself to exterminate living things — even cockroaches. (Less well-defended were Kingsland’s toilet, grease and food-storage shortcomings.) [Brisbane Times, 2-1-2015]


Among the participants at this year’s Davos, Switzerland, gathering of billionaires and important people was property developer Jeff Greene, 60, who owns mansions in New York, Malibu and Palm Springs, and whose Beverly Hills estate is on the market for around $195 million. Greene famously won big betting against overvalued sub-prime mortgages before the 2008 Great Recession, but, shortly after landing at Davos, he gave Bloomberg Business his take on the symptoms of current economic turmoil (that he had capitalized on for part of his wealth by exploiting people’s desire for expensive houses they ultimately could not afford). “America’s lifestyle expectations are far too high,” Greene explained, “and need to be adjusted so we have less things and a smaller, better existence.” [Daily Mail (London), 1-22-2015]

People With Issues

Sorry, Ladies, He’s Taken: In yet another chilling episode of body modification, the otherwise handsome Henry Damon, 37, married father of two, appeared in January at the Caracas (Venezuela) International Tattoo Expo as Red Skull (archenemy of Captain America), who has somehow fascinated Damon for years. The exhibiting of his idolatry began with subdermal forehead implants (ultimately replacing his eyebrows with prominent ridges), followed by going all-in for Red Skull by allowing a medical school dropout to lop off what looks like half of his nose. (How his deep red color was achieved was not mentioned in news reports.) For the record, the “surgeon” called Damon “a physically and intellectually healthy person.” [Daily Mail (London), 2-4-2015]

New World Order

Swedish public broadcaster SVT, capitalizing on the country’s supposedly liberal sexuality to promote an upcoming children’s series on the human body, produced a one-minute cartoon featuring genitals singing and dancing. However, the SVT program director admitted in January that there was criticism — not for salaciousness, but because the penis was portrayed with a moustache and the vagina with long eyelashes, which some critics said unfortunately “reinforced gender stereotypes.” [Associated Press via WTOP Radio, 1-22-2015]

Least Competent Criminals

Mastering the Technology: (1) Donald Harrison, 22, wanted for assault in Ambridge, Pennsylvania, made police aware of his whereabouts when he posted a “selfie” on Facebook from a Greyhound bus with the notation, “It’s Time to Leave Pa.” He was picked up at a stop in nearby Youngstown, Ohio. (2) Police in Houston arrested Dorian Walker-Gaines, 20, and Dillian Thompson, 22, after they posted selfies on Facebook of themselves enjoying a handful of $100 bills — photos they took on an iPad they had stolen on Jan. 8 and whose photos automatically uploaded to the victim’s iCloud account. (Incidentally, Walker-Gaines has, tattooed across his chest, “BRILLIANT.”) [Associated Press via WKBN-TV (Youngstown)), 2-10-2015] [The Smoking Gun, 1-22-2015]


Additional details reported by the Toronto Sun in January on an August 2014 Freaky Friday News item reveal that the motorist who hit three bicycling teenagers in Innisfil, Ontario, in 2012 (killing one, putting another in a wheelchair) is suing the victims for $1.35 million for “emotional trauma” the incident caused her (though she was not otherwise injured) because they “were incompetent bicyclists” and “did not apply their brakes properly.” The boys wore reflective jackets and had no alcohol in their systems, but the driver, Sharlene Simon, admitted to at least one drink and to speeding. (On the other hand, her husband, who was following in another car, is a police officer, and Simon was neither charged nor breath-tested.) [Toronto Sun, 1-10-2015]

Recurring Themes

(1) A mummified monk in Mongolia became the latest religious figure whose followers insist he is not dead but living in a meditative trance. Dr. Barry Kerzin, among whose patients is the Dalai Lama, called the state “tukdam.” Scientists attributed the monk’s preserved condition to Mongolia’s cold weather. (2) After consulting its substantial research base, The Smoking Gun website reported that Steven Anderson’s arrest in Fargo, North Dakota, in January was only the third time that someone operating a Zamboni had been charged with DUI. Anderson, 27, was arrested while (erratically) resurfacing the ice between periods of a girls’ high school hockey game. [BBC News, 2-4-2015] [The Smoking Gun, 2-1-2015]

I hope you had a great February & the approaching month of March is just as great!

Have a fantastic weekend!


#RedFriday: WWII Veterans Receive French Legion of Honor Medals

French Legion of Honor medals. The medal is the highest French distinction.

French Legion of Honor medals. The medal is the highest French distinction.

Six World War II veterans were honored with French Legion of Honor medals. The medal is the highest French distinction.

The medals were bestowed upon the veterans by French Consul General Gregor Trumel. A ceremony was held on Thursday at The National WWII Museum in New Orleans.

The Legion of Honor Medal was created by Napoleon in 1802 to acknowledge services rendered to France by persons of exceptional merit and accomplishments. French representatives expressed their gratitude and appreciation for their contribution to the liberation of France during World War II.

Medals were bestowed upon:

  • Mr. Ralph J. Bertheaud (Posthumous),
  • Mr. Louis Bradley(Plaquemines Parish, LA),
  • Mr. Aubrey H. Covington (Metairie, LA),
  • Mr. Leonard J. Kuckelman (Atchison County, KS),
  • Mr. Ubert J. Labat Jr (Slidell, LA),
  • and Mr. Lampton C. Terrel (Bush, LA),

The six were named Chevaliers de la Légion d’honneur, Knights in the order of the Legion of Honor.

Last month: Charles Bruns recipient of French Legion of Honor

Charles ‘Chick’ Bruns

Charles ‘Chick’ Bruns

WWII Veteran Charles ‘Chick’ Bruns of Champaign IL was selected and appointed to the rank of Knight of the Legion of Honor, France’s highest distinction. Through this award, the French government pays tribute to the soldiers who did so much for France 70 years ago.

Charles Bruns served with the 3rd Division, 10th Engineer Battalion throughout WWII and was active during the invasions of North Africa, Sicily, Italy and Southern France. He ended military service in August, 1945 at the rank of Technical Sargent. During his service, Chick kept a diary, took photographs and collected postcards. This along with the letters he wrote home to his parents is being shared in the most complete daily account of a solider during WWII on the Website:

Presented by Vincent Floreani, Consul General de France a Chicago, “you gave your youth to France and the French people. Many of your fellow soldiers did not return but they remain in our hearts”. The French National Order of the Legion of Honor is an order of distinction first established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802. American recipients include Generals Dwight D. Eisenhower and Douglas MacArthur and Admiral Michael Mullen. Today there are approximately 93,000 Legion of Honor recipients.

American veterans like Chick who risked their lives during World War II and who fought on French territory qualify to be decorated as Knights of the Legion of Honor. Veterans must have fought in one of the four main campaigns of the Liberation of France: Normandy, Provence, Ardennes, or Northern France.

Veteran Charles F. wrote a diary during the second world war which is now being published by his son. He served in North Africa and Europe until the war ended.  John Bruns, his son, has re-purposed the diary into a website called . The website is updated daily.

He argues that it is his father who is blogging from the past.

Chick Bruns, 94 used to sell clothes at Joseph Kuhn & Co in downtown Champaign before he volunteered to join U.S. Army.


Friday Reader: Nantucket’s “Big Slurpee”

(Photo credit: Jonathan Nimerfroh – Instagram: @jdnphotography)

(Photo credit: Jonathan Nimerfroh – Instagram: @jdnphotography)

A photographer documents nearly frozen waves in Massachusetts, calling them a ‘big Slurpee’

The record-setting winter of 2015 has left us with all kinds of remarkable images, most of them of snow and ice.

But a photographer on Nantucket found something most of us have never seen – nearly frozen waves.

Jonathan Nimerfroh was walking along a beach on the island recently when he saw these waves rolling in like slush.

The waves were semi-frozen because there was so much ice inside them. He took several pictures and shared them with meteorologists from around the world.

It does in fact look like a big Slurpee rolling ashore:

(Photo credit: Jonathan Nimerfroh – Instagram: @jdnphotography)

(Photo credit: Jonathan Nimerfroh – Instagram: @jdnphotography)

(Photo credit: Jonathan Nimerfroh – Instagram: @jdnphotography)

(Photo credit: Jonathan Nimerfroh – Instagram: @jdnphotography)

(Photo credit: Jonathan Nimerfroh – Instagram: @jdnphotography)

(Photo credit: Jonathan Nimerfroh – Instagram: @jdnphotography)

(Photo credit: Jonathan Nimerfroh – Instagram: @jdnphotography)

(Photo credit: Jonathan Nimerfroh – Instagram: @jdnphotography)

(Photo credit: Jonathan Nimerfroh – Instagram: @jdnphotography)

(Photo credit: Jonathan Nimerfroh – Instagram: @jdnphotography)

(Photo credit: Jonathan Nimerfroh – Instagram: @jdnphotography)

(Photo credit: Jonathan Nimerfroh – Instagram: @jdnphotography)

On the Web: